An Unexpected Musical Journey

For some people, the commitment to be in marching band goes above and beyond normal circumstances as they attend one school and march with another.

Photo by Karen Holmstrom

Coming from a family in which nearly everyone plays an instrument, it was no surprise when I picked up my dad’s saxophone at age 9 to participate in my school’s music program.

Now, as a senior and the drum major of the Parsippany Hills marching band in Parsippany, N.J., I look back and think about how my band experience has been everything but normal.

Logistical Issues

During the eighth grade, I decided to go to high school at Morris County School of Technology in Denville, N.J., as a dance major. While applying, I learned that the school did not have a music department. Devastated, I did not fully commit to leaving my friends and my music education for a future career in dance until I found out that I would still be able to march with my hometown band.

Because marching band was the only way I got to perform on my saxophone, I put all my heart into every minute I was on the field; however, my freshman year was extremely difficult. I often missed the beginning of practices because of my school schedule and transportation issues. It was a challenge for my parents to leave work in the middle of the day to take me to marching band, and traffic was almost always a problem. As I got used to the schedule, it became a little easier, but the issue never went away; nothing could stop the fact that I got out of school at 2:52, and practice started at 2:30.

To my surprise, most of the students in the band were very accepting of me. I thought people would ignore me or think I was weird, but it turned out to be the exact opposite. Most thought it was cool that I was going to school somewhere else and coming back to Parsippany to march.

I continued to march through my sophomore year, loving every minute of it even if I was being yelled at for messing up the one drill set that was changed before I got to practice. Little did I know that all of this hard work would soon pay off.

Surprise “Audition

On a Saturday in June of my sophomore year, all of the upcoming juniors and seniors were on the football field with several high school alumni. It was our annual leadership training day. I was there auditioning for saxophone section leader.

Because I was not trying out for drum major, I did not attend any of the conducting sessions. Unexpectedly, a past drum major asked me why I wasn’t. I explained that I didn’t have much interest in the position and how it would be impossible because I did not attend high school at Parsippany Hills. Frustrated, she just shook her head. I brushed it off and was about to leave when our director Mr. Michael Iapicca, who had been interviewing drum major candidates, popped his head out of the office and said, “Karolina, I need to talk to you.”

“But I’m not auditioning for drum major,” I said confused.

“I know; just come in,” he said.

I entered the office and took a seat.

He told me that Mike Ryan, our drill designer and a member of our visual staff, wanted me to be drum major.

I was dumbfounded. I wasn’t even sure the staff knew my name at the time of their suggestion. I ended up saying yes to the job, knowing little of what it would involve.

Many of the seniors whose spot I had taken were very disappointed and angry. Even the students in my grade who had auditioned were irritated because I had not gone through the proper audition process. Trying to put aside these negative attitudes, I worked my hardest to learn names quickly, pass on what I knew and be the best drum major possible.

Lesson in Perseverance

Unfortunately, my junior year was much harder than I expected. As the assistant drum major of a band in which the majority of the students were infuriated with me, it was hard to go to practice with a smile on my face. Almost no one would listen to me, the head drum major basically ignored me, and it was hard to talk to anyone about it.

I was miserable and desperately missed being on the field. I tried to quit several times, but my director refused to let me resign. He told me again and again that I was doing fine and that I was needed on the podium next season. I learned the hard way that being at the top can be a lonely experience, but I view that season as a life lesson in perseverance. I am very happy that I stuck it out and continued to be the leader that my mentors saw in me.

This season as drum major, I worked even harder not only to help my band achieve musical and visual excellence but also to build friendships that would last a lifetime. All of my best friends, although aggravated during the previous season, stuck by me through thick and thin and are now the best support team I’ve ever had. It is really nice to have a group of friends outside of school; I can go to rehearsal, not have to worry about my schoolwork and just have fun.

If we tried our best and had fun as a band, I have achieved my goal, and I’m happy with the outcome. I absolutely love my band, and I would do anything for them.

About the Author

Karolina Holmstrom is a senior at the Morris County School of Technology in Denville, N.J., where she is studying ballet and contemporary dance. She has conducted her hometown marching band at Parsippany Hills High School in Parsippany, N.J., for the last two seasons. She will be attending college as a dance major next fall but would like to continue marching.

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