The Accidental Drum Major

What happens when you unknowingly audition for drum major and actually get awarded the position? You embrace it!

Photo by Jen Edwards

The West Milford (N.J.) Highlander Marching Band holds a high standard for its members. As a freshman I was unsure how I would hold up to their standards. The marching band has taken hundreds of first place and honor awards in the past, and I knew it was going to be difficult to be good enough to fit in.

Every year, we march in the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City and never fail to impress the judges. Also, every fourth year, the band leaves for a 10-day tour to Scotland and England. Freshman year, I put all of my effort into every rehearsal, and it was worth it.

“When championship night comes, you’re not going to be thinking about these cold and rainy rehearsals; you’re going to be thinking about putting on the best show possible and making the audience know that the Highlander Band is here.” Our band director never failed to inspire us.

When that night came, I knew all of my hard work had paid off, and I was now a member of the 2009 U.S. Scholastic Band Association Group 5A Northern States Champion Band.

The Unexpected

I knew that I wanted to play a bigger role in the marching band, but being a drum major was last on my list. Becoming the next clarinet section leader was my main goal, and nothing would stand in my way.

Every year the drum majors put together a teaching clinic for the members who would like to audition to be the next Highlander drum major. An upperclassman told me that the clinic was a great learning experience even if I did not want to become drum major. When the auditions came around, I stepped aside.

Halfway through, I felt a hand on my shoulder. “He wants to see what you can do.” The current head drum major motioned me to follow.

I walked in to see my band director and everyone else watching me. Unprepared, I conducted “The Star Spangled Banner” and walked out. I could not figure out why I needed to audition. After all, many people told me that only upperclassmen become drum majors.

The results were posted, and I did not bother looking. My friend came running toward me, screaming. I was about to congratulate her on her new leadership position until she interrupted me, “You got drum major!”

In disbelief, I walked out to find my name under the caption “Drum Majors.” I stood there in shock, not knowing whether to be happy or scared. I knew this was going to bring on new responsibilities I was not ready for.

The Buildup

Before the season even started, I was already getting negative comments about being an underclassman drum major. These statements made me very nervous. Upperclassmen did not like the fact that a sophomore would be up on the podium. For a while, I felt like they were right; I should not be in this position.

Then I attended the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy. At this academy, I was taught the skills I needed to be the best possible drum major I could be. When I returned back home, I felt like I was ready to lead my band to excellence.

The Process

I was no longer learning the ropes as drum major, which allowed me to focus on the other major aspects of my job. I was able to expand on my leadership skills, and I was no longer hiding behind the fact that I was only a sophomore. I was able to create the balance of fun and work with my band members which really paid off in the end.

In order for your band members to respect you, you must respect them. Also, my co-drum majors and I worked really well as a team, and the judges at our competitions were able to see that.

We were given two trophies: “Best Drum Major Award” and the “Dr. Gloria Kyleigh’s Leadership Excellence Award.” It was great to know that the judges were able to recognize our hard work as well as the band’s great performance.

The Ups and Downs

Being drum major is the hardest thing I have done in my life. Everyone expects you to always be correct with everything you do, which will never happen. The band members do not realize all of the behind-the-scenes work that is done, so rehearsals can work properly. It is our responsibility to make sure the band is ready to start on time and all of the equipment is in place. Also, you are expected to be a role model on and off the field.

My favorite part about being drum major is seeing the band improve as the season goes on. Every year the Highlander Band has brought tears to my eyes and goose bumps to my arms. Being drum major has been very rewarding, and it is crazy to think I did not want this position at first. I am proud to represent such a wonderful band and leading them has been an honor. Every drum major should take advantage of the fact that they have the best opportunity to change people’s lives. Your band members will never forget you.

About the Author

Lindsay Walsh is a junior at West Milford High School, where she will have three years as a drum major. She plays clarinet in the wind ensemble. Lindsay also plays cymbals in the West Milford Indoor Percussion group. She also marched with the 2010 Macy’s Great American Marching Band. Lindsay plans on attending college to major in music education.