Paying It Forward

Words of wisdom about leadership … from being a drum major to teaching drum majors.

Photo: Kyle Trader (right) has been on the visual staff of the Troopers since 2009 and coaches young drum majors like this year’s Alex Lackey.

As a teacher of upcoming leadership and drum majors in a Drum Corps International (DCI) group, I have to thank the amount of leadership and mentoring I had myself as a drum major in high school and in corps. If it weren’t for the amazing leadership, I wouldn’t have made it through, let alone have aspirations to become an individual like them.

Since 2003 I have been a drum major twice, once in my senior year of high school and then in 2008 with the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps from Casper, Wyo. Being in that leadership role with two completely different groups really shaped how I went about the job. Both times I could only be drum major for one season, so I knew I needed to learn the job quickly.

When I first started my drum corps career in 2004, my drum major Michael Gough was such a great leader and friend; it made me want to become that person. It wasn’t so much the “drum major” title but more about being a great leader.

When I was offered the role, I was very excited and nervous about the challenge because I wanted to be the best person who has held that title. I approached the position as a job and saw it as something that would be hard if I didn’t know what I was doing and where I could be replaced if my performance wasn’t great.

Continuing the Tradition

In 2009 I joined the visual staff for the Troopers and have seen four drum majors in those years. These leaders have been very good at what they do, and they have been great people off the field.

At the Troopers these individuals have an added sense of pressure because the iconic uniform of the drum major is known throughout the activity. I know that these drum majors hear the same stories every summer from fans walking through show sites reminiscing of when they first saw the Troopers and how they were impressed with who the drum major was that year. That recognition is special to them, and not many organizations have that kind of history.

I enjoy being able to help the new drum major of the drum corps because he or she is joining in a special group of individuals that have held that role.

Top Tips

The first advice and words of wisdom I give to these leaders is to be very aware that they are in this position for a reason, and that they need to work very hard to enforce the decision to put them in that role. Yes, it may be a lot of stress to initially give a person, but it really gets them thinking more for the group and how they can contribute to better the group.

The fact that I have been in their shoes and that they always have someone to talk to makes it easier for them to ask questions about situations or problems that they might not know how to deal with.

I also tell the drum major to find a system of operation on a day-to-day level and keep it consistent. It will build predictability and expectation each day for the members. If others know what to expect, then it is easier to focus on other aspects of the drum major role, such as music study and conducting.

The hardest piece of advice I give is to remember the fact that the title comes before friends in the group. The drum major will have to give information and instructions that some might not be happy with, so the best plan of attack is to obtain the members’ trust and become respected. You will have friends, but know that it shouldn’t be their excuse not to complete a task or job. It definitely is hard on days when you think you might be alone without friends, but that isn’t the case. The group dynamic is more fluid, and everything is running smoother, and that is because the leadership is strong.

About the Author

Kyle Trader was drum major at Niwot (Colo.) High School in 2003. He was a member of the Troopers Drum and Bugle corps as a trumpet player in 2004 and 2005. In 2006 he was a trumpet player for the Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps and returned to the Troopers in 2007. He became drum major in 2008 and joined the visual staff in 2009. Since then he has been helping the leadership and drum majors and has been involved on the leadership committees. Kyle graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in business administration focusing on management and will be starting a master’s degree in not-for-profit management at Regis University in Denver in August.

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