With dreams of being on top of the band podium since fifth grade, a rookie fulfills her goal of being drum major on her first try. as a sophomore commanding more upperclassmen than peers, she must learn to expect the unexpected and take nothing for granted.
Photo by Robert L. Beatty
The music program at Kiski Area High School in Vandergrift, Pa., has been recognized for its excellence for nearly 50 years. One of its premiere ensembles is the marching band, which began competing in Bands of America and state competitions in 1985. Because I was only a freshman, being selected as drum major for a program with such an impressive reputation would be a challenge. Even so, when the opportunity came to audition. I knew I would never pass up the chance.
I was shaking from anticipation as I headed toward the band room to find out the results of the auditions. I arrived to see my band director posting the piece of paper that held my fate. As I looked around him to see the name in bold letters , my heart leapt out of my chest with an excitement more extreme than anything I had ever felt before. The name was mine!
A few days later, the two graduating drum majors wrote in my yearbook. The first said, “You have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.” The other wrote, “Don’t take any moment on the podium (or ladder) for granted.” Neither one could have given me better advice.
Music has always been a part of my life. I knew I belonged in marching band since first grade when I saw Kiski perform for the first time; I had my heart set on being drum major since fifth. A family friend was drum major that year.
In sixth grade, my class was assigned to write an essay about our goals for high school. I wrote that I wanted to be in the “A” jazz ensemble and be drum major of the marching band. The teacher said to me, “These are some pretty big goals you are setting for yourself!”
I knew that I could accomplish them.
Making New Friends
Being drum major provides opportunities to meet new people, make friends and strengthen existing friendships.
I spent a lot of time with the head drum major, Anthony Palmiscno. Our friendship grew the most when we attended George N. Parks Drum Major Academy. We were five hours from home and arrived knowing only each other. Even though it was a long, grueling week of learning about conducting and leadership, it was one of the best experiences of my life, and I’m thankful to have met and learned from Mr. Parks before his passing.
I learned that during a performance, everyone works as a team, but the drum majors need to rely solely on each other to communicate the tempo to the band. For this reason, the head drum major and I needed to have a strong connection.
The Learning Curve
The drum majors take care of many behind-the-scenes details. There was a huge learning curve at the beginning when I had to be taught to use all the equipment.
Several times during rehearsal, the battery on the Dr. Beat metronome died, and practice stopped until I exchanged it for a fresh one and reprogrammed the entire show.
I found that it is really important to learn from mistakes as well as to open-mindedly accept criticism and use it constructively. When a staff member got upset with me, even though I was irritated, I learned to turn my anger into motivation to do it right.
Some jobs, such as following the drum line around with the portable speaker and the Dr. Beat, seemed tedious, but I had to accept it and do my job to make the band better.
One of the biggest difficulties I faced was the fact that about half of the band members were older and had more experience than both myself and the head drum major, who is a junior. It was a challenge to confidently communicate with upperclassmen. One way I found to make this transition easier was to get to know each band member individually. I realized that each personality is different, and it was easier to work with them if I tried to understand them.
“We want to take you to Nationals this year.” At the end of a September practice, my band director announced that we would be going to the Bands of America Grand National Championships.
Performing in front of so many people is an opportunity that does not come along very often. The feeling I got when they announced our school and the drum majors made all the effort worth it. Everything I had learned allowed me to perform confidently. I cherished every minute of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and am looking forward to my next two years as drum major.
About the Author
Laurel Beatty is a sophomore at Kiski Area High School in Vandergrift, Pa. She began playing piano when she was 5 years old. She plays alto saxophone in wind ensemble, tenor saxophone in jazz ensemble, and vibraphone and bells in percussion ensemble. She has also been a member of numerous other musical groups.