A Salute to Blue Band Drum Major Ian Kenney
All photos provided by Penn State Administrative Fellow Annemarie Mountz. They span all three years of Kenney’s career as drum major.
Most people spend their Saturdays in Happy Valley tailgating, waiting in line to go inside the stadium, or getting ready to play in the game. For Ian Kenney, though, game day is pretty different.
Kenney, who has served as the Penn State Blue Band Drum Major for the past three seasons, spends his Saturdays prepping to land a flip in front of 100,000 people, and that’s just a small part of his duties for the day. In addition, he leads the 268-piece band in a multitude of performances throughout the day, including their ever-famous pre-game and halftime performances. His pre-game flips, though, are what normally garner the most attention.
“The feeling is really different for every single game,” said Kenney, who wakes up at 5:45 a.m. for every noon kick. ”Some games have a lot more riding on them, like Coach O’Brien’s first game or the White Outs, and landing flips in those games are much more of a feeling of relief than anything else.”
Behind the scenes, the drum major has a plethora of responsibilities. He is responsible for teaching fundamentals to incoming Blue Band members, leading band camp sessions, conducting performances, and helping out with the other Blue Band officers.
“My favorite part about Blue Band would have to be all of the traditions that make being a part of the band so special,” said Kenney, who said he’s going to miss the uniforms, rehearsal traditions, and the “rookie run” during band camp. “I really could go on and on about everything. I’m really going to miss it all.”
As if balancing being the Drum Major and a full-time student isn’t enough, Kenney also plays bass for Public Domain, an up-and-coming cover band in the local scene.
Becoming the Blue Band Drum Major is no easy task. Each year, the potential drum majors fill out an “Intent to Audition” form, and then have a sit-down interview with Dr. Richard Bundy and Gregory Drane, the director and assistant director of the Blue Band. Once they get through that process, each contender takes part in the “outdoor” audition, consisting of a physical component (flips, struts, and salutes), and a conducting component. They are scored based off of their abilities in each of these categories, and a drum major is selected.
Although Kenney says each person prepares in different ways, he took 7 months to prepare for this audition. “I spent that time getting myself into the best physical condition possible, working on conducting, and going to club gymnastics on campus once or twice a week,” he said.
Most people would think that Kenney’s final season, having done this many times before, would be his easiest. However, after he rolled his ankle during the 2012 Homecoming Parade on October 5th, Kenney had to make one of the toughest decisions of his career: keep his position and power through the injury, or speak to Dr. Bundy about finding a replacement.
In 1982, the Drum Major at the time broke both of his wrists and was forced to find a replacement. “I didn’t want to put the issue on Dr. Bundy and the band staff to have to scramble to find someone to fill in,” Kenney said of the situation. ”I had to deal with the injury and do my best for the remaining four games.”
He started to see that his performance would be affected when he had to change up his weekly cardio regimen, as well as his gymnastics practices and stretching routines. He “definitely felt a difference” as the season went on, and knows that it didn’t exactly end on a high note.
“I wish I had a chance to end the season differently, but I have to look at my experience as a whole. I only missed four flips in 52 attempts,” said Kenney. He found out Monday, after the final football game, that he was dealing with a major sprain in addition to a chipped bone in his ankle for the past 2 months.
Depending on where he is placed for student teaching, Kenney plans to graduate in December 2013 with a degree in Music Education. Although he points out that he would not serve as the Drum Major next fall, Kenney hasn’t ruled out a career with Blue Band.
“If life takes me in that direction, that would be great.”