A young drum major learns the value of passion and hard work to gain the respect of her fellow band members.
Photo by John Hylkema
As I stood in a block formation with 100 other Syracuse University (SU) freshmen, the garage door to the Carrier Dome clinked open. After the final, echoing “clank,” we were engulfed in silence.
Slowly, we marched to the center of the football stadium. The signature sea of orange fans and deafening chants of “SYRACUSE” were gone. Instead, an army of Syracuse University Marching Band (SUMB) veterans stood at attention at the opposite end zone. Thus, we began a SUMB band camp tradition called “Silent Drill.”
As ritual required, the two groups silently and simultaneously marched a drill sequence. After the last maneuver, the silence was broken with an explosive, unifying and guttural, “Pride.”
Excitement pulsed through my veins because I had just been initiated into the SUMB family. Little did I know, my collegiate identity would become further intertwined with the SUMB.
After my freshman year in marching band, I decided to audition for the role of drum major. My iPod became a new fashion accessory as I deconstructed scores and practiced conducting. Although three leadership positions were open, band members told me that because of my age, I would not get a spot. To my surprise, I received a position.
I was nervous about how others would perceive me. Half of the people would be older than me and have more experience in the organization. My practice and hard work had afforded me the opportunity to lead, but I still needed to prove myself.
I had been a drum major for two years in high school, but I had more responsibility at SU. My director was willing to listen and implement some of my music and hornswing suggestions. I also had a real voice in planning band camp and used a headset to communicate with the band during drill rehearsal. It was also my responsibility to conduct our shows and stand tunes.
Conducting in the football stands taught me to think quickly and to keep my cool when the unexpected happened. My clarinet teacher had always instructed me to enter an audition mentally prepared for a mistake, so I could recover strongly. I found this advice helpful in the stands where I had to act decisively and instantaneously.
It was my job to watch the game and correctly start and stop the band. I was terrified that I would accidentally give our football team a penalty by not cutting the band off at the right time. Thankfully, I was working with two other drum majors who taught me the value of leaning on one another to get the job done.
Emotion and Passion
I am thankful that I joined the Pride of the Orange. My involvement has opened doors of opportunity that I never thought possible. I have conducted the halftime show of an NFL football game. I have led the band on the orange carpet during the world premiere of the movie “The Express.” And I have made some of the best friends while cheering on our alma mater.
The position of drum major has been integral in my life. I have viewed various milestones through the drum major lens.
In high school, I grieved the death of my band director while trying to lead for the first time. His memory encouraged me to fulfill my true potential in both music and life. Conducting became an outlet to express my emotions, and music became a way to live in the moment.
During my college drum major audition, I could not help but bring that raw, underlying emotion into my performance. I conducted in a different style than what the SUMB used and was an underdog as a freshman. However, after I performed, many members approached me to say that they could see passion in my eyes.
This year, when drum major auditions rolled around, I was sure to respect the auditioning underclassmen. Who was I to say that they did not have the same fiery passion that was invisible on the surface but infectious when unleashed in front of the band? I have learned that age is irrelevant when it comes to leading.
A Tall Order
I would liken being a drum major to achieving a certain state of mind. It is a matter of putting others before you. It is a willingness to make sacrifices and accept that not everyone will agree with you. It is realizing that the job does not end when you walk off the field.
You live, study and socialize with the same people you try to motivate. And it is your duty to carry yourself with poise in all circumstances. It is a tall order.
However, I could never ask for a more rewarding feeling than running out onto the field with 200 other band members during the SUMB’s traditional pre-game sequence. And I could not think of a better way to feel alive than by living in each temporal moment that I conduct.