The Long Road Home

Jasper Miranda--The challenges of being a drum major, a father, and a veteran.
The challenges of being a drum major, a father, and a veteran.

Prior to my Expiration of Term of Service from the Army in February 2014, the last thing on my mind was returning to music. As a matter of fact, I was just trying to make it to the next day, seizure-free.

Yup, you guessed it, I am also a disabled veteran. I served 12 years in the Army, six active duty and six in the Texas Army National Guard. During that time, I also deployed twice—first as an apache helicopter mechanic and second as a light infantryman—in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. These jobs were the complete opposite of a musician.

But, like many who came home, I too had invisible wounds that were slowly taking their toll on me, and I knew I had to find a new mission, a new way, not only for my own sake but also for my children’s. In fall 2013, I would find it.

Bridging the Gap

I entered the music program as an untested 33-year-old, someone who hadn’t touched a trumpet in 15 years. I had walked away from music after high school graduation, thinking a military career was my future. In the years following, I would do some pretty awesome things: learn to work on a multimillion-dollar attack helicopter, make friends for life, and live in Europe. Then 9/11 happened.

Fast forward to March 2003: I would celebrate my 23rd birthday in the sands of Kuwait, preparing to move north to Iraq. Life had other plans; I would be sent home medically discharged.

I found myself in a college classroom that fall, usually older than my classmates, in age and mentally. I never could fit in, and it was because I was not home, not yet.

In February 2008, I re-enlisted as an infantryman and volunteered for an Iraqi Freedom deployment. The only constant in my life at this point was music. It was my voice when I couldn’t speak, which was often.

Keep Moving Forward

I had been trying to get a degree in something since the fall of 2003, but my mind and my heart couldn’t settle into one field of study. I bounced between nursing, respiratory therapy, music therapy, and child psychology. My interests varied, but the money to attend school only lasted for so long.

At some point, I volunteered for a Bands of America Super Regional in San Antonio as a scores runner. The sounds of marching trumpets and drumlines brought not only chills to my spine but also a happiness to my heart that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I kept asking myself if I was too old to come back to music as an educator. Time would hold the answer for me. Indeed, I would serve an extra six years in the military before ending my career after 12 years of service.

During the last few months of my time in the military, I took the plunge and changed my degree from child and family life studies to music education. I was 33 years old, and it was time to find a new mission and chase a long-lost dream.

Adapt, Overcome

To say that being a music education major is a challenge would be an understatement. Besides being a gunner on a gun truck in Iraq, this has probably been one of the most challenging missions I have ever undertaken in life.

It has been a tough balancing act: being a father to three daughters, a husband, a full-time student as well as running a not-for-profit organization.

But the best (yes, I said best) challenge was that of being a drum major for the marching band at the University of Texas at the Permian Basin (UTPB). We just completed our second year of existence, and we are quickly making a name for ourselves as bringing innovative shows to our small corner of Texas.

This year not only was I the drum major, but I also helped sequence and program the electronics for our field show, and I helped train our front ensemble on the use of the field sound system.

Be, Know, Do

The one piece of advice I can give to an aspiring drum major, be it college or high school, is to follow this mantra: “Be, Know, Do.” It is a mantra we follow in the military.

Be the leader you would follow, the person people want to gravitate to, the leader everyone knows will get the job done.

Know your job, know what it takes to get the job done on the field, know your instrument and what it takes to teach it at a basic level, know yourself and your limits. Push yourself, but don’t push yourself to the point of breaking. You have a band as well as directors who are depending on you. Don’t be afraid to say, “I need to take a break.” We are human, not machines.

Do what you say you will do. Be a person of your word, of integrity. Don’t be afraid to call out mistakes, but also don’t be afraid to own your own mistakes. We are fallible beings, and a willingness to own up to your mistakes and shortcoming shows a level of personal courage that your classmates and directors will grow to admire.

I love being a UTPB Falcon. I love my music department. Being a drum major for a young marching band has allowed me to grow in a way I never envisioned. Being a father, a husband, a leader, and a veteran all converged on the marching field, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. #Falconsup!

About the Author

Jasper Miranda is currently a senior at the University of Texas at the Permian Basin, majoring in music education. His primary instrument is trumpet with a minor in percussion. He served 12 years in the military between the U.S. Army and the Texas Army National Guard, deploying twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is married with three daughters.

Photo courtesy of Michael Miranda.

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