U band could have first female leader

by Marni Ginther

While many students might be carousing with friends, five members of the University Marching Band have been spending their Friday nights practicing their routines at the Bierman athletics complex.

These three women and two men are the final candidates to become the next drum major for the Marching Band. With the female candidates outnumbering the men, 2006 could be the first year the University sees a woman leading the band onto the football field.

Penn State is the only other Big Ten school that has yet to select a female drum major.

The drum major leads the band onto the field with a bit of “show,” but does not actually play the drums. He or she is a sort of figurehead who can be seen blowing a whistle and keeping the band’s time.

Former band director Jerry Luckhardt remembers his surprise upon arriving here in 1997 and learning that the University never has had a female drum major.

“It was ironic for a progressive, liberal state and University,” he said.

But Luckhardt also pointed out that there have been female finalists every year since 1998. Although none of them have been selected, Luckhardt said that during his time as director, he saw an increase in the number of women who auditioned.

The three female finalists, political science and sociology sophomore Molly Watters and music education seniors Maureen Holtzman and Megan Ivers, said they remain confident that the band members, who will vote April 22, always have chosen the best person for the job.

Actually, the possibility of being the first female drum major is almost the last thing on their minds.

“None of us want to be drum major because we want to be the first female drum major,” Watters said.

All three women agreed that their motivation for trying out is to “give back to the band,” an organization they say has given them so much.

“The education I’ve received from band is equal to the education I’ve received at school,” Holtzman said.

For Ivers, the desire to give back stems from her experience her first year, when a virus attacked her heart, and she had to have emergency open-heart surgery.

People she’d known only four months came to visit, she said.

“You can’t even imagine how good they all were,” Ivers said.

Although the five candidates are competing for the same position, Watters said no matter who is selected, all will work together.

“We can’t afford to have any hostility between us,” she said.

Luckhardt said that attitude is consistent within the band, and that past candidates, whether they win or lose, have been “unbelievably gracious.”

But serving the band by being drum major means a lot more than running, marching and twirling the mace – or baton – on the field.

“That’s the part everyone sees,” Ivers said. “But it’s only a fraction of what we do.”

Dick Osterberg was the drum major for the 2005 season and said the chosen candidate still won’t know what the job fully entails until he or she has to do it.

“The drum major is the student-leader of the band,” Osterberg said. “The freshmen look up to you; they’re almost scared to talk to you.”

Assistant Band Director Mary Schneider said the role of the drum major is twofold. Beyond the performance aspect, a drum major must be able to lead, teach and motivate, she said.

“They’ve got to represent 310 people in the band,” Schneider said, “and still command the attention of a full stadium.”

Schneider said she definitely feels the position will go to the most qualified person. But she mentioned that one candidate told her the public might have higher standards for a female drum major.

Watters agreed that if one of the women is chosen, she might have more responsibility than her past male counterparts.

“Her entire performance will reflect upon her gender,” Watters said.

Osterberg, who graduated in December with an American studies degree, acknowledged Watters’ concern. But he said he thinks that when it comes to issues of race and gender, “as long as we keep talking about the differences between us, those differences will perpetuate.”