Through responsibilities, mistakes, tears, and triumphs, a drum major soaks up all of the experiences from her time leading various bands.
Friday nights carry a special tune in my small hometown of Rutledge, Tennessee. The football stadium lights hum in time with cicadas in the neighboring corn field. Cheers and claps from the crowd erupt in unison with the start of the school fight song after every home team touchdown. Children’s footsteps fall in line with the drumline cadence.
My favorite part of every Friday night comes roughly 30 minutes after the starting kickoff: halftime.
Ever since I began marching in the eighth grade, halftime has continuously been my motivator for every band camp, rehearsal, and performance. When I saw the drum major conduct in my first public performance, I was determined to one day follow in his footsteps and lead the Grainger High School band onto the field every Friday night.
A Fine Line
I got the chance to lead the band during my senior year. Our numbers rounded out at about 45 members total.
Being from a rural, mid- to low-income area, many parents couldn’t be as active as parents from neighboring communities due to work schedules and other circumstances. That left more responsibilities for the directors and the drum major.
My drum major instructor, Tim White, gave me words of caution at our pre-camp rehearsals: Being a drum major means walking a fine line between instructor and student. I had no idea how fine that line was at the time.
The beginning of band camp was an instant reality check. I now had a list of responsibilities to complete every morning. Water coolers had to be filled. Speakers had to be placed at the practice field. My podium had to be on the 50-yard line. The list only grew after we left band camp.
Oftentimes, I would mediate issues between members and address the band as a whole. I felt out of place correcting my peers when something went wrong. However, my directors depended on me to help ensure things went smoothly.
It was my responsibility to make sure students unloaded our equipment trailer and placed cases back inside. At my first away football game, our equipment was not unloaded in a timely manner. As a result, we were late to the stands and didn’t get to play the fight song as our team ran onto the field. I felt like I had disappointed my directors, fellow band members, and football team.
That Friday night taught me a lot about finding the fine line. I criticized myself harshly for weeks, but eventually I realized that I couldn’t kick myself forever. I had to remember that even though I had plenty of responsibilities to fulfill, I couldn’t expect perfection 100% of the time.
The Last Times
Senior year is full of last times: the last first home football game of the season, the last competition, and the last time leaving the band room as a student. The last halftime performance was my hardest last time.
When the band began to play our final piece, the “Tennessee Waltz” by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King, I cried until I couldn’t see. I left a piece of my heart on the field that night. For the last time, I marched off the field as a Grainger Grizzly.
A New Day
Today, I look forward to a new day: Saturday. I’m one of the current drum majors for the Emory (Virginia) & Henry College Marching Band. I’ve found something I thought I had left behind in high school: a band family. I’ve met some of my closest friends and grown exponentially as a musician and drum major.
Here is my advice for other drum majors:
- Strive for perfection but don’t expect it. You always have room for improvement.
- Find that fine line. You need to remember that you are a student as well. Being kind to your fellow band members and taking time to get to know them is the difference between being a good or bad drum major.
- If you make a mistake, correct it and move on. Mistakes are bound to happen, so don’t chastise yourself for weeks because of one mess-up. Use it as a learning experience.
- Enjoy your time on the podium. I’m very fortunate to have the chance to conduct a band again, but not everyone will go on to be a college drum major. Soak up every moment.
- “Last times” happen for everyone; make yours count. Truly experience your “last times” because they won’t happen again. Leave the field with no regrets.
Friday nights have turned into Saturday afternoons for me. The energies are different, but both carry special places in my heart. Now the sunshine beams down in lines as long as the band’s opening set. The smell of tailgates travels as far as our pregame parade. The football team’s thunderous entrance is rivaled in sound only by our school fight song.
Nevertheless, one thing always remains the same: Halftime goes on.