Turning Criticism into Critique

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How a drum major turned criticism to critique.
A drum major learns the hard way to check his hubris and turn around his attitude after receiving the worst drum major score in a local band competition.

Looking back on the night of Oct. 8, 2016, I could honestly say that it was the most depressing night of my drum major career. A longstanding tradition of our band, the Paragould McDonald’s Marching Invitational, is a nearby contest we go to every year for good critique and fair judging. Our little AA band from Piggott (Arkansas) High School performed the entirety of its show, “A Pirate’s Revenge,” for the first time that Saturday afternoon.

I conducted on my bright yellow podium and led this young group as it marched, spun, and played its way to a Red Division Grand Champion trophy. I should’ve been on cloud nine.

That night, however, I also obtained the worst drum major score out of 21 bands. My score of 60 out of 100 almost knocked me out from an Excellent (2) rating. As I looked down on the contest score sheet, in complete disbelief and shock, I tried to play it cool with my friends.

“Oh, yeah, I got the worst drum major score today,” I’d say and laugh.

But in the 45 minutes it took the bus to get home to Piggott, I was completely submerged into my own sad thoughts. What in the world did I do wrong?

Looking back to my past, the answer could be found in a single word: hubris.

Trouble at Band Camp

I still remember the day I was selected to be drum major of “The Pride of Clay County” Piggott Marching Mohawks. Any observer might think, “Oh wow, Louis must be so proud of himself! This will be a great opportunity for him. After all, he said becoming a good leader was his main goal, right?”

Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be completely true. Summer camp started out with opposition and dissent from a multitude of the older band members. I was becoming a sophomore that year, and our past two drum majors had been seniors when they got the job.

It was exhausting to get anyone to listen to me, especially if I started to sound irate. I became extremely paranoid about others talking about me behind my back, and I put on a new façade. Self-importance and arrogance became my style of communication to appear more confident and knowledgeable, to be worthy of their deference.

I refused all help or constructive criticism from any of our band alumni or even my director. I was simply too good to accept what I perceived to be second-rate knowledge. The ugly expressions etched on my face became a trademark of mine that everybody got used to seeing during rehearsals. My director attempted to talk sense into me, and I ignored every piece of advice.

In the few short weeks of summer camp, I had completely lost the respect of the band. I had shown myself to be seriously deficient at any sort of leadership. It was the low point of my entire career, and I still didn’t know what was going on.

When Reality Hit

As the realization of the person I had turned myself into became apparent that night in the dark bus ride home (and in the weeks and months that followed), I began to metamorphose. Instead of shunning criticism from people who had more experience, I accepted their words with the mindset that I would improve. I quit fighting opposition and dissent with anger or hateful comments, and by the time I became drum major for the second year, I had finally made peace with the majority of the band.

The most important pieces of information that helped me become better were the critique and tips of my drum major judge at Paragould that day. My director and my past drum major helped me tremendously with my conducting in the week following the contest. I landed a field commander score of 95 out of 100 at the very next competition!

Here’s a piece of advice: Don’t believe for a second that you are better than everyone else. Heed the words of the experienced. It’s a terrible thing to become under the influence of hubris, overconfidence, or arrogance, and it could potentially hurt a lot of people when you’re in a position of power.

I’m very grateful to have learned this lesson in humility. It’s been a wild experience. I would like to offer a million heartfelt thanks to my band director, Jeremy Wortham—thank you for everything.

About the Author

Louis Lin is currently a junior attending Piggott (Arkansas) High School. He has been a member of “The Pride of Clay County” Piggott Marching Mohawks since 8th grade and is currently in his second year as field commander. He considers the piano as his main instrument, with trombone as secondary instrument.

Photo courtesy of Noah Gregory Photography.

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