In Step with the Pride of ArizonaPosted on: October 10, 2011 in People & Places in Creativity & The Arts
“I have never met a student who doesn’t want to be good at what they do,” says Jay Rees, director of the Pride of Arizona Marching Band. “I’ve never met a person who doesn’t want to be good at what they do. But the difference is who’s willing to make the sacrifices to become great at something.
“We all want that, but are we willing to do the work. And these students are willing to do the work.”
Not only are they willing, but they have been extremely successful. In 2009, the College Band Directors National Association named the Pride of Arizona one of the top five marching bands in the nation.
The Pride of Arizona consists of several different sections, including the brass section, the woodwinds section, the drum line, the pom-dance line, the baton twirlers and the color guard.
The person who brings it all together is the drum major. This individual is tasked with not only helping the entire band stay on tempo and keep the music moving, but they must also interpret the music, give the right marching queues at the right time, and keep everyone motivated and excited.
“The drum major’s role in the band is to be the ideal bandsman,” says Pride of Arizona drum major and sophomore Drew Eary. “He needs to be something that people can always look to and just think, like, ‘that’s what I’m supposed to be’ or ‘that’s what’s supposed to happen.’”
According to Rees, it is extremely rare for a sophomore to achieve the role of drum major, as the position requires not only excellence and experience, but it must be someone who commands attention and respect from the rest of the band members. But as a music major, Eary hopes to get his master’s in music and someday direct a college marching band.
He’s certainly on the right path.
A Unique Learning Environment
Marching and playing with the Pride of Arizona is a unique activity and a unique learning environment for the students; there’s really nothing else like it.
According to Rees, no other activity combines the precise, military-like physical choreography with performing on an instrument, and demands that both be done simultaneously at high levels of excellence.
“You would not ask the University of Arizona symphony orchestra to perform the ballet while playing Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake,” he says. “And yet, that’s basically what we do week in and week out.”
It’s Game Day
On game day, the Pride gathers and works one another into a practical frenzy. This is an important part of getting ready to go onto the field. According to Rees, “you have to be really fired up to perform at this level.”
After a loud cheering session and some good loud encouragement from Rees, the band breaks up into different groups that go and play at the various tailgate areas to get the fans excited for the game to come.
“On game day, we are considered the first tailgate house,” says UA neighbor Jane McCollum, who lives right across the street from the UA mall where the band practices. On those days, the band will form up and play right in McCollum’s front yard.
“When I hear the band, it gives me chills,” she says, smiling. “The sound is enormous, the energy is enormous. I’m lucky to live where I live.”
The Enjoyment of Excellence
One of the individuals performing that fantastic dance of shining instruments and flying feet is piccolo section leader Kelsey Sullivan. A sophomore, Sullivan is double majoring in physiology and molecular and cellular biology.
“I really love when you have that really hard set and it’s like a huge step, and you just have to take as big of steps as you can, you have to squat down, you have to basically run across the field and hit it in eight counts and make it look like it was nothing,” she says. “All of a sudden it’s just, BAM. You got it.”
When it comes to that big day, the band members are cool, polished and ready. They have practiced their sets countless times. They have memorized and perfected their music. And they know all the steps, forward, backward, sideways and crossways.
“We perform and practice the same way,” says Sullivan, who says she doesn’t get nervous before a performance. For her, it’s all about achieving a level of excellence that translates into how she performs in life, from the dedication she maintains to her studies to how she treats her friends and family.
“Everything I do,” she says, “I want to give it my all.”