Conducting the perfect duo

Drum majors create a spectacular team to fill big shoes


Photo courtesy of John Keith

Millard West Band sweeps the Golden Regiment Invitational winning overall second place, one of the awards being the Outstanding Drum Majors. “I was pleasantly surprised when we placed second over this last week, it was a really tough competition,” Keith said. “We have goals and we met those. We what tell our students is that we’re really going against ourselves each week to be better than the band we were last week, and if we do that, good things will happen. They showed up this week, and their hard work paid off.”

Olivia Oeth, News Director

In April, auditions are held to fill the role for the following year’s marching band drum majors, the student leaders who guide the band throughout the marching season. While usually a senior and junior duo, this year’s leadership are two seniors: returning drum major Sanjulaa Chanolian and Jake Schlosser. 

These students spend anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week leading and supporting the marching band as they sweep their way through the season. With such an influential role in the band department, the drum majors have to endure an intense audition process proving their ability to conduct, salute and command. 

“I got really excited because the way Mr. Keith announces who got the position by putting a sheet of paper with the names on it on the bulletin board,” Schlosser said. “I got to school really early on that Monday morning to avoid the crowd and turned the corner and saw my name; I got really excited, especially since I’m a senior and they don’t typically have two senior drum majors.”

Clinics are held beforehand to prepare and learn the basics through memorization followed by an interview in front of the previous drum majors, band directors and other faculty. Three clinic days are held with the official audition on Friday of that week. An excerpt from the next year’s show along with patterns and being called in and out of salute are all encapsulated within the tryouts. 

Once chosen, the fresh drum majors must be prepared to spend an extended amount of time perfecting their technique. Having to be an impactful member of the band in a high stress position requires undying dedication and passion.

“The hardest part about being drum major would be the time commitment,” Chanolian said. “You’re there 40 minutes before and after every rehearsal, and it definitely can take a toll on your mental health if you’re not prepared for it. There is a lot of pressure for you to know what’s going on and be one of the best musicians in the band.”

Director of Bands John Keith carefully selected Chanolian and Schlosser as a complementary pair. With Schlosser’s strong voice and Chanolian’s quiet intensity, their coupling accents are an unusual combination in the band leadership. Drum majors are commonly a junior – senior, but their chemistry was too perfect to pass up.

“Sanjulaa was a returning drum major because she was selected last year; this is her second year,” Keith said. “She didn’t audition because we already planned on her continuing. We look for strong leadership skills and students who have strong music skills. Once the show starts, we can’t conduct; it’s all up to the kids. They have to be able to conduct and project their commands.”

Conducting at football games, pep rallies and competitions means keeping the band informed and in line. With such a large group of people being student led, these model musicians have firm belief that their passion will continue to carry the marching band in their season as they continue to place in competitions. 

“The way we put it is that the drum major is the last line of defense, and that’s really everything in competitions and rehearsals,” Schlosser said. “We’re the ones that try to keep the band on track and focused. We’re the ones that work with leadership team a lot.”

After a hard day’s work, Schlosser and Chanolian detox in the comfort of their homes by venting, sleeping and a few tears being shed. Getting well-rested is incredibly important for these drum majors as they rewind and do it all again the next day. This dedication does not come to an abrupt halt after marching season, though. Their knowledge and leadership will continue to aid the band throughout the year, and they will be a deciding factor in next year’s drum major decision to ensure abiding prosperity.

Although strenuous, the drum major life is a giving one. Strong bonds are made with faculty and other band students. Drum major camps are held in the summer before the marching season, forming similar bonds with students around the country in the same position.

“Since I have been a drum major for two years, I feel like this program has given back to me just as much as I’ve put into it,” Chanolian said. “It has helped me understand what being a leader is truly like. You’re always being watched and judged, so it’s important to stay on task and making sure you’re always doing the right thing. Jake and I consider ourselves servant leaders because we are in the position we’re in to help others. Being a drum major is a lot of putting everyone else’s needs in front of your own. It’s a very selfless role and I am very grateful to have been able to be apart of that legacy that drum majors hold.”

An everlasting effect will be stamped in to drum major history with these two vehement students. The diligent work does not go unnoticed and we cannot wait to see where the rest of the season takes them and the band.