Building Blocks of a Band

The Vista Murrieta High School Golden Alliance started from scratch just four years ago. Now, the band boasts more than 200 members and will compete at regional Bands of America competitions this year. Find out about the band’s rise from obscurity to potential greatness from the viewpoint of its former drum major.

It’s nearing the 100-degree mark at 11 a.m., and I’m standing in direct, blazing sunlight. I’m not wearing any sunscreen, and all I have with me is a puny 16-ounce bottle of water. For a second, I wonder, “What am I doing here again?” But only for a second.

I’m visiting my old band as it goes through the summer ritual of band camp. Watching the field as the members set and reset drill, I am keenly aware of how fortunate I am not to be on the 30-yard line, drenched in sweat for hours at a time.

It’s a sort of bittersweet feeling, looking at the band I helped establish but not being part of it anymore.

Having just graduated high school a few months ago, I am in a unique position to look back with a different perspective and evaluate my time as the drum major of the Vista Murrieta High School Golden Alliance in Murrieta, Calif. It was undeniably the best experience I had in high school.

The Foundation

I can’t say I ever wanted to be drum major. Or at least I didn’t start out wanting to be one.

Marching down the street—front and center—with a large block of musicians, being judged by hundreds of spectators and trying to prevent a narrow baton from falling out of my grip while spinning and tossing it in the air was not my idea of fun.

But being a drum major entails a lot more than that. And after you get the hang of not dropping a baton, it’s actually kind of exhilarating.

My experience in my band was somewhat unique as I was one of its founding members.

At the time, the district’s only high school squeezed upwards of 4,500 students onto a campus made for 2,500. Then the school board opened a second high school, Vista Murrieta, just as the Class of 2007 (my class) entered as freshmen. The band—along with every other program and sports team at the school—needed to be built from scratch.

That first year I was just like any other freshman band kid: not athletic, slightly geeky and deathly afraid at the thought of playing AND marching … at the same time!

That year, we marched in one parade and went to one competition, but the foundation had been set.

As I observed the leadership team, I thought, “Hey, I want to do that!” So as a sophomore, I applied for and became the euphonium section leader. We performed a field show, and we weren’t too bad. Our small band also made our competitive debut in the Southern California School Band and Orchestra Association (SCSBOA).

Step by Step

At the end of the year, my band director convinced me that I was a good candidate for drum major because I had the leadership skills it would take. He asked me to try out for the job. I did and served as drum major for two years.

I performed all the duties of a typical drum major—conducted on the field, spun a baton on the street, helped freshmen learn their right from their left … you know, the works. But as the drum major of a fledgling competitive program, I also helped guide the band from complete obscurity toward its goal of becoming one of the most respected and elite groups on the Southern California marching scene. That was not an easy job by any means. Southern California comprises an enormous variety of bands but is dominated by large programs with large fan bases and long histories of success.

To be competitive in the top division, we needed to accomplish in four years what other organizations had taken 10, 20 or 30 years to do. We did everything with the knowledge that we were the “new kid on the block”—the underdog —and that, in all reality, we probably weren’t going to beat the big boys the first year or two out. It took a lot of motivation and enthusiasm on my part as drum major and on the part of our leadership team to inspire the band to push as far as we could.

When we didn’t take first place or beat any of the big bands, we weren’t upset. Actually, we were thrilled. We had competed on the same field and in the same division as bands that inspired us just a few years before. Who doesn’t want to be a part of something that big, let alone lead it? I had a blast.

The Next Formation

The Golden Alliance is continuing its quest for greatness. With new drum majors and a crop of young faces, the group will be expanding its presence in Bands of America with two regionals on the schedule this fall and an appearance at Grand Nationals in the fall of 2008.

Watching the band from the sidelines this summer, I feel a sense of pride. My fellow band members, leaders and I helped bring the band to this point in its journey; now it’s up to the next generation to take it further.

About the Author

Jeremy Ogul is a 2007 graduate of Vista Murrieta High School in Murrieta, Calif. He will be attending the University of California at Davis this fall as a political science and communication major.

Photo by Jolesch Photography, www.jolesch.com.