They are envied by some.
They are imitated by many.
They are admired by most.
And as they engulf the football field in seemingly organized chaos, all eyes are drawn to the nine poised drum majors who guide the nearly four hundred members of the Marching 100.
For 58 years, the Florida A&M University Marching 100’s drum majors have epitomized the band’s philosophy of excellence.
Not only do these statuesque young men command the respect of every band member, but they also invoke the admiration of nearly everyone who has ever seen them shimmy, shake and gyrate across the field, drop into a split then pop back up to attention.
With former high school drum majors who are both male and female competing for a chance, it is difficult to become a member of this revered group.
There are several requirements that students must meet in order to even be considered for the most esteemed position.
“Students who are interested must have marched for one year,” said Julian White, director of bands.
“They must have an excellent discipline record. They must be an outstanding musician and be proficient in at least one instrument. They must be able to read music. They must be a full-time student, and they must be a good marcher.”
White also added that students who are interested in trying out must be 6 feet tall.
Although this requirement excludes most of the band members regardless of sex, he does not see a problem with it.
“It is like anything else that has a requirement,” said 5-foot-9-inch White, who is also a former drum major of the 100.
“Our drum majors have a certain look and we want to maintain that,” he said.
That “certain look” is one “The Presidential Nine” has mastered. As the drum majors proudly swing their orange and green capes in synchronized swoops over their white uniforms and snap them back into place, it becomes easier to see why the band is known for its emphasis on perfection and precision and the height requirement may add to the look.
Antonio Drayton, the head drum major, said White added the height requirement into the band’s constitution four years ago.
“In the past, there have been shorter drum majors, but Dr. White wants them all to be the same height now,” Drayton said.
Joseph Brown III, who was a drum major from 1988 to 1990, said height is helpful in fulfilling a drum major’s duties.
“It clearly takes a high level of leadership skills. Not only should the band staff have a high level of respect for the person, so should the band members. The drum major should personify everything the band stands for. The person should lead by example and be a strong person,” said the 6-foot-1-inch team leader for news photography for The Tampa Tribune.
Although height may prove to be an advantage for the drum majors, other physical qualities, such as upper body strength, are needed for the demanding position.
Naomi Nelson, who tried out for the position in the spring of 2003, said her physical strength may have hindered her chances.
“After trying out, I realized that my arm stamina does not compare to that of a male.
When I had to maneuver the mace or baton, I realized that I didn’t have the upper body strength. I made some mistakes out there, and I was not 100 percent pleased with my performance,” said the senior music student from Orlando.
Drayton said candidates are required to get a broomstick with a tennis ball on top wrapped in black electrical tape to mimic the mace even though they are considerably different in weight.
“They don’t get the actual mace until the day of tryouts but that is for males and females,” Drayton said.
“I feel that the opportunity is pretty equal for all involved.”
William P. Foster, the band’s founder, said the height requirement is an advantage for the drum majors.
“Their stature gives them a position of power and leadership in the band and allows them to see down through the ranks of the band.
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Their height causes people to look up to them as an authority.”