In Command

Find out how a field commander, often the second-in command of the band, rose to the challenge to teach a new marching style and conduct her first show on the main podium.

The Friday night lights glare down on the band as we march out onto the field. Guard members scurry to find their assigned places to put their flags down for equipment exchanges. The announcer calls out the names of the band directors, then the field directors. “The band is under the field direction of drum major Ryan Brooks and field commander Carol Olson.”

Hi, I’m Carol Olson, and I am the field commander for the South-Doyle High School Cherokee Marching Band in Knoxville, Tenn. I play many instruments, including mellophone in our marching band, French horn in our concert band and wind ensemble, and piano and/or trumpet in our jazz band.

Drum Major vs. Field Commander

At our school, we have a drum major and a field commander. Our drum major, of course, is the student conductor of the marching band. The field commander also conducts, but there are many differences between these two positions.

As field commander, I march the shows but might be pulled off to the backfield for parts of the show when band members cannot possibly see the drum major. I also lead the band in the stands and during rehearsals and performances when the drum major is absent.

Often, the drum major would prepare the field commander to become drum major if the drum major is a senior and the field commander is a junior or sophomore.

Step By Step

I have always had an interest in conducting. My freshman year, it really showed, and one of our drum majors Ryan Brooks gave me the phone number of his drum major instructor, George Hayden.

At the beginning of George’s course, I knew almost nothing about conducting. But slowly I became more confident. Throughout the 18-week class, I learned to shout commands, read scores and conduct several drum corps shows. I also picked audition music, which I conducted in front of the other students. By mid-April, I was ready to audition. I went into the audition room as a freshman and came out as an upcoming sophomore field commander.

This past year, I took the course again and improved my skills. For example, I previously had a habit of subdividing everything; the class helped me get out of that habit. So I was able to become field commander once more.

The Tradition of Excellence

In our band, we have a “Tradition of Excellence.” Despite challenges in recruitment, we have managed to maintain our overall quality. My freshman year in 2005, our numbers had gone down to 88 from about 130 the previous year. Although we were smaller in size, we still had an amazing year. We were rated “Superior” at all the competitions we attended throughout the Southeast region and earned first place in our division at the first competition. My sophomore year, our numbers went down a little more, and we received second place in our division at our last competition. Now our numbers are back up to 108 and our show, “Made in America,” is one of the best shows I have ever marched.

Besides the superior ratings and first or second place in our division, our drum majors have won first place since 2004, and the drum major and I plan to keep that going for as long as we can, even if we need to come back and help out future drum majors.

Taking the Podium

This year during band camp, our drum major was touring with the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps, leaving to fill his position until he got back. Much to my surprise, we began learning a brand new way of marching that took even our upperclassmen awhile to figure out. Although we had always marched corps style, this year we went all out using a straight leg marching technique as opposed to a bent leg technique.

I stood in confusion as Mr. Chris Satterfield, our band director, taught the new marching style to our band. I began to march in the fundamental block along with the other band members as I called commands that pertained to the new style. Later in the week, I began to understand the new style, and I could help out a few freshmen that were in need of help.

At the end of band camp, we have the tradition of playing our program in front of parents and friends. I began to run the show through my head as I climbed up the black podium that towered above the band. My hands went up, and I began to count off. Horns flashed to the press box, and the show began.

As I stood up on the main podium during a full performance for the first time, I realized that I had the whole band under my control with just a wave of my hand, and they completely trusted me with everything. After cutting off the band and ending the show, the feeling of a job well done overwhelmed my heart as I acknowledged the band and bowed to the audience. I know that I will never feel like that again.

Doing It All

My goal is to become as great and fearless as Ryan Brooks, our drum major who is also a third-year incumbent. I have also become very fascinated with drum corps. I have decided that I want to audition for groups such as Memphis Sound or Southwind, and I aspire to be drum major for either. I also plan to be drum major in college and study music education. One day I would like to create my own drum corps and compete with the top ensembles like The Cavaliers and Phantom Regiment. I realize that these are big goals, and I really feel that I can accomplish them if I put my mind to it. Hey, who said you can’t do it all?

Photo by Ken and Jean Lennon. All rights reserved.

About author

Carol Olson

Carol Olson is currently the field commander for the South-Doyle High School Cherokee Marching Band in Knoxville, Tenn., and plans to audition for drum major for the 2008 season.

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