Shaping a Drum Major

Head drum major of the Avon Marching Black & Gold—Bands of America’s three-peat Grand National Champion—looks back on three “humbling” years on the podium.

Photo by Fred Boyd

The summer of my freshman year of high school, I hesitantly stepped into a program that demanded an excellence and a self-discipline that I had never experienced before. I was intimidated by the rigor of the performances expected by the Avon Marching Black & Gold. As seven-time defenders of the Indiana state championships, the intensity clung to the air of the band room, where students loyally practiced day in and day out.

Though I was among 50 other overwhelmed freshmen, I felt comforted by the warm greetings I received by the “veterans” of the program. Upperclassmen assured me that these next four years would be a blast. And, boy, were they right.

I grew a lot my first year, physically and emotionally. I learned what it meant to truly strive for something that I wanted and something that no one thought was possible. That year, I cried when I won my first state championship and danced when the band received second in the Bands of America (BOA) Grand National Championships.

I grew close to the trumpet players that year and enjoyed the time I spent in that section, but I most recall longing to be a drum major. Little did I know, drum majors are not the shy type. They do not get nervous in front of large groups of people, and taking criticism was done with grace. I had a long way to go.

Learning the Ropes

The next season (my sophomore year), I joined the team of five drum majors. Since I was the youngest, I was put in charge of tasks like running the metronome and making sure cones were set up for practice. Though these jobs weren’t the most flattering or spotlight worthy, I knew my day would come.

As the rookie drum major, I felt as though I was one of the freshmen once again. This time, though, I had to learn the ropes by watching instead of being taught. I was surprised to discover that drum majors don’t get sectionals time to learn the show; it is expected that we learn the show on our own. This newfound responsibility made me realize the position I had gotten myself into.

On top of the conducting aspect of the position, the daily behind-the-scenes duties kept all five of us busy. Contrary to what many band members believe, being a drum major isn’t a walk in the park. Directors trusted us to make copies by the hundreds for drill and music, set up and tear down any and all fields, set metronomes, organize files, and make sure practice is running as smoothly as possible. Though the band depends on these things to be done, these characteristics of the job are sometimes overlooked.

On the other hand, one of my favorite perks of being a drum major is being able to represent my band. It is very humbling to wear the uniform as a drum major because I know I am symbolizing my band’s hard work throughout the season.

On the Head Podium

So here I am, my senior year. This past June, I took the head podium for the first time, and I got goose bumps when the band played the first chord at the fall of my hands. I’ll never forget our first run-through or the butterflies in my stomach as I saluted at the first invitational of the year.

Conducting for the Avon Marching Black & Gold has the tendency to take the breath away from you, and it never gets old.

This season, my fellow band members and I were able to make history. We accomplished the highest music score in BOA history and are the second band to ever win Grand Nationals three years in a row. Aside from that, we made our own history back home on the parking lot field where memories and lifelong friendships were made. These are the things I cherish above all trophies or titles.

Looking Back and Ahead

Looking back on the experience as a whole, I realize the impact the Avon Marching Band has had on shaping who I am. These past four years have taken me through a rollercoaster of ups and downs. I’ve learned to receive praise as well as criticism. And now I know that the exhilaration of success comes with hard work.

I can proudly say I have led some of the nation’s best. Leadership isn’t being the boss; it’s setting an example and positively influencing others by your actions. I am fortunate enough to have had this experience and will carry these qualities with me for the rest of my life.

About author

Jessica McKinney

Jessica McKinney is a senior at Avon (Ind.) High School where she has been a drum major for the Marching Black & Gold for three years. She plays the French horn in the wind ensemble. Jessica also plays the cymbals in the world drum line at Avon. She plans to attend Taylor University in the fall and study biology.