Drum majors set tune for THS marching band
Before school Monday with temperatures in the low 50s and grass wet with a heavy dew, the Tonganoxie High School Marching Band practiced outside for an important week, belting out music for the town’s rush-hour commuters.
Standing above the marching musicians on stepladders were seniors Madison Hunter and Keith Slater, drum majors for the 82-member band.
“We ask them to model leadership,” said THS band director Charles Van Middlesworth. “A drum major has to be the most dedicated musician and performer in the band. They have to be straight and narrow as far as work ethic in concerned. They model the correct behavior we expect of a band member.”
Hunter and Slater have lived up to those expectations, Van Middlesworth said.
“They are always asking, ‘What’s the plan for today?’” he said. “They are always the first ones on the field in the morning and the last ones off. They give above and beyond what I expect them to do.
“They get it. They understand what we are trying to do.”
It’s Hunter’s second year as drum major, and the first for Slater. They helped facilitate dialogue with band members and were perhaps more approachable to some young musicians, the two seniors said.
“It helps to have two extra people on hand who are the easier to listen to than an older adult,” Slater said.
But they said Van Middlesworth expected them to be tough when needed.
“Sometimes he picks people who are not afraid to confront people who need it,” Hunter said. “Someone not afraid to get the job done.”
The two drum majors and the band will wrap up the marching band season in the coming weeks. The band will perform Thursday for the school’s last home football game, travel Saturday to Independence for the Neewollah Festival, the state’s largest band festival, and march Nov. 11 in the Leavenworth Veterans Day parade.
Neewollah will be the band’s second festival of the season. It performed earlier this month at Baker University’s annual festival. The band wasn’t at its best because rain prevented it from practicing outside before the festival, but Hunter said it was a valuable experience.
“We had a couple of little things to fix up,” she said. “That was kind of a practice for Neewollah.
“We work so hard. Some people don’t realize how hard we work. We’re out here before school every morning in the cold or heat practicing.”
Saturday’s festival is the one the band has been pointing since it started practicing in August and is a great place to compete and show off the band’s abilities, Hunter and Slater said. The drum majors’ goals for the band is to return from the festival with coveted 1 ratings for music and marching.
With a good week of practice, Hunter and Slater are sure the band will perform well.
“I’m pretty confident because they listened well and have done everything we ask,” Slater said. “They think less about themselves and more about the band. Sometimes you have selfish band players. This group has the ability to think unselfishly.”
The drum majors said they stress teamwork and making the whole better than the individual.
“People in the band are part of a family,” Slater said. “We focus on making diligent section leaders be like family leaders.”
The two drum majors understand sacrifice. Hunter gave up playing the alto saxophone and Slater the trombone to be drum majors, and both say they miss playing their instruments.
The end of the marching band season doesn’t mean the end of their roles as drum majors, Hunter and Slater said. They will conduct the pep band during home basketball games and generally help Van Middlesworth out with the day-to-day tasks in the band room.
As for the future, Hunter said she would probably enroll at Emporia State next year and may play in the school’s band.
Slater is headed to Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Mo., which doesn’t have a strong band program. He will be active in the school’s vocal music activities and minor in music ministry, he said.
“I think both of us will keep music with us,” Hunter said.
More than that, the two seniors will also take the leadership skills they learned with them, VanMiddlesworth said.
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