One of the four drum majors at Auburn University this year is a former Jacksonville High School graduate. Emily Gray, who graduated in 2009 from JHS, was a drum major for the Golden Eagles. Gray, a fifth year senior at Auburn, is in her second year as drum major at Auburn.
Becoming a drum major at Auburn is no easy task, in fact, getting in the marching band at Auburn is not easy task. Gray, who plays trumpet, was told that getting in the marching band at Auburn would be hard to do because it was very competitive. Gray practiced the entire summer on her music and though apprehensive about trying out not only made the marching band her freshman year but made first part and was the only girl lead trumpet player for three years.
While playing trumpet for those three years, Gray also tried out for drum major each year.
Those interested in becoming drum major were encouraged to try out every year, beginning with their freshman year, to go through the process and become familiar with it.
The process was a very demanding one to go through. About 20 applicants apply each year. The process starts by filling out a resume of things that you have accomplished, awards won and performances that you have been involved in.
Round one, which has two parts, begins with three applicants at a time coming to the band room to conduct in front of a panel of judges that usually includes marching band director Dr. Corey Spurlin and graduate teaching assistants.
Part two is an interview. “This is a professional interview,” explained Gray. “You dress to the nines just like you would for a regular business interview and they’ll grill you for ten minutes. It is very intense. After this interview, there is no interview I would be intimidated to go on.”
Once you make it through round one then the applicant has to conduct the whole band in a live band situation. “This is important,” said Gray ‘because you have to remember consistency of tempo, and how to bring them in and cut them off.”
The game situation then tests the knowledge of the applicants understanding of football. Different songs are played for different situations, be it a touchdown, a first down, or if the team is on offense or defense.
In the final round, round three, twenty veterans are brought in and the applicant has to teach them how to do marching fundamentals, both pre-game and halftime. They have five minutes to teach the correct Auburn style. “You have to make sure you hit all the important points,” said Gray. “It allows them to see if you know how to teach or if you lack in that skill.”
After this comes the mace routine which allows the band director to see who is good at the run out and who has good hand eye coordination. “You come up with a 30 second routine and run out with the traditional lead out with feet above the head. You go as far as you can, usually from the ten-yard line to the forty-five yard line.”
The whole process takes a week. At Auburn they begin the Sunday following the Iron Bowl. The drum majors are announced at its annual banquet.
Just like football starting players have to win their position each year, drum majors have to go through the entire process each year.
Gray says she will never forget her first game, both as a trumpet player and as a drum major. “You might not remember the team you were playing but you won’t forget the time of day or where you were standing on the field or how nervous you were.
“We go off cues for everything. When the Eagle starts to fly the whole band steps forward in the tunnel so we can see what is going on and then when the cheerleaders get done cheering the band video starts at 13 minutes before the game. When the video gets done the whole stadium erupts in noise. You can’t even hear your thoughts.”
Gray says that being a trumpet player and being a drum major are two different experiences. “When you’re playing I’m not going to say I enjoyed the game more because that certainly isn’t the case; it’s a different kind of enjoyment.
“As trumpet player you can get to sit and watch the entire football game. You can pretty much tell play by play what happened.
“As drum major we don’t get to watch the field. You’re looking at the jumbotron trying to decide if you are on offense or defense; did they get the first down. As drum major there is a lot more mental work that goes on. It’s a lot of fun when you are drum major and up on the podium. You’ve got to get them just as psyched as you are for what’s going on because sometimes the student section isn’t riled up and we’ve always been told it’s our job to do that. You are the atmosphere for Auburn, you have to make the difference, you must be in the game.”
Each of the four drum majors is given a different quarter to be head drum major. The others are giving hand signals and cut offs. Gray explained that in the SEC the team can be penalized if the band is playing when the ball is hiked.
Gray says that being a trumpet player was physically demanding on the face and body. “As a drum major its physical but so much more mental and so much more emotional that at the end of the game while my feet may still be working my mind is just blown.”
Gray vividly remembers Auburn’s game with LSU last year when the team was playing their best game of their 3-9 season. The game was within a field goal in the fourth quarter. “I was fourth quarter drum major for that one,” recalled Gray. “The game was so intense and so emotional. You are yelling the entire time. I never have a voice on Sunday, but after the LSU game I went into the next game still not having a voice because that is how pumped I was.”
Being in the band is very demanding on a student. They practice Tuesday-Friday and on Saturday have a rehearsal before the game.
Their preseason starts with a camp two weeks before school starts where they learn the entirety of their first show.
For drum majors, who sign a contract that they will be around for the duration of the summer, their work begins pretty much when they are announced as drum major for the upcoming year.
There are 380 members of the band and this year Gray is over the trumpets and piccolos, about 100 members.
Being a drum major is demanding enough, but Gray is also a student. Majoring in secondary music education with a minor in psychology Gray is hoping to go to graduate school for two years and from there straight to her PhD. She would like to teach at high school and then someday at college.
For now, Gray will just enjoy the time she has left exciting and igniting the crowds at Auburn.