Growing up about two hours outside of College Station, Texas, Brandon Brumbelow dreamed of performing in Texas A&M’s Kyle Field.
Brumbelow’s dream will come true Thursday when he’ll lead Northwestern State’s 320-piece marching band (Spirit of Northwestern) as one of three drum majors.
The Demons football team will open their season at Texas A&M in a stadium that can hold more than 102,000 cheering, screaming Aggies.
“It’s going to be nerve-racking,” said Brumbelow, a Kerens, Texas, native who will be stepping onto the drum major podium for the first time in a game setting Thursday. “Texas A&M has been my favorite team since I was five years old, and it’s always been my dream to march in or conduct a band in Kyle Field.
“But it’s going to be exciting. A&M is one of the best bands at what they do (military style), and we want to show that we’re one of the best in our style (corps style).”
Brumbelow will have plenty of help from second-year NSU drum majors Hope Spaw and Michael King.
Spaw, the head drum major from Bossier City, said she feels a lot more prepared in her second season.
“I have a year under my belt, so I know how the band works at this level and am familiar with the members,” Spaw said. “I play the flute and march with a mellophone, but it’s a different experience being in front of the band because you hear all of the parts, not just your part.
“It takes a lot of focus, but it’s also a really neat experience at the same time. It’s an adrenaline rush to be in front of the band — you feed off their energy and they feed off yours.”
King, a Deville native who plays the trombone when he’s not on a drum major podium, said the band has been hard at work since members started arriving for camp on Aug. 6.
“The section leaders came in, and we made sure we’re all on the same page in terms of what we’re teaching and the message we’re portraying,” said King, an assistant drum major. “We explain our traditions to the new members, practice marching and playing fundamentals and then do our rehearsals.”
The band has full rehearsals three days per week with the drumline practicing as many as five to six times per week.
As assistant director of bands Dan McDonald puts it, “If someone is rehearsing, the drum majors are part of it.”
“Students selected as Sprit of Northwestern drum majors are chosen because they are among the top students in our band, are talented musicians and demonstrate strong leadership abilities,” McDonald said. “They have some sort of rehearsal six days per week, and they also play a major role in preparing the band behind the scenes.
“The SON relies heavily on student leadership to operate, from drum majors to graduate assistants, brass and woodwind captains, section leaders and our service organizations Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma.”
Part of the band’s tradition includes singing the alma mater and pointing toward Turpin Stadium to play the fight song at the end every practice or event.
The SON hopes to be playing the fight song a lot on Thursday at Texas A&M, signifying Northwestern State touchdowns.
Drum majors need sharp focus and knowledge of football to understand when to play songs and how to get the band in motion quickly.
A “call-it-up” system complete with hand signals is in place to signal which song to play and when, and then it’s band members responsibilities to “talk it up” the line to make sure everybody hears the command in a raucous atmosphere.
“It takes a lot of thinking on your toes,” Spaw said. “You have to prepared for anything to happen and know how to handle that situation.
“If there’s a touchdown, you’re supposed to wait to play if there’s a (penalty flag), but sometimes you don’t see it.”
Rules such as bands not sounding off during a football play could draw penalty flags for the Demons if broken.
NSU’s football opponents will try to prepare for the Demons’ new up-tempo offense, but King said the band has been practicing for the quick pace as well.
“We basically have to be counting off the next song as the whistle blows to get it in, because we know the ball will be snapped quickly after that,” King said.
King added that the SON does enjoy “friendly competition” between bands as they push to produce the best sound, but “we’re not trying to over play or show anybody up. We do want to make the best sounds possible, and we want to show the we’re just as good as Texas A&M.”
Spaw said she’s excited about gleaning a tip or two from watching and listening to Texas A&M.
NSU will see a different style of band Sept. 8 when Grambling State’s “World Famed Tiger Marching Band” enters Turpin Stadium for the home opener.
“Most college bands don’t have competitions, but the (Southwestern Athletic Conference) bands are definitely different with the ‘Battle of the Bands,’” McDonald said. “It’s cool because they are such a different style, and we’ll get to benefit seeing and hearing that.
“Just like Texas A&M is probably the best band in their style (military), Grambling is one of the best in their style (show style).”
Spaw, King and Brumbelow are all music education majors, the most common major for NSU drum majors. Brumbelow, a French horn player, wants to teach musicology at the college level.
Spaw aims to start teaching in middle school band. King and Brumbelow hope to pursue a master’s degree after graduating from NSU.
McDonald said NSU structures its drum majors’ responsibilities to best prepare them to be their own band directors.
“We train them to be able to run the band if we weren’t there,” McDonald said. “They decide which songs to play and run the game with some help from our graduate assistants.”