It’s okay, he’s with the band

Senior Sam Stember- the band ‘tuba prodigy’ whose personality is as loud as his tuba


Vivian Wu

Senior Sam Stember plays trumpet in the band room after school. His main instruments are tuba and bass trombone.“The fact that Sam is such a talented musician and the fact that he can play equally as good on bass trombone in Jazz Ensemble as he can on tuba in Concert Band and sousaphone in Marching Band [demonstrates how] Sam is a well-rounded, versatile musician,” Jennifer Williams, head director of Ankeny High School Bands, said.

Vivian Wu, Web/Print/Multimedia Editor; Videographer

In the sweltering summer heat, kids with hands full of instruments trudge towards Ankeny High School for marching band practice. But one person is not just walking towards the field; he’s making loud engine noises from a tiny plastic trombone and bicycling with no hands. 

“Sam is THE tuba prodigy,” senior and tuba player Sydney McIntosh said. 

For most people in band, the man is instantly recognizable as senior tuba and trombone player Sam Stember. It is a memory from marching season that junior Charles Heuton has not forgotten. 

“One time while we were warming up, he rode past on the sidewalk on a bike using no hands, and he was playing his trombone [making engine noises],” Heuton said.

Even before he was in marching band, Stember was still biking to the field. 

“In seventh grade, Sam would come up on Tuesday nights on his bike and watch Tuesday night marching band rehearsals,” Jennifer Williams, the head director of AHS Bands said. 

The Ankeny High School band program has some of the best student musicians in the state. 

“[We have] several All-Staters, several members of SCIBA (South Central Iowa Bandmaster’s Association) Honor Band,” said Williams. 

This school year, Ankeny Bands has received a first place at the Pella Marching Band Invitational, fourth place at the Valleyfest band competition, and a Division I rating at the concert band State Contest held at Johnston. 

“At Perry Band Olympics, we won our class,” Williams said. “We had 123 Division I ratings and 49 medal winners.” 

AHS is home to a decorated jazz program as well. 

“Jazz Ensemble has some third place finishes at Triton and Northwest Jazz Festivals,” Williams said. “Jazz Lab has two first place finishes in the second band category and a second place finish.” 

Talented and bright, the students of AHS Bands show a true passion for music, and Stember is no exception. 

“Sam is a musician. He’s outgoing. He is personable. He is a kid that just loves band and loves life,” Williams said. “He definitely adds a lot to the sound of the group. He would agree with me that sometimes it’s a little too much sound from Sam. He’s a great musician and he raises the bar for everybody… He’s always working to be better.”

His loud playing is as easily distinguishable as his loud personality. 

“He is very outgoing and a positive person,” junior Sarah Florez said, who is a sousaphone section leader along with Stember. “He strives for everyone to do their best. He’s a very encouraging person in that way, at least in band.” 

Florez has had plenty of experience with Stember’s zany character. 

“Last year during one of the morning practices, he took a bunch of the freshmen and they went and sat in the middle of the field with sousaphone bells on their heads just in a circle,” Florez said. “It was really strange.” 

Both Florez and Stember were given the opportunity to play marching cymbals during the winter drumline season.

Heuton, the cymbal section leader, remembers a funny memory from his time with Stember. 

“Sam went and pretended to make a kicking motion at the frankendrums. It was not actually to kick them, but the tarp slid under him, and he flipped over and landed flat on his back,” Heuton said. “It didn’t hurt him, but it was the most cartoon-esque thing I’ve ever seen him do. It was so funny.”

During jazz band, Stember is notorious for his one-liners. 

“He’ll randomly walk in and his horn will be super out of tune, and he’ll just say a one-liner like ‘your mom!’” junior Carter Danielson, a saxophone and bassoon player said. 

As Danielson describes this, Carsen Broich, a junior trombone player in Stember’s jazz band, walks past and asks, “Are you talking about Sam?”

The young musician has a great number of accomplishments under his belt. 

Stember received  first place for tuba and bass trombone at Perry Band Olympics, a solo band festival for all Iowa students. 

“Because Ankeny doesn’t go to too many solo competitions, Perry is something that I work for every year,” Stember said. 

Stember enjoys the competitive aspect of the band festival. 

“It’s always something I can strive towards and work towards to beat my peers and ‘arch nemeses’, and at the same time do the best that I possibly can, he said. “Perry is a pretty big deal. Getting first place is always a surprise.” 

This is something he works hard for every year.

