All-American Experience in Rome

A photo of Sebastian Gutierrez in Rome.
Each year, All-Americans declared at United Spirit Association camps head off for an unforgettable trip to an international destination.

On my last day at the United Spirit Association (USA) drum major camp at California Lutheran University in July 2019, I received the honor of becoming an All-American and an invitation to perform in the 2020 Rome New Year’s Parade in Italy. The whole situation was a shock to me, mainly because I was just heading into my first year as drum major. Quite frankly I didn’t think I was capable of having such a title to my name. But in the eyes of my teacher and the parade recruiters, I was exactly what they were looking for in a drum major.

Grueling Auditions

During my freshman year in the Oxnard (California) High School Marching Yellow Jacket Swarm, I met a very important role model. A trombone player named Adrian Michael Hawthorne was head drum major. He was the best of the best in my eyes and a very kind-hearted person. His dedication to music led him to a scholarship to California State University, Northridge. All of his greatness made me strive to be like him.

Because of his graduation and the legacy that he left behind, I considered trying out for drum major at the end of my sophomore year. A grueling one-month mandatory rehearsal process began, and in the end, I received the position of assistant drum major.

As part of the requirement for auditioning, I needed to be available to attend the USA camp. The other two drum majors from my school also attended.

Surprise Announcement

During the four-day event, I met numerous drum majors from around the county, all with amazing capabilities and talents. I learned proper conducting patterns, tricks on the mace that I had never seen before, and how to lead a parade.

As the camp came to a close, the instructors held an awards ceremony. The head instructor called up four drum majors to the front, and I was one of them. The instructor then proceeded to say amazing heartfelt words to us. I remember closing my eyes because I was trying to hold back tears of joy. The four of us were announced as All-Americans and invited to perform in the Rome New Year’s Parade.

When I came home from the camp, I explained everything to my family. They allowed me to go because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. I’m eternally grateful, especially since the trip wasn’t free.

Eternal City

As the fall season went by, I needed to learn a whole routine on my mace, which I practiced hours to perfection. During updates about the trip, we found out that I needed a chaperone, so my parents decided that my older brother would attend with me. Before I knew it, Dec. 26 came along, and I was at the airport.

I met up with the All-Americans, who to my surprise were mostly cheerleaders and dancers, and checked in with the instructor. There were two plane rides, the first being an excruciating 12-hour flight in which I didn’t sleep, and then a two-hour flight into Rome. Once we landed, we all got our things and went to the hotel, finished up orientation, had a very late dinner (11:30 p.m.), and finally slept in a bed.

Now that I was in Rome, I met a whole bunch of new people and toured all of Rome. In total, there were only 11 drum majors and approximately 300 dancers and cheerleaders. (As a part of Varsity Spirit, USA has spent 70 years in the cheer and dance activities and only recently expanded to bands.)

Every single day we went to someplace new and ate something new. Typically, we toured a main attraction, and then the rest of the time was free. The main attractions included the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, and the statue of David in nearby Florence, just to name a few. The days always ended with dinner at the hotel.

On the day of the parade, we waited for hours until it was our time to start. Even though I practiced for so long to perfect my routine, I still dropped my mace the moment I started.

Throughout the whole parade, I grew more confident, but then it got to the last moments. The cameras were on me, and I was about to be on live television. Because my mind was spinning, I dropped my mace again. I was very disappointed in myself, but I kept my composure and finished strong.

I will always remember my time as an All-American drum major in Rome, representing my school, city, and country. Special thanks to my band director, Andre Spence, and all the band boosters that helped me along the way.

About author

Sebastian Gutierrez

Sebastian Gutierrez attends Oxnard (California) High School and is drum major of the Marching Swarm. He is a rising senior and plays the trumpet. He plans to become a professional performer and/or teacher.