Davien Matthews is a senior at Abramson Sci Academy, and one of the two drum majors in their band. Their band director, Johnnie Van Buren, is a 2001 graduate of Abramson High School, where he was in the band himself and dreamed of returning to lead it.
As parade season begins, we spoke to Davien about what it means to be a drum major.
What does a drum major do?
The drum major of the band is basically the next in the chain of command underneath the band directors. If they are out, I am the next person that takes leadership of the band. We instill discipline in the band, and also fun. We make sure everybody gets to practice on time. I also need to know all the songs and be able to count them off.
During parades I’m behind the banner and the anchorettes, the letter carriers, the majorettes and the dancers and the color guard. Then it’s me, with the band behind me, and then the cheerleaders. The band watches me to make sure they’re on the right foot. I keep the spacing between us and I call off the songs.
During the off-season, we practice learning music and I help teach it. All year round we practice.
What qualities are required of a drum major?
They need to be disciplined, and to know how to run the band if the director needs to step out for a second. In order to be a drum major, you need to try out. It’s not just about the leadership qualities; you have to have the form. I didn’t necessarily have the form at first. I had to get it over time. By form, I mean you have to march a certain way—but once you get the basic way, you incorporate your own style into it. It’s about how you are picking your feet up, having the correct arm motions, and just looking good.
Why did you want to be a drum major?
I wanted to be drum major because I had helped start this band in my ninth grade year. Now, I see everything that we have accomplished, and I wanted to end my time here with a bang. Being a drum major is stressful, but it is fun, and all the hard work pays off.
What instrument do you play?
I play the euphonium. It’s like a bigger baritone. It’s part of the tuba family. I’ve been playing it for a year and a half, but before that I played baritone, which I have been playing since 5th grade.
Were you in a band before Abramson Sci Academy?
Yes. I was in the band at Medard H. Nelson school. Mr. Van Buren was our band director there, and I followed him here, along with some other students.
How would you describe Mr. Van Buren?
He is a father figure. I look up to him. I think very highly of him. That’s why I asked him to write my letter of recommendation and included him in my personal statement for college. He is very charismatic.
What don’t people understand about being a drum major?
I think when people see the drum major in the parade, they might just think we hold a stick and march—but there’s a lot more than that. You have a lot of different kids you have to deal with. Sometimes you have to be authoritative. Some kids we have in our band need more help than others. It is a stressful position, but you just have to learn to deal with it, because at the end of the day I believe it is worth it.
Be sure to catch Davien, Mr. Van Buren, and the Abramson Sci Academy band on the parade route! They have marched or will be marching in Nefertiti, Alla, Choctaw, King Arthur, Nyx, Endymion, Mid-City, and Orpheus this season.