Captain of the Backfield

Though hopes of becoming a college drum major was dashed, being named field commander proved to be just as rewarding.

Photo by Amie Graham/CNU and Graham Hunt

Being a part of the Marching Captains at Christopher Newport University (CNU) in Newport News, Va., has been an amazing time in my life. The Marching Captains will be going into its 9th season this coming fall. In that short amount of time, the band has already performed in the 2008 Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade as well as the 2012 New Year’s Day Parade in London.

When I was looking for colleges to attend, having a marching band was number one on the list of priorities. Sure, there are a few schools in Virginia with giant marching bands, but when I found CNU, I fell in love with the school and marching program. The school has roughly 5,000 people, and the marching band is approximately 140 people. Coming from a high school band of 65, it was a huge step up.

As a music education major, I was required to be in marching band for two years, and I marched all four years of college. I would have marched even if it were not a requirement.

This past fall was my last season since I am graduating this spring. I was selected as field commander, which meant that I was not just another student leader, but I was also an as-needed backfield conductor. Going into drum major auditions at the end of the last school year, I was hopeful that I would be selected. When the results were posted, I was upset, but I knew the two people chosen were the best for the job. I was still honored that I was chosen as field commander and went into the job ready to do the best I could do.

A Blessing and a Curse

The position is actually a very interesting one; for most of the show, I am on the field playing my clarinet and marching drill, but when a backfield conductor was needed, I would leave the drill and make my way to the back podium. After I was done conducting part of the show, I would make my way back into the drill.

This situation was actually a blessing and a curse all at the same time. I was still able to march in the show, which is something that I love to do, but I was missing for part of the drill and music learning, so I had to do some catch-up work when learning drill. I also missed some section time because I was out of the section to conduct and take care of other jobs.

Being higher up in the leadership chain gave me more responsibilities on top of being a backfield conductor. I also took care of music, such as making all necessary copies and distributing new music. I helped with uniform issues, making sure all of the band’s uniforms and equipment were ready to go for our trip to London.

The extra work, on top of learning what to conduct as well as learning drill and music, forced me to work harder than I ever had for marching band, but instead of backing down and letting it get to me, I rose to the challenges and made it the best season I’ve ever had.

In Synch

Many people who audition for drum major only see how important the drum major position is and not anything else. Backfield conductors are also an important aspect of the conducting team. They have to work closely with the drum majors to make sure they are upholding not only the proper conducting style but also the proper leadership style.

Getting up in front of the band for the first time to conduct my part of the show was nerve wracking. I didn’t want to mess anything up, and of course, I did by taking the music way too fast. It was definitely a learning curve that I had to catch up with, to put me at the same level as the drum majors that had been conducting the band.

On a High Note

My marching band career ended on a high note. While I was sad that it was over, I realize that the experiences that I had cannot be changed by anyone. My last performance was marching through the streets of London and playing just up the street from Big Ben, Parliament and Westminster Abbey.

Though I would have loved to be drum major of this ensemble, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything because I was doing what I loved.

About the Author

Andrew Schlaf, a senior at Christopher Newport University (CNU) in Newport News, Va., is majoring in instrumental music education. He is pursuing his masters of arts in teaching at CNU in the fall. He spent four years as a Marching Captain, where he played clarinet and was field commander this past year. He was also a member of Phoenix Blue Percussion, the 2012 Atlantic Indoor Association Percussion Independent A gold medalist. He has played clarinet since the sixth grade and is a brother of Kappa Kappa Psi, National Honorary Band Fraternity. In the past, he was drum major with Broad Run High School from Ashburn, Va., and with Shenandoah Sound Drum and Bugle Corps from Manassas Park, Va.

A photo of Blue Knights Drum Corps.

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