A drum major is part conductor, part leader and part showman, and that is fine with Jessica Gepson.
Gepson was among the drum majors Saturday at the 19-band, 27th annual Omaha Marching Invitational. Her Omaha Benson band had only 13 kids in it, but she was unfazed.
“We did very well,” she said after the Benson band's performance at the Burke High School stadium. “I think we're just as good as any of the big bands out there.”
Drum majors are the ones who stand on a podium before a marching band and keep the members in rhythm. They're selected by band directors for their ability to keep a steady tempo and for their leadership skills.
The invitational featured small bands and huge bands, serious performances and funny ones.
Gepson wore a burgundy topcoat and a top hat, a tribute to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” the movie from which the Benson band's tunes were chosen.
Gepson bowed grandly to the audience in the Burke stadium. Typically, she then acts like she has stumbled and does a somersault after the bow. But the turf was too wet, she said, and she had to forgo the somersault.
She is short, energetic, upbeat and relishes her assignment. “I get along with everybody, and I love being the center of attention and putting on a show.”
North High School's marching band chose graver music, performing classical pieces by American composer Aaron Copland. North used three drum majors at once — senior Danny Anding, junior Luke Armitage and sophomore Kyrie Kellogg.
There were no somersaults in their program. Their band includes about 70 members, and the drum majors serve as lieutenants to their band director, Jeremy Haupt.
Armitage described their job as “keeping everybody in line, doing what they're supposed to do. ... They should be devoted to it.”
“A lot of us are, but the freshmen are still getting there,” Anding said.
Things never go perfectly, and when Kellogg climbed on her podium, she discovered that the setup crew had given her Armitage's podium, and he hers. She found Armitage's 5-foot podium more wobbly than her own but made it through without incident.
Omaha South drum major Edgar Barragan, a senior, was just as serious as his counterparts at North, but he oversaw a comical arrangement.
The 70-member South marching band's theme involved a zombie apocalypse, including zombie flag-bearers and xylophone players dressed as lab scientists. They played doom and survival tunes by R.E.M., Queen, Gloria Gaynor and others.
At the end of the performace, the band members became zombies who staggered toward the audience. They pulled Barragan from the podium.
“And then I was eaten alive,” he said afterward.
Barragan played the baritone in the All-State Band last year and plays trumpet in a mariachi ensemble.
“I just like to perform,” he said. “That's what I like to do.”
Benson's Gepson plays trombone, sings and loves to listen to rock and classical music as well as movie scores.
“We lucked out,” said Benson's first-year band director, Sean Lockard. “We're lucky to have her on our side.”
Omaha Marching Invitational results
1st place: Millard West
2nd place: Millard North
3rd place: Washington, Sioux Falls, S.D.
Outstanding percussion: Burke
Outstanding color guard: Burke
Outstanding drum major: Washington
Best visual: Millard West
Best music: Millard West
Best effect: Millard West
Superior ratings: Washington, Gretna, Norris, Westside, Millard West, Elkhorn South, Millard North, Millard South, Omaha Burke
Excellent ratings: Benson, Bryan, Ralston, Omaha South, Fort Calhoun, Northwest, Elkhorn, Hastings, Norfolk
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