Starting something new is never easy, but it does provide many growth opportunities. One drum major faces the challenges of moving the band in a futuristic direction and discovers the power of perseverance within him.
Photo by Jen Bowen Blackwell
What is the hardest part of a marathon? Is it the beginning, when the runner’s heart pounds with excitement, ready for the challenge ahead? Or is it the end, when the runner is low on fuel, longing only for the finish line? Or, if you are like me, maybe you will find that the hardest part is in the middle of it all.
The Starting Line
I was the drum major of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School for two years, always eager to learn and to find new ways to help my band and fellow band mates. We have a decent-sized group, just more than 80 horn players, 16 percussionists and 24 guard members.
The 2010 fall show, entitled “Envious,” conveyed the emotion of envy through a soloist. This year, my director decided that it would be best to go in a new direction—to do away with a marching battery percussion section and instead have a backfield percussion section, driven heavily by electronics, on a mini stage. This setup would resemble the one by the Tarpon Springs (Fla.) High School Marching Band, a frequent top finalist in Bands of America competition.
We made this decision not only because it was new and innovative but also because the number of experienced percussionists was dwindling, and we felt that our talents would be best displayed in this way.
I was the only senior percussionist, and the role would require some backfield conducting, so naturally I was chosen to head up this project. This was our marathon, and the beginning of it was exciting.
Ups and Downs
The drawbacks to being chosen for this position were apparent from the beginning. The parts were all mine, which meant creative freedom but also a lot of pressure. There was a ton of equipment setup and takedown. Oftentimes, a few of my fellow band mates and I would stay after practice for an extra half hour or more. Yet I was ready, willing and determined to make this pursuit a success.
I’d be lying if I told you that I had tons of fun doing what I loved. The parts weren’t very challenging, often because they had to “fit the music.” I loved the music to the show more than anything we had ever played. The first and third movements were arrangements of “Serenada Schizophrana” by Danny Elfman and the ballad was Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque,” easily one of my favorite pieces of music. Yet because I was fulfilling my backfi eld responsibilities, I never got the chance to conduct much.
I’d also be lying if I said that I had no fun at all. It was interesting to figure out what my director wanted at certain spots of the show, then play something that fit to that, almost like a puzzle. The time and sound delay was also challenging, and I always love a great challenge.
A Second Wind?
By the end, I finally realized that starting something new is never easy, but as the old saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” I did what had to be done, and now things can move forward.
Even though practices that were three hours long seemed like six, even though it wasn’t always easy being filled with so much pressure and expectation, and even though this season might not have been a huge success, it was a step forward. The progress can already be seen.
After the season my director purchased a new Roland V-Drums electronic drum set, complete with hi-hat, cymbals, kick drum and four pads. Also, many of the challenges as far as sound delay, staging and equipment have all been figured out. None of it was perfect, but nothing is ever perfect the first time around.
What is the hardest part of a marathon? Well, if I had to pick, I’d say that it has to be the middle. This season has taught me that any race is won through perseverance and determination to reach the end.
To have the mindset to keep going, to move on and ignore frustration, anger or even apathy; that is what a marathon takes. And even though I may not have reaped the benefits immediately or directly, one day the band will, and I can say that I helped lay a bit of the groundwork to build on. That, to me, makes the race worthwhile.