Editor’s note: This is the last of a four-part series on area college drum majors.
Hailey Wilkinson and Raymond Jones met in elementary school and have since been best friends despite attending different high schools.
Now they can add another feather to their friendship caps.
The two were chosen last fall as drum majors for Southeastern Louisiana University’s Spirit of the Southland Marching Band.
“Hailey and I took so many pictures the day we first tried on our drum major uniforms,” Jones says. “When you see yourself in that uniform — that’s when it becomes real. It was an amazing moment for both of us.”
But there is irony in this story. Jones had no plans to try out for one of the band’s top two spots. He was happy as a part of the mellophone section, where Wilkinson also was a member.
“But Hailey convinced me to try out,” Jones says. “I was surprised when they told me I’d made it.”
Jones is a 21-year-old senior majoring in kinesiology. Wilkinson is a 20-year-old junior majoring in music education. Both are from Patterson, but Jones graduated from Patterson High School, where he was drum major.
Wilkinson graduated from Berwick High School, but leading Southeastern’s 135-member marching band is her first drum major experience.
“This was my first time to try out,” she says. “I was surprised when I made it, too. Raymond and I were both surprised that we were chosen together.”
But as is the case in most leadership positions, Southeastern’s new drum majors quickly learned the job came with unexpected responsibilities.
Everyone sees drum majors leading the band onto the field and conducting in the stands.
“But there’s a lot more behind-the-scenes work,” Wilkinson says. “We have to help plan the shows and communicate with the other bands.”
“We’ve been looking at it from the band’s perspective, but it’s different from the drum major’s perspective,” Jones adds. “We also have to help set up the podium and PA system.”
But probably the biggest responsibility was realized when Jones and Wilkinson became aware that leadership meant representation.
“We wear a different uniform than the rest of the band,” Wilkinson says. “All eyes are on us. People look up to us, and when they have a problem, I know we’re the go-to people for the answers.”
“And it’s definitely affected the way we carry ourselves when we’re not in uniform,” Jones adds. “That’s conducive to the position. We’re still ourselves, but we have to keep in mind that people are paying attention, because we still represent the band. So, we’re mindful of how we carry ourselves.”
Yet nothing overshadows the excitement of a football crowd. That’s the best part about the duo’s jobs — football games.
Leading the band’s pregame call-and-response with the fans, hearing the announcer say their names over the PA system, setting the beat — they love it all.
“I remember I was most nervous before the first football game,” Jones says. “All I could think about was, ‘I’ve got to get through this,’ because I knew if I made a mistake, I would mess up the entire band.”
Worry quickly faded after that first game.
“We’re used to it now,” Wilkinson says.
“It’s all routine now, and we’re having fun,” Jones adds. “We recently performed in Tulane’s new stadium. We were disappointed with our team’s loss, but marching in the stadium was an awesome experience.”
The Spirit of the Southland benefited from the stellar 2013 season as much as Southeastern’s football Lions. The band is enjoying its biggest membership this year, and Jones and Wilkinson are working on keeping its spirit strong.
“We want the band to sound and look good,” Jones says. “And we want to keep the morale high. We want it to be a pleasant experience for everyone.”
If there was one section that experienced a loss in the duo’s transition, it was the mellophones. New members have since joined, filling in the spaces the drum majors left behind.
“But our section is like a family,” Wilkinson says.
“I know we left a gap, but the section is very supportive of us,” Jones adds.
Now all focus is on Saturday, Oct. 4, when Northwestern Louisiana University’s Demons will challenge the Lions in Hammond. The Spirit of the Southland will have to be at the top of its game, keeping fans engaged with every football down.
And Wilkinson and Jones will be there to make sure it happens.