Flexibility Under Pressure

A photo of Luke Kirk.
A band trip to London with unexpected surprises helps one drum major understand the value of staying calm when faced with change.   

Flexibility: It is a virtuous characteristic, especially for a leader. It is the ability to adapt to any situation that arises or may arise.

Everyone has memories they cherish, and sometimes navigating a few bumps in the road make those moments even more treasured.

Leadership Transition

A photo of Luke Kirk.Serving in my first year as a drum major for the Pride of Bixby Marching Band at Bixby (Oklahoma) High School took dedication, persistence, and practice. I began preparing for leadership before the prior season even ended.

After our band director announced our team of drum majors for the 2018 to 2019 season, he encouraged us to participate in Zephyrus Arts Institute’s SoundSport ensemble in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Once there, I was in a unique position as a performer and a conductor for the small group.

At Zephyrus, we participated in a clinic led by Dan Potter, a professional radio host and announcer for Drum Corps International and Music for All. He talked about his experiences being a performer, and he inspired me. I realized that any drum major can be a metronome for the band, but each drum major must also choose what values to embody and how to lead.

Bigger and Better

Meanwhile at Bixby, we received news that we would be taking our talents and hard work internationally to participate in London’s New Year’s Day Parade for 2019, and I was ecstatic. The excitement was felt by every member. For the next year and a half, the trip would be on all of our minds every day.

For me, being a drum major is not just an on and off switch I flip during band rehearsals. It means taking your group and organization with you wherever you go. I quickly became synonymous with “the band” in my community but also built my own path to create the experience that I wanted for myself.

I have lived in Bixby, Oklahoma, for all of my life, and I have seen the school grow and push its programs into bigger and better things each year. Going to London was a very big opportunity for us and for the community.

The Pride of Bixby would represent our school and city not only on the state or national level, but we would showcase who we are to 300 million viewers worldwide. Few schools get the chance to take 200-plus students across the world, and that was special to us all, coming from such a small city.

London Bound

On Dec. 27, 2018, the Pride of Bixby embarked on its adventure to London, or so we thought. Four of the six planes took off as planned. However, two other flights were canceled. This unexpected situation meant that our ensemble was now spread out in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Atlanta, and London as band members were either stranded or completing parts of their journey.

I was among the first to arrive in London. After the initial feelings of relief that we made it, I was quickly reminded that we were the lucky few.

Keeping composed under pressure and during uncomfortable situations became paramount. In order to remain stoic as a leader, I kept my chin up and my eyes to the future. To help us get through the ensuing madness, I remained calm and confident while also being flexible until issues resolved.

By Dec. 29, everyone had landed in London. We were given the unique opportunity to perform and play for the BBC on New Year’s Day. Though not originally in our plans, we woke up at 3:30 a.m., so we could appear on the morning news before the parade. Four hours after the news performance, we were ready for the two-mile trek through the streets of London. We brought some of our culture and life to the paradegoers and viewers as we played the tunes “Oklahoma!” and “Uptown Funk.”

Seeing the city of London through such a special experience made all the worries and stress melt away. With time and flexibility, our problems resolved, and we all got to participate in something we will never forget.

Eye-Opening

Following this eye-opening trip, I felt prepared for anything as I headed into my last high school marching band season this past fall. Many of the younger members worried about small things, such as, “What if the prop is too big, and they don’t like our show?” or “What if we don’t make finals?”

The response I always found myself giving was, “We will just have to be patient because only time will tell.”

Because of our ups and downs in London, I learned how important and hard it is for leaders to portray confidence in the least reassuring of times. One very real experience helped me go from saying I was flexible to realizing what it means to truly be and allow myself to be flexible in order to melt some of the stress away of such a strenuous job.

In Dececmber 2019, we did a feature story on another band attending the 2020 London New Year’s Day Parade. Learn who else performed here.

Photos courtesy of Shipman Photography and Aaron J. Morton.

About the author

Luke Kirk

Luke Kirk is a senior at Bixby (Oklahoma) High School. He was a drum major from 2018 to 2020 for the Pride of Bixby Marching Band and plays trombone in the Bixby Wind Ensemble. In addition, he is a founding member and former conductor of the Zephyrus Arts Institute’s SoundSport ensemble. He plans on attending The University of Oklahoma and minoring in music.

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