Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series focusing on area college drum majors.
Cajun Field is different this year.
The football field still covers 100 yards, and the end zones are still there, as are the sidelines.
But stepping off at least one of those sidelines this year is Matt Walling. And only Matt Walling.
Four drum majors led the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Marching Band in past years, but that number has been pared down to one.
And all eyes are on Walling when he signals the Pride of Acadiana onto the field for the pregame and halftime shows.
So, the football field at least appears differently this year from the perspective of one.
“I wasn’t always the one standing on the center podium in the past, but what’s different is the physical aspect — I’m the only one now,” Walling says. “The work was shared among the four drum majors, and though some of the work has been delegated to the band council, I’m conscious of the fact that everyone is watching me.”
Walling is a 21-year-old senior from Houma, where he was the drum major for the Ellender High School Marching Band. Now he’s majoring in music education and is in his third year as a drum major at UL-Lafayette.
He had to compete against one of his fellow 2013 drum majors in the spring for what would be the sole leadership position in the fall.
“We have to try out every year,” Walling says. “Two of the drum majors from last year didn’t try out.”
He knew his chances of landing the job were strong, considering his past experience, but also knew his conducting technique wasn’t perfect.
After Walling was chosen, Pride of Acadiana Director Eric Melley gave him a list of tips for improvement.
“These were things I could do to improve not only my conducting but changes I would need to make in my leadership ability,” Walling says. “We’re becoming a more unified band, and we’re putting certain rules in place to make us tighter. We’re doing things like staying together and playing more in the stands. So, I had to be ready for that.”
The Pride of Acadiana fields 285 members for whom Walling now feels an even greater responsibility.
“If something goes wrong — if I mess up — I’m the only one,” he says. “If the band messes up because of me, then it’s on me. I have to be more conscious of that.”
Yet Walling hasn’t changed the way he carries himself while with the band. As a veteran drum major, he knows he represents the band and is conscious of his actions, but that doesn’t mean he can’t relax when he’s off the field.
“I wear a different uniform than the rest of the band, so I’m recognizable, but I don’t have a name tag on the back,” he says. “And I don’t wear a name tag when I’m on campus. I’m just a student, but I’ve always tried to hold my standards high. So, I haven’t changed that.”
Walling hopes to use his drum major experience in a teaching job after graduation. A couple of years after that, he plans to enroll in graduate school, where his teaching experience would give him leverage to land an assistantship in a university music school — perhaps with a college band.
Still, Walling hasn’t decided whether he will teach on the college level.
“When I started college, I didn’t think about graduate school,” he says. “Now that I’m thinking about graduate school, my thoughts haven’t extended to getting a Phd. and directing a band on the college level. I’ll have to think about that when the time comes.”
Right now, Walling is focused on the next home game, when the Ragin’ Cajuns take on the Georgia State University Panthers. That will be Saturday, Oct. 4, and Walling will be ready.
“At the first game, the thought going through my mind was, ‘You’re the first one out there — you’re starting the band,’” he says.
At that moment, the field took on a different perspective as the band followed him.
And only him.