Featured photo by Todd Turner
The majors’ eyes darted from their feet to the mirror in front of them, to the shiny, silver maces laced with ropes of blue and gold in their hand.
They executed a difficult combination of movements while a steady hip-hop beat filled the room. They had spent hours perfecting the combo by themselves, and now they needed to practice doing it all at the same time.
A few weeks ago, before GHOE, a group of drum majors for the A&T Blue & Gold Marching Machine came together to practice their movements.
When each beat of the 4/4 track hit like a camera flash, they were all in the same position. Beat one, right leg out. Beat two, both arms to their sides holding out their mace. On three, the tip of three maces were in the air. On four, they kicked into the air. When it wasn’t together, they did it again. When they got it just right, they would do it again.
“Our goal is to look the same,” explained DM Garvin Collins, “When you look across the line, you want to make sure that if your left hand is doing this, that everybody’s left hand is doing this. I think that’s a piece of the artwork per se that our audience gets to kind of see.”
Headed by Dr Kenneth Ruff, The A&T marching band, known as the Blue & Gold Marching Machine, has been recognized nationally for its polish and originality. They play all the time — for high schools and during A&T home football games; they played in the 2012 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, during halftime of a Detroit Lions football game last year and for VP Kamala Harris when she visited A&T earlier this year. This year they were invited to play in the Tournament of Roses in California, a prestigious event that only 20 bands nationwide were invited to join. The BGMM is currently preparing for GHOE (The Greatest Homecoming on Earth), which will run from Oct. 29-Nov. 5. GHOE is huge, bringing A&T alumni in from decades past by the thousands, as well as drawing enormous crowds of non-alumni.
Throughout GHOE the BGMM will play for several parades, during halftime of the football game on Saturday, and several more times during the week. But today, they need to rehearse.
Drum majors, in addition to learning all their difficult movements, hold a leadership role in the band. You can see this in their outdoor practice, where the entire band plays through their pieces while incorporating marching patterns. DM’s Malichi Walker, Cameron Jamison, Garvin Collins and Jaden Hall each stand in front of a quadrant of band members conducting with their silver maces to keep everyone in time. Between takes, they suggest minor changes to the group to maintain a high level of polish and uniformity. When the quadrant needs to drill a specific thing, the DM’s lead in front.
“I think a lot of people, when they think about leaders, they think about the one who’s telling the people what to do,” explains Collins. “I think here we like to think of ourselves as literally serving each individual person of the band — trying to meet them where their needs are because I feel like if we can meet their needs, then they’re likely to give more of an effort when it comes to performing and doing whatever we need to do musically.”
Over the course of their daily rehearsal time, the drum majors run through 22 different combinations. Today, without saying a word, they ran through them together one by one, stomping their feet to the rhythm of the music between takes. But those 22 are just specifically for parades, they say.
“What we try to do for each show, we’ll come up with new routines, so that our audience and our fans get to see a new version of something,” Collins said, “something new and kind of something fresh for when we do it.”
Directly to the left of the drum major’s practice, drummers practiced their cymbal choreography, and one of the majors, Jaden Hall was helping. They all stood in a row and crashed the cymbals to their left and right, gliding between each other while smashing them together above their heads. Hall was watching, adjusting the details of their choreography and demonstrating what he wants from them.
At the end of the long rehearsal, the BGMM runs through a few pieces of music that are mostly finished products. The result is a stunning spectacle of what discipline and effort can achieve. Not including performances or individual practice, the BGMM rehearses for 20 hours a week. Every weekday after school from 5:30-9:30 p.m.
When it all comes together, you can’t take your eyes away. Hundreds of students marching in lockstep, their brass instruments blaring out a joyful melody. The back row, made up of bass and tenor drums, quints and cymbals, provided an intensely upbeat drum line. It was all perfect, each of their hands raised holding their drumsticks in the same place. They waved their cymbals in the air and held their bass drums out to the side in unison. The Drum Majors, taking up space in a square in the center of all the band members, execute the same flashy combinations they had just been drilling for hours. The color guard did their tumbling in unison in a row in front.
They do this all year long, not just for GHOE. But at homecoming, they’re playing for their own.
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