By Logan McGrady, ’13.
The Michigan Marching Band Drum Major. Few other characters can inspire the passion and excitement that the Drum Major brings on Football Saturdays. I sat down with Jeffrey Okala, a junior biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience major, 51st drum major of the MMB, and Association student employee, to talk about what it’s like holding the baton.
Logan: How would you describe the job of the drum major?
Jeff: So imagine this nice Rolls-Royce. I’m just the emblem in the front. The real beauty is the entire band. I feel a lot of pressure during the summer. I teach all 400 students how to march–it’s just me and them for two weeks. After that, it gets a little simpler. But I still have to worry about pre-game, my back bend, the goal post toss, and making sure my performance is up to par. Then I help the band with whatever they need, such as marching and all that. Or I help them with their lives.
Logan: How does one become a drum major?
Jeff: It’s a three-phase process. First, you have an interview with the band director, and he just gets a feel for who you are. After that, you perform the drum major requirements in front of staff. So that’s marching, the strut, the back bend, whistle commands, all of that. Then the last phase is you performing all of that in front of the entire band, and then the band votes and makes the final decision.
Logan: When did you first try out to be the drum major?
Jeff: I auditioned my freshman year. And that year I was the worst marcher out of the bunch. I tried out again my sophomore year and that’s when I got it.
Logan: How did you train to be voted in?
Jeff: Lot of stretching, lots of looking at myself in the mirror–as odd as that sounds I did that to get the little details down. For marching, I would stay at Revelli Hall until 3 a.m. I did a lot of cardio, worked out a lot.
Logan: Are you viewed as a leader in the band?
Jeff: I serve the band in a leadership role.
Logan: Do you get nervous before you go out?
Jeff: All the time, yes. If you’re not nervous, you’re crazy or you just don’t care. Once I go out there and I’m with everyone else, I go on autopilot. I’ve practiced it so many times I don’t have to think about it. After I’m done it’s like ‘Wait, what did I do?’ I just forget everything and have to ask people how it went. But, always nervous. I don’t eat before the game, that’s how nervous I am.
Logan: This might be a little uncomfortable but I’m going for it. Have you ever messed up on the field?
Jeff: (laughs) Um, yes I have. Not here, but at MSU. I remember it being very cold and raining. I went for my goal post toss, and before I threw the baton up it slipped out of my hand. The MSU fans started cheering. Our flag instructor, Joan, was right in front of me and helped me out. She said ‘That’s alright, pick yourself back up.’ I knew what I had to do so I picked the baton back up, threw it, and caught it.
Logan: That would be a cool moment. I think seeing you nail it after that would get me pumped. Would you describe yourself as introverted or extroverted?
Jeff: I think a lot of people would say I’m an introvert. But during game day I’m an animal. You have to be that way. Having 100,000 people in the stands helps a lot. I get to be this alter-ego. It brings out a side of me I never knew I had.
Logan: Well thanks for taking the time.
Jeff: Thank you, no problem.