Two Different Worlds

One drum major learns that concert and marching band are very different animals.

There is nothing quite like the adrenaline rush that surges through your veins as the marching band takes its place on the field for the halftime show. The perfect cacophony of the brass and woodwinds fused with the pulsing throb of drum cadences is enough to set anyone’s blood on fire.

As a drum major, I love being in the center of all that wonderful noise. But for me, my love of music took me one step further than the football field. In fact, before becoming a drum major, I had several opportunities in which to lead our junior high concert band. The experiences I had with our junior high band helped to guide my steps as a drum major.

Hi, my name is Erin Hepler, and I am the drum major of the Redbank Valley Bulldog Marching Band in New Bethlehem, Pa. I am a senior, and I play tenor saxophone in concert band and jazz band.

Me? A Conductor?

In the beginning of my junior year, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend my study hall period in the comfort of my band room, surrounded by the glorious clamor that is attributed to the junior high band. At first, my presence was minimal, and I simply spent the period cataloguing music or running errands.

One day though, my band director approached me and asked if I would be interested in conducting the band through a holiday piece called “Jingle Jazz.” At first, I was flabbergasted, but I took the opportunity and ran with it.

Conducting wasn’t totally new to me as I had auditioned for drum major of the marching band that year, but the adventure of actually conducting a band and having them respond to me was an alien concept. I was scared to death! I’m sure that I looked completely spastic while I was on the stand, but I was grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow.

When the Director’s Away…

From that day forward, every time my band director was absent from school, I seized the opportunity to work with the junior high band. At first, I was unsure about what to do and what to say, and I had one heck of a time trying to turn the pages in the score! Also, the looks I received from the substitutes when they heard I was going to be working with the band … let’s just say some of them were quite memorable.

But as time progressed, I grew more confident with my actions, and I believe that the band and I grew more attuned to each other. I can say that there were definitely some kids who were less than thrilled with the fact that they still had to play, but in my opinion, when the director’s away, the kids can still play.

A Different Animal

In the spring of my junior year, I was selected to serve as the drum major of our marching band for the 2007 to 2008 year. As I had been working with the junior high band for quite some time, I thought the transition would be a piece of cake. I was wrong. Marching band is a totally different animal than concert band, but the lessons I learned when conducting the junior high band came into play more than once during my tenure.

Working with the concert band taught me the values of patience, endurance, vitality, respect and tolerance. Likewise, being the drum major of the marching band taught me pride, passion, discipline, respect and stamina. I believe that all of the concepts I learned with both bands fed off of each other and helped me to prosper as a leader.

At times, working with the band, be it concert or marching, was extremely frustrating. In the beginning, I knew I hadn’t earned their respect yet, and I had to work double time to keep them under control. However, I knew that I had gained their respect when they began to discipline themselves. We built a great relationship, and I became something of a den mother—a role I gladly accepted.

Taking the Stand

My marching band has fought a valiant fight over the years. We have fought to earn the respect of our school and our community. I cannot understand why people do not see the value of the marching band when it instills valuable principles like discipline and pride into the students.

Working with the concert band, I could see how marching band had changed some of the students’ lives. They were more disciplined in class, and they made spectacular leaps in their musical education. They also took more of an initiative to step up and become leaders themselves.

As their drum major, I have a great amount of respect for my band. They have taken mediocrity and given it a beating no one will ever forget. We are disciplined. We are proud. We are the Redbank Valley Marching Band.

About the Author

Erin Hepler is finishing her senior year at Redbank Valley High School in New Bethlehem, Pa. She plays tenor saxophone and is drum major of the marching band. She plans to attend Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., to major in music education. She would also like to pursue a Master’s degree in jazz studies and live a happy life surrounded by music.

Photo by Greg Snyder. All rights reserved.

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