 “I normally get my solo shortly after All-State season, which is around August/September, and I’ll practice it little by little in the upcoming months,” Stember said. “The month before I’ll spend every single day practicing in the band room for multiple hours.”

Stember has been able to participate in the All-State orchestra and band, both of which are auditioned groups for the entire state of Iowa.  

He says that some of his favorite opportunities are the chance to participate in the All-State orchestra and band for his entire high school career.

 “All-State is one of my favorite activities because it takes some of the best players in the state and puts them all in the same place. You have a bunch of people who are passionate about music and who can play quite well,” Stember said. “It makes some fantastic music that I get to play in, that others get to play in, and that people get to listen to, which I think is amazing.”

Stember’s achievements are a great contribution to the Ankeny band department. 

“All his achievements, the fact that he’s been a three-year All-Stater, technically a four-year because he was an alternate his freshman year… and all of Sam’s successes is just such a great testament of what a great band kid out of Ankeny can be,” Williams said.

As well as participating with top-level orchestras and bands, Stember is involved in Concert Band, Show Band, Marching Band, Winter Drumline, Jazz Band, Pep Band, and the United States Army Band. 

Out of all these band activities, Stember enjoys Pep Band the most. 

“You just get to go and you get to blast and nobody cares how loud you play as long as you’re supporting the team that’s out on the court,” Stember said. 

Stember’s involvement in various activities demonstrates his versatility.

“The fact that Sam is such a talented musician and the fact that he can play equally as good on bass trombone in Jazz Ensemble as he can on tuba in Concert Band and sousaphone in Marching Band [demonstrates how] Sam is a well-rounded, versatile musician,” Williams said.

All of these activities take place at the high school except for the United States Army Band. 

“I joined the Army Band in January of this year,” Stember said. “I went to basic and I went back, and I’m already playing with the band.” 

Though basic training was challenging, he says it was some of the best months. 

“In the moment, you have drill sergeants, and they scream at you like everything is personal even though nothing is. You run every day. You’re constantly being smoked and having to do push ups…,” Stember said. “Looking back on it, it was probably the best three months of my life. Maybe. I was in great physical condition.”

What is more challenging is the fact that his training took place during the boiling hot summer months.

“I had to do it in the hot sun, Stember said. “It was like 120 degrees and I still had to do everything.”

However, the U.S. Army Band still remains one of Stember’s favorite band activities. 

“It’s fun. It’s like a normal band, but it’s a little bit more put together,” he said. “Everybody, instead of playing after a repetition, immediately goes silent. More gets done. There’s more professionalism.”

For him, it is a way to serve his country.

“You get to serve your country, and for me, it’s by doing what I do best. I’m not the best at shooting guns or doing all the sort of stuff,” Stember said. “I get to play tuba, and it gets to be part of what I do to help my country, which I think is super cool.”

He plans to continue playing in the Army Band while he attends college, and Stember will continue furthering his music career in college. 

“I would like to go to college for a BME [Bachelor’s for Music Education] and a bachelor’s in tuba performance, and then become a teacher here at Ankeny High School,” Stember said.

This comes as no shock to Williams.

“It does not surprise me that Sam would like to be a band director. I think Sam has been talking about that since he was very very young,” Williams said. “He’s a kid who lives and breathes the band.” 

For individuals like Sam, music is an integral part of their lives. 

“Music means a lot to me. It’s become less of a hobby and more of who I really am… I mean my current career is in music,” Stember said. “My college path is in music. In the future, I plan to be in music. It really won’t stop any time soon.” 

The musician’s passionate and energetic personality is admired by many. 

“He is living his own life, and we just happen to be a part of it,”  McIntosh said. “And I can really appreciate his free spirit… I think he’s going to do great things.” 

McIntosh says when she first started tuba, Stember was there to help her. 

“I mean he kind of raised me from the ground up,” McIntosh said. “He is so so so talented. Like, number 1 always… I’m happy for him.” 

Stember’s teachers also see great promise in him. 

“Sam is an incredible musician, but I think what we all love about Sam is that he has this personality that just adds joy and humor to every situation,” Assistant Band Director Kelly Weber said. “I think he’s going to do great things in life, so I’m super excited to see where he is in a couple years.” 

Though Stember will be graduating soon, he has a message to all his friends continuing high school.

“Keep going in school. Your grades actually do matter,” Stember said. “Don’t catch senioritis. Have a great time.”