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OS Talks to Drum Major Ian Kenney

Ian Kenney was named the Penn State Blue Band Drum Major for the 2010-2011 School Year on Saturday. Onward State caught up with him over the weekend to learn about how he prepared for his new role and what he is most looking forward to.

How did the Drum Major selection process work?

The process is quite simple.  After filing your intent to audition, you are contacted by the band office, in which you set up an interview. The interview that I went through was five days prior to the actual audition in front of Dr. Bundy (the director) and Mr. Drane (the asst. director). I was asked questions about my prior experience with being drum major in high school, my other leadership experience, about particularly important musical moments in my life both before Blue Band, and during Blue Band, and what I believe the position stands for and its importance to the University.

After that, the actual audition day (Saturday) consisted of the following sequence: we were first asked to do two flips by themselves from a running start, two strut runs, one “whole package” which consisted of a strut, flip, salute, a strut in the opposite direction, and another flip, and then finally a few strut/flip/salute transitions to look for consistency. After that portion, we are brought into the band room.  The candidates are faced away from each other in a circle, and then we conducted to recordings of the Alma Mater, The Star Spangled Banner, and Victory – all different conducting patterns to look for style, clarity, and conducting posture. We then waited on the band staff to deliberate for roughly 50-55 minutes before Dr. Bundy made the final announcement to the candidates.

What prepared you to be Drum Major? What instrument have you played in the Blue Band?

I was drum major for two seasons in high school at Wallenpaupack Area High School, and my experiences there were undoubtedly the most valuable of all in terms of my preparation for the position. In addition, I began learning and refining my flips with the Penn State Gymnastics Club back in October a few times per week. Being a music education major, I am currently enrolled in Music 266, “Basic Conducting”, and Music 450, “Teaching Marching Band” – both of which I have taken from valuable knowledge and experience that will help me when I begin to work with the band this season.

Prior to even my drum major experience in high school, I became an Eagle Scout and did significant things from a leadership standpoint through that, and I also did a lot of community organizing and fundraising for the Lance Armstrong Foundation (before it became the Livestrong Foundation). In my two prior seasons in the Blue Band, I have been a sousaphone player, which was an experience I’ll never forget because of the great friends I made and the places it took me.

What did you do when you found out you had been selected?

It took a while for it to really sink in (I still don’t think it has completely yet), but my first thought was just sheer thankfulness and gratitude that the staff had thought enough of me to be chosen for the position, and I also had congratulations for all of the others that had auditioned – everyone was extremely prepared and quite honestly everyone who auditioned would have done a phenomenal job as drum major.

As Dr. Bundy put it in his e-mail to the band: “The level of performances given today by the candidates for these positions [drum major & feature twirler] is extremely gratifying. We are indeed fortunate that so many strong candidates are willing to put in so much work in preparing for the audition process”. After speaking with the candidates and staff, I immediately called my parents and close friends, as well as my high school band director, a Penn State alum himself, who was my inspiration to both be a music major and come to Penn State in the first place.

What are the duties of the Drum Major, both on and off the field?

The Drum Major fills many roles for the Blue Band in addition to performing the flip during pregame, and conducing both in the stands and on the field. The Drum Major assists in leading stretches and calisthenics before every rehearsal and is essentially responsible for getting the band prepared (or “pumped up”) to rehearse and perform. The Drum Major also plays a large role during prospective rookie auditions; the Drum Major teaches all of the the fundamentals to those who are auditioning for the band and leads them through this process with the support of the guides and officers.

In addition to all of that, some other roles include assisting in teaching drill during rehearsals, conducing pep band performances, as well as making public appearances and supporting events on campus.

What will you be doing until football season begins to prepare for your role?

Based on how I’m thinking right now (only 7 hours post-audition) – I think it’s a lot of mental preparation. There’s a lot that’s expected of me by the hundred and ten thousand people that will fill Beaver Stadium come September, but even more importantly there are going to be three hundred (and more) members of that band who are going to be looking to me for confidence, guidance, and leadership – three things that you absolutely cannot prepare for overnight, no matter who you are.

Obviously I’m going to be refining my flip even further in the next month with the Gymnastics Club while I have those resources available to me, but over the summer I’m going to spend a great deal of time getting myself in even better physical shape and come back to Happy Valley completely prepared to make this the best year yet for the Blue Band and all of the Penn State students, alumni, and fans.

Do you have any control over what songs are played during football games? If so, what will we be hearing next year?

This is one area of the position that is most unclear even to me at this point since I obviously haven’t had any in-game experience. From what I’m aware of at this point, I think the band may have a few new tunes up their sleeve… although I’m quite partial to Seven Nation Army. Variety is also important, so I’ll be doing what I can to get a little bit of everything out there.

Really what it comes down to is what is going to excite the students and fans the most, and I’m certainly open to hearing what the students would like to hear more (or less) of. Ultimately, my thinking is that most of it is at the band staff’s discretion.

What are you most looking forward to about next year?

This is extremely difficult to answer, because I’m sure there are going to be dozens upon dozens of memorable moments, from my first experience leading the band in public at Football Eve on September 3rd, to hopefully a bowl game in January. Obviously doing the flip in the stadium is going to be the pinnacle experience of being Drum Major.

Aside from that, I believe we’re going to have a great football team this year, and I’m looking forward to supporting the team by doing all that I can through leading this band by creating a great atmosphere in Beaver Stadium.

If you could be a dinosaur, what one would you be and why?

Hmm… T-Rex. Keepin’ it classic.

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