The Road to Becoming OSUMB’s “Man Out Front”

Head Drum Major Kyle West. Photo courtesy of Ed Crockett.

The navy blue wool coats and white crossbelts march into Ohio Stadium in two single files to form the sixteen rows of twelve files of the traditional Ramp Entrance every game day. The 192-piece ensemble takes the field thirteen minutes before the first snap. As two whistles are blown from within its ranks, the band surges with energy and prepares for the conversion to begin the verse of Buckeye Battle Cry. It’s at this time that a flash of red flies down the ramp onto the field, as “the man out front” struts his (or her) way through the ranks of the band and begins the pre-game performance. It is the Drum Major of The Ohio State University Marching Band who is the face of the band. From the back bend to goal post toss; from the uniform to leading Script Ohio – every action of the drum major is an embodiment of the tradition and excellence The Ohio State University Marching Band values so greatly.

How does one earn this spot? How does someone go from serving as his high school drum major to leading The Best Damn Band In The Land?

Before even earning the right to audition for this position, each individual must serve for one regular season in the marching band or on the Drum Major Training Squad, known as D-Row.  Each position in D-Row is earned through an audition that occurs at the same time as auditions for regular positions in the band in August. Upon successfully earning a spot in D-Row, members are held to the same attendance, performance, and uniform standards as every other member of the band. Members of D-Row spend the season attending every practice learning performance and routine skills, as well as physical training techniques from the Assistant Drum Major. D-Row will compete weekly in “challenges”, as does every other member of the band. Members of D-Row accompany the band to all its events, barring post-season performances.

Upon the completion of the regular season, the members of D-Row continue training. The beginning of Winter Term at Ohio State is filled with many hours spent at the French Field House and Woody Hayes Athletic Center working all performance techniques. These weeks are spent honing twirling skills, improving physical flexibility and fitness, finessing high tosses, and strutting. Training is in preparation to audition for the next season’s drum major and assistant drum major, which occurs in May every year. All those seeking to audition will make ample use of this time between the seasons, often taking private gymnastics lessons, or seeking regular counsel from an alumni Drum Major. Many alumni Drum Majors return to offer insight and suggest improvements. Although a majority of training occurs side-by-side with those who will be vying for the same spot, spirited competitiveness edges out any animosity. As the weeks of winter fade away into spring, training is taken outdoors, where candidates will be able to best prepare themselves for the actual audition.

On the day of the audition, all candidates are tested in the following areas: the execution of the traditional Ramp Entrance, a performance of a prepared routine to a preselected piece of music performed live by the Ohio State Athletic Band, and finally, a series of five high tosses. For the ramp entrance, physical capability is challenged with the ability to strut and perform a back bend, marching and twirling, as well as the strict performance of time-held traditional moves. Every part of the ramp entrance is dictated by tradition, and any deviation will lose a candidate points. In the performance of a prepared routine, candidates are forced to combine creativity, ability, and showmanship to make their greatest attempt at earning the position. Candidates will push the limits of their skill, but must also give a look of fluidity and command. High tosses are judged in height and accuracy of throw as well as showmanship. Many will attempt to complete standing back flips or a series of back handsprings or cartwheels in between their toss and catch-timing must be perfect.

Judging of the auditions is conducted by a panel of former and current directing staff, as well as former Drum Majors – some of whom have served as a judge at this event for decades. Candidates perform the Ramp Entrance in a randomly assigned order, and complete the routine and high toss portion in the same order. The candidate with the highest score earns the position of Drum Major, and the second highest score receives that of Assistant Drum Major. As with every position in The Ohio State University Marching Band, no spot is guaranteed, and even a returning Drum Major has to compete again to retain his spot for a second year. The audition process alone is a mark of distinction, as many have spent years to even get to this point-to have the opportunity to audition is an honor in and of itself.  Hundreds of spectators attend this event to witness the efforts of these individuals culminate in the naming of “the man out front.”

On May 8, 2012, nine candidates, who have been training for between one and five years (maybe more), competed for the spot of Head Drum Major. For many, this was their last opportunity to be a part of the band, as membership in D-Row is limited to just two seasons.  This year’s competition featured outstanding talent with many incorporating high-risk catches and acrobatic feats. Never before has the competition been this close, with placement having been decided by only tenths of a point. At the end of the day, Kyle West was selected to be the Drum Major and David Pettit was selected as the Assistant Drum Major of the 2012 Ohio State University Marching Band. Kyle is a junior from Hebron, Ohio who spent the 2009 season as a member of D-Row, the 2010 season as a member of K-Row (Sousaphone), and the 2011 season as the Assistant Drum Major.  David is a sophomore from Portsmouth, Ohio who spent the 2010 and 2011 season as a member of D-Row. Good Morning, Columbus on Fox 28 interviewed Kyle and David for a segment the morning following the try-outs. The day after selection, measurements for custom-fit uniforms took place to insure that their uniforms were created to respond to every movement possible. Both David and Kyle have already made their first public appearances in their new positions, as they both led the Ohio State University Athletic Band in the Opening Day Parade of Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

If you are interested in learning how to become an Ohio State style Drum Major, at Ohio State, or bringing this style of Drum Majorship to your high school marching band, check out for details about high school and college training clinics and programs that happen throughout the year.

About: Zacke Naughton

Zacke is entering his Junior year at The Ohio State University, studying Electrical Engineering and plans to continue on to Law School with aspirations of becoming a Patent Lawyer. From Manhattan, Illinois, Zacke plays the Sousaphone in the OSU Marching Band, and will earn the honor of "dotting the 'i'" his Senior Year. He is a member of the Honorary Band Fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi where he is the Head Editor of the Marching Band Yearbook. Zacke is the State Parliamentarian for the Illinois Senior Classical League, in which he helps plan and run the yearly Illinois Junior Classical League State Conventions for High School Students. Zacke is an Eagle Scout and enjoys camping and helping his local Boy Scout Troop where he is an Assistant Scoutmaster.