The Drum Major Lifecycle

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A photo of the University of Delaware Marching Band.
From aspiring hopeful to drum major, from student to teacher, and from motivated to motivator, a drum major grows by leaps and bounds during her time on the podium with the University of Delaware and with the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy.

A photo of Alyssa Rosenblum.When the University of Delaware Marching Band (UDMB) completed its diminuendo at the end of “Music of the Night,” I felt myself breathe for the first time in the previous eight minutes. It was my senior year in high school in 2015 and my third time being a spectator at the Collegiate Marching Band Festival (CMBF) in Allentown, Pennsylvania. At that year’s extravaganza, I watched and admired what I hoped would be my future alma mater.

I’m going to be in that band. I will be on that field this time next year. Then my thoughts were cut off with the famous chords from “The Phantom of the Opera,” embellished by a beautiful fabric flyover and a Phantom that vanished in front of our very own eyes.

Already on my feet, I whooped and applauded until my hands were red. After the cutoff, I turned to my friends and screamed, “THAT’S MY BAND!”

Dela-what? Delaware!

I had known that I wanted to attend the University of Delaware since my sophomore year of high school. The summer beforehand, I attended the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy (DMA) at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst for the first time. There, I first watched a performance video of the University of Delaware (UD) Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band and met Heidi I. Sarver, director of athletic bands at UD and a lead clinician at DMA.

During those five days in DMA, I was inundated with a whole new philosophy and perspective about marching band. Sarv, as UDMB bandos call her, and the incredible DMA teaching staff molded me from a meek band geek into a confident leader. I attended DMA three times as a student, and each year I collected more and more knowledge to add to my leadership toolbox. Each year I went back to DMA as a stronger leader and drum major, eager to learn more and help first-year DMA students through their first workshop.

My sophomore year of high school was also my first time attending the CMBF. I spent the whole day oohing and ahhing over the different bands, but the UDMB stole my heart with its rendition of “Les Misérables.”

The next year was Heidi Sarver and Jim Ancona’s 20th anniversary with the UDMB, which resulted in a somewhat impromptu combined UD-UMass performance of UDMB’s song, “In My Life,” by The Beatles and arranged by Rob Hammerton. Sarver, Ancona, and Hammerton are all UMass alumni, and the two bands had a rivalry turned into camaraderie through the years. As I watched the swaying sea of band members in blue, gold, maroon, and white and saw Sarv gesture up to the sky in memory of George N. Parks, who had founded DMA in 1978 and directed the UMass Minuteman Marching Band for 33 years until his sudden death in 2010, I knew that I had found my future home at UD.

The next year was “Phantom,” and by that festival, I had already begun practicing my UDMB audition etude.

Finally a Blue Hen

I always say that the best decision in my life was joining the marching band at Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren, N.J. Becoming a member of the Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band solidified that thought for me once again.

Both my freshman and sophomore years in the UDMB were absolutely astounding, even more than I expected. When junior year was on the horizon, I reminisced about Allentown, of the pure bliss on the Delaware drum majors’ faces when acknowledging the crowd, and I signed up for a drum major audition. A few weeks later, I found my name listed on the band’s staff list under Drum Major, and I am forever grateful to Sarv for giving me this incredible opportunity.

Making an IMPACT

When I got to college, I knew that I wanted to share the magic of marching band with as many people as I could. Between DMA and the UDMB, I had met so many incredible teachers, drum majors, and other student leaders who had a massive impact on my leadership abilities and in my life. I wanted to give back and help other aspiring leaders, so I applied to be a part of DMA’s college teaching team, IMPACT (Intensely Motivated Power and Class Team).

Between 2017 and 2019, I have assisted at four DMA workshop locations, enjoying UMass Amherst for each of the three years with a bonus experience at West Chester University in the Clinic Leadership Internship Program in 2018. Every summer I have been lucky enough to work alongside my mentors to help teach high school band students about leadership, conducting, and making band a special place for everyone.

Being on the other side of DMA has been a life-changing experience. Nothing has been more rewarding than watching new, aspiring student leaders gain confidence during the program, except maybe seeing them return the following summer and helping out the first-year students. By being a part of these high school students’ growth, I am reminded of how far I have come as a leader and person since that first workshop in 2013.

My Last Allentown

Being a UDMB drum major has been the greatest honor and growth opportunity of my entire life … and so much fun. But senior year approached so quickly, and suddenly everything is a last—last band camp, last first game, last CMBF performance. The realization of my last performance in Allentown washed over me on the podium during the first hit of “Mars, The Bringer of War” in our introduction. The band and I felt totally in sync, with me and the snare drummers exchanging thematic snarls.

Suddenly, my lips tightened as I felt tears trying to escape my eyes. Somewhere, high up in the stands, I knew that there was a high school drum major trying to find her way. She was enamored by all of the drum majors with their white pants and quick hands, and her eyes were glued to my 5/4 pattern. She looked at this girl on the podium, a college drum major, and said to herself, “That’s going to be me one day!”

And in a few years, just you wait, she will be on the 50-yard line waving her arms and thinking back to the girl conducting “Mars.”

Read about another drum major, Louis Lin, and his journey here.

About the Author

Alyssa Rosenblum is a senior at the University of Delaware, majoring in English and double minoring in Disability Studies and Community and Organizational Leadership. She was a drum major at Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren, N.J., during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Currently she is wrapping up her second year as drum major for the Fightin’ Blue Hen Marching Band, under the direction of Heidi I. Sarver and Jim Ancona.

Photos courtesy of Bill Clark.

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