‘The Heartbeat Of State’: A Conversation With Blue Band Drum Major Carson Pedaci
As the leader of the Penn State Blue Band, Carson Pedaci goes sailing onto the field of Beaver Stadium, throwing his full body and spirit into the iconic drum major flip.
After the flip, Pedaci jumps up to the roar of 100,000-plus fans, snapping back into action to keep the heartbeat of Penn State fast and steady.
“It’s been nothing but love,” Pedaci said. “Finding that balance between just the energetic part that’s really getting into the music and that more orderly side, keeping our tempo in check. But, it’s been a blast every single time.”
A member of the Blue Band since freshman year, Pedaci recently earned the opportunity to become the 62nd drum major in the history of the organization. While known by most for its pregame show flip, the role is defined by one’s character both on and off the field.
“That’s what the Penn State community sees, but the band is different,” Pedaci said. “I think that you really have to earn their respect and think about what you can do to benefit the band, really working with the officers to say, ‘What can we do to achieve this? How can we build this up?’”
Pedaci is currently a junior majoring in data science and is no stranger to the arts. For 10 years, the musician has also studied dance in his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“I think it’s always been an incentive for me and definitely the source of my energy and how I can keep myself going,” Pedaci said. “I think really dance had a lot to do with just kind of enjoying, not really caring about what other people thought and just kind of going out and enjoying it.”
Keeping his craft fresh, Pedaci is currently a part of Ram Squad, Penn State’s hip-hop and freestyle dance crew.
“I was a dancer at a pretty early age, and I started taking dance lessons in elementary school,” Pedaci said. “My dad was a drum major, I think between him and my mother’s foresight, they could see how much I enjoy this type of music and enjoy being in the atmosphere of marching bands. It’s been like this ever since.”
Empowered by family to get started, Pedaci played the mellophone for the Trojan Marching Band of Hershey High School and earned the role of drum major in his senior year. Back in 2019, he traveled with the Trojans to an event called Band Jam and met with the Blue Band.
After seeing the iconic flip live, Pedaci was overwhelmed.
“One half of my brain said, ‘Wow, that’s really cool. I’d love to do that,'” Pedaci said. “The other half was like, ‘What the heck are you doing, you have to learn how to do that!’ So, I didn’t really consider it seriously until maybe the end of my freshman year and the beginning of my sophomore year.”
While Pedaci was inspired, one thing stood between him and his dream: the drum major’s flip. To earn the spot, he would have to learn the skill from scratch.
“I started training at that point, asking different alumni and former drum majors and their coaches about what they did to prepare,” Pedaci said. “I was lucky enough to get some really valuable support from them.”
Guided by the community, Pedaci trained at least twice a week to complete the trick, beginning in September of 2022. After working with coaches and former drum majors for over a year, the musician finally nailed the flip for the first time.
While all attempts of the flip didn’t go as smoothly, Pedaci was grateful to have his family, coach, and mentors help him gain his footing once again.
“All of them…when I came back after a bad run, they were the ones who helped build my confidence back,” Pedaci said.
To go the extra mile, the future drum major worked with Club Gymnastics to ensure he perfected the honored tradition. Pedaci then submitted his audition video in the spring of 2023 and waited anxiously for the results.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Pedaci said. “Like specifically, the hour leading up to it because people were starting to get their leadership emails. I was getting all nervous, and my friends were like, ‘Just be patient.’”
After joking a bit on the phone with Blue Band Director Dr. Gregory Drane, Pedaci finally heard that his hard work had paid off. The moment was one to remember, especially because of the new drum major’s Penn State pride.
“It was definitely a light-hearted moment,” Pedaci recalled. “I think that what really drew me into Penn State was in part the band. I felt like there’s a ton of opportunity here, and then the support you have here, and of course, one of the best marching band programs in the country.”
A few months later, the time came for Pedaci to take the field and perform the iconic trick.
“It was one of those deals where I’m like, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do now,’” Pedaci said. “It was definitely kind of like head empty. You know, let life take the wheel sort of thing.”
Pedaci says he remembers the moments leading up to his famous flip quite clearly.
“It just felt like taking little snapshots where I’m like, ‘Alright, I’m off. I’m on the end zone right now.’ And I’m like, ‘All right now, I’m out in the open in front of the drumline. I’m on the ground,’” Pedaci said. “Then, just a sigh of relief, just kind of the relief of landing.”
Thinking back on the memory with laughter, Pedaci will remember those few seconds for the rest of his life. Whether it’s leading the Blue Band or strolling through campus, Pedaci never takes a moment at Penn State for granted.
“It’s such a beautiful campus,” Pedaci said. “I’ve had nights where I’ve just gone out and walked campus in the middle of the night, and it has such a strong atmosphere. I think just letting your imagination run wild. There’s so much opportunity there to just immerse yourself in it.”
Representing Penn State history himself, the musician has also started a new tradition on campus to embrace his musicality and enjoy the scenery of Happy Valley.
“At the end, I think one thing that really helped me and I’m gonna take away and make a personal tradition is that there was one song called ‘Road to Joy’ by Bright Eyes. Whenever you’re feeling down, there’s a part of the song that like everything goes really loud,” Pedaci said. “And, you just run down HUB Lawn, and yell one part of the song, just sprinting and yelling, and letting everything loose.”
While Pedaci lives for the moment as a true pillar of Penn State pride, his energy and passion show no sign of running out. Knowing and loving the Blue Band for a lifetime, the drum major will continue to spread the spirit of Penn State.
“It’s been really nice to branch out and really get to connect,” Pedaci said. “I just enjoy meeting as many people as possible and getting everybody’s story. I really want to provide everybody with the same experience that I felt in the band and have that sense of energy.”
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