Clad in armor and wielding a sword instead of a baton, the drum major at the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band is undoubtedly one of the most visible figures in marching band. What is it like to be known as “Tommy Trojan,” performing for a top 5 football team and watched by television audiences across the country at this year’s Rose Bowl and Tournament of Roses Parade? Here is the story behind a man with extraordinary responsibility as he marches off the field for the last time.
There’s nothing quite like 93,000 screaming football fans to calm your nerves. As I stepped into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first time as drum major of the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band (TMB), an eerie sense of calm and confidence overcame me. For the first time, I knew that I was ready. I knew that this was what I was meant to do.
For months, I thought about this one moment—the “stabbing of the field” during pre-game. Years of work came down to this one moment. I had gone over it in my head literally thousands of times. I barely slept the night before. And here I was, finally ready and strangely relaxed as I stepped onto the field, spun the sword above my head and plunged it deep into the turf of the most storied football stadium in the nation.
Prepared to Fight On
“You don’t want to look back and think ‘What if?’” That’s where this whole ride started.
For the last four years, I’ve immersed myself in the Trojan Marching Band, first as a trumpet player and now as drum major in my senior year. My time as a bandsman in the TMB has taken me places I couldn’t have imagined four years ago. I’ve travelled to two foreign continents, 10 different states and even met Bill Cosby. I’ve marched a marathon’s worth of Rose Parades (four in a row) and even played at the national championship. From performing for a football team that’s a national championship contender year after year to playing alongside fantastic musicians, there’s nothing that can compare to the incredible opportunities I’ve found in the Trojan Marching Band.
In four years, I’ve taken advantage of every opportunity that’s come my way and seen my bandmates do the same. Throughout my first three years, I dreamt of being drum major, but as the tryout grew closer, the decision loomed difficult. Could I leave the trumpet section? Would I be the right choice for the band? Could I really do it?
I struggled with these questions and plenty more as I prepared during the fall of my junior year. The final decision actually came while I was working out with my brother in Seattle during winter break. We had spent the past three years going back and forth about my decision, and it was that day that he told me “You don’t want to look back and think, ‘What if?’” And that was it. From that day on, I never looked back.
I spent the entire spring lifting weights and working on my technique with the sword, the signature symbol of the TMB and of Trojan football. To explain for those that don’t know, USC’s drum major wields a sword instead of a baton and wears armor, leather sandals and a helmet. Some might know me better as “Tommy Trojan,” but that name actually refers to a statue in the middle of the USC campus. Although I may look like the mascot, I’m the drum major, and I direct the band with my sword.
People love to ask me, “How’d you get that job?” And it’s a tough question to answer. Most people don’t even realize that I’m a part of the band. They don’t see all the hard work the band puts in, and the work that I’ve done for the past four years.
A Typical Week
The most visible of my responsibilities is, of course, the “stabbing of the field.” At the start of pre-game, I march by myself to the center of the field, the middle of the interlocking “SC” logo, and plunge my sword into the ground to sanctify the field for battle. I turn to the band, call them to attention and conduct the opening fanfare into “Tribute to Troy.” This unique start to pre-game could be the most-televised band tradition in the country and is often featured live on television and on ESPN’s College GameDay.
Beyond the public exposure, though, my responsibilities as USC drum major are typically not seen by the public. I’ll take you through a typical game week. Every week, whether we have a game or not, we practice Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tuesday is typically a music rehearsal, where the band has a chance to run sectionals, memorize the show and iron out any kinks in the music. I circulate through the band to help the section leaders teach the music.
On Thursday, the band starts with a quick musical run-down of the show but quickly moves on to learn drill. As drum major, I have the same responsibilities as the teaching assistants, helping students learn drill and tweaking formations. It is also my job to keep the band’s spirits up throughout every practice. It is the number one goal of the TMB to have more spirit than any other band, and we bring that attitude to every practice.
Every member of the band is expected to yell and relay commands, which we encourage by breaking up practice with chants of “Beat the Lions!” or whichever team we play next, and by playing “Tribute to Troy” for the football team, which practices on the field next to ours.
By the time Friday rolls around, the band has learned all of its drill and music, and it’s time to review. The band will run through the show for about an hour until 5 o’clock. Then we march over to Heritage Hall for the “Jock Rally,” where the team and band pack into the athletic building in the midst of the Trojans’ seven Heisman Trophies to get pumped up for the next day’s game.
The band plays for the team, and one senior football player and coach each give a speech. Then, the band closes with a “SoCal Spellout” cheer, and I pass my sword off to the featured football player, who conducts the band in “Conquest.”
The band wakes up on game day for a 6:34 a.m. call time at Cromwell Field. Each section runs through its unique game-day rituals and gets warmed up. I make the rounds to each section to give a game-day speech, the most vital part of my Saturday morning routine as it gets the band excited to carry our team to victory.
As my own after-practice ritual, I make my way over to the band office to polish my armor and sword. I usually spend about an hour and a half cleaning and polishing the helmet and armor and then make sure that my sword will shine bright for game day. I use this as a quiet personal time to prepare for the game and always look forward to the feeling of calm and readiness that it brings.
As I walk off the field at this year’s Rose Bowl game for the final time as a drum major, I pause to look back at the band with an overwhelming sense of pride. I always thought that I’d be sad to leave the band and the close friends that I’ve worked with and grown with over the past four years, but now I’mb excited to remain part of the Trojan family as an alum. As they say, I’m a Trojan for life.