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Viewfinder: NHS students fight to earn top band positions

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Natchez High School sophomore Markaja Ramirez, left, leads a line of drum major hopefuls through a marching routine Friday morning during drum major tryouts at the Steckler Multipurpose Building on the NHS campus.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — Natchez High School sophomore Markaja Ramirez, left, leads a line of drum major hopefuls through a marching routine Friday morning during drum major tryouts at the Steckler Multipurpose Building on the NHS campus.

NATCHEZ — For Natchez High School senior Shakia Gaylor, all the years of marching and sweating in the school’s band have finally paid off.

Gaylor was named drum major captain shortly after band tryouts ended at the school’s Steckler Multipurpose Building Friday afternoon.

Gaylor was one of four band members who tried out for one of the drum major positions open and said she was humbled by the opportunity.

Gaylor, who served as a second drum major last year, said she is well aware of the responsibilities of her new role.

“To be a drum major, you have to show leadership skills and be focused on helping others,” Gaylor said.

Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — NHS marching band director Marcus Washington, center, takes notes Friday morning during drum major tryouts.
Jay Sowers / The Natchez Democrat — NHS marching band director Marcus Washington, center, takes notes Friday morning during drum major tryouts.

“You have to make sure all the members are going in the right direction at all times,” Gaylor said. “I love that responsibility.

“This means everything to me. I have wanted this since the ninth grade.”

Sophomore Markaja Ramirez said that being named one of two co-captain drum majors, along with junior Brian Wilson, who will work alongside Gaylor to lead the 65- to 70-member band through the upcoming season, was a dream come true for her.

“Since I first came (to Natchez High School), being a drum major has been my goal,” Ramirez said.

Friday’s tryout was the culmination of a summer of practices for the group of hopeful drum majors.

“We’ve been practicing since early June,” Ramirez said. “Going over our routine, our marching and everything.”

Marcus Washington, who started work as the band’s new director on June 1, said the three drum majors were not alone in stepping into a stressful situation during tryouts on Friday morning.

“I know it’s nerve-racking,” Washington said. “You come into a room and face a panel of judges alone. Of course you are nervous.”

Washington said that going through tryouts like Friday’s would help the band members develop the strong mental fortitude needed to recoup after mistakes, small or large, when the lights are bright and the crowds are loud.

“These tryouts are about keeping a strong mind and not letting anxiety take over,” Washington said.

Gaylor said that the tryouts, regardless of the position for which the musician was aiming, were not an easy undertaking.

“Tryouts aren’t easy,” Gaylor said. “But if you work hard enough and pay attention to what you are doing, it all works out.”

Washington, himself a 2005 graduate of Natchez High School who marched in the band all four years, said that while he hopes his band will impress the crowds they play in front of this year, they must first master the basics of their craft.

“The most important issues are playing, playing the right notes, playing articulations and marching fundamentals,” Washington said.

“I also believe you should play your standards first before you start jamming,” Washington said. “We are going to jam, but we are going to stand and march first.”

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