An Apprenticeship in Leadership
Mansfield Drum Major Kaycee Hulslander Models Leadership
It’s 6 p.m. on a cool October Friday, and the light is beginning to fade on the Mounties
Band practice field high on the hill overlooking the football stadium.
The third band rehearsal of the week wrapped half an hour ago. Kaycee Hulslander is just
finishing packing the percussion instruments into the band truck.
The Spirit and The Pride of PA Marching Band has earned a formidable reputation for excellence—underscored by their invitation to perform in the 2024 London New Year’s Day Parade Celebrations. As one of the band’s drum majors, senior music education major Hulslander helps drive that excellence.
While the public sees drum majors marching at the head of the parade or conducting on the field, Hulslander and her fellow drum major, junior Emalie Caccia, play a critical role behind the scenes before the 70-member band even tunes up.
“We are the first ones on and off the field for every practice and performance,” says Hulslander. “We paint the practice field with marks. We begin the equipment setup, xylophones, marimbas, timpani, and the sound system. And we’re prepared for anything, even down to band-aids.”
99 percent of the time you have your back to the audience. Your job is to make the band shine
“My philosophy is the role of the drum major is one of service,” says Dr. Adam Brennan, director of bands and professor of percussion studies. “If a student is motivated by ego, that’s a red flag. I tell them 99 percent of the time you have your back to the audience. Your job is to make the band shine.’ ”
The drum major role demands musical skills that are on-key and interpersonal skills that are on-point. Hulslander personifies both qualities. A native of nearby Wellsboro, she began taking classes in saxophone in third grade at Mansfield’s campus. She later served as drum major in her high school band. “Kaycee is dynamite. She’s one of the best drum majors I’ve had in 30 years,” says Brennan. “When Kaycee was a freshman, she was so gung-ho, always asking, ‘How can I help?’ If she wasn’t going to run for the position, I was going to tell her to do it. She is an outstanding musician. Then you’ve got her dedication and loyalty. She’s a natural fit.”
Drum majors serve as a liaison between the band director and the band members. “At Mansfield, a drum major has to be a member of the band for at least a year, have at least a 3.0 GPA, and good academic standing in the major,” says Brennan, who was a drum major himself for three years in college, an experience he describes as, “three years of student teaching in how to be a band director.”
“Candidates for drum major train on how to direct with clarity for outdoors,” adds Brennan. “And they do an audition for the band, and the band votes. But I do have the final say. If there is another drum major, they are involved in the process. Character is a huge part of what we’re looking for.”
“We look at personality—sometimes we have students who are like me, a little hard-edged, maybe a bit brusque,” says Brennan, with a self-deprecating chuckle. “You cannot cross that line and be insulting. And we have students with softer personalities, but the band members will do anything for them.”
The importance of soft skills was something Brennan learned in one of his early assignments directing a 200-person band. “The students asked, ‘Why do you hate us?” There was no microphone, so I was yelling. I watched a video of the rehearsal with the sound turned down, and I realized I was so focused I needed to remember to smile.”
“Being direct can be a wonderful strength, but you need to know how to moderate it,” says Brennan. “Drum majors are part of the staff. They teach, they lead rehearsals. If something is going wrong in rehearsal and I’m working with another section, they can stop the rehearsal and address the issue. That allows them to practice teaching.”
Just because there’s marching involved doesn’t mean musicality gets cut from the score. “Marching is just giving music a motion,” says Hulslander. “When we march, we step on the beat. It adds flair to the music. I’m a big perfectionist. Every measure, every note needs to be perfectly rhythmically aligned, or I will be disappointed.”
While the musicians in the band need to know their parts, Hulslander and Emalie Caccia, need to know all the parts. “Dr. Brennan arranges and creates new pieces for the marching band,” Hulslander says. “We get them two days before the band arrives on campus. For two days, we’re score studying time, tempo, and meter changes. Who has what melody.”
Turning the written score into a live performance takes focus. “Before I get on the field, I need to be in the right mindset,” says Hulslander. “I’m here to have fun, lead others, and make beautiful music. I might need to take a moment to refresh to get into that mindset. It’s hard to make sure everyone is on the same page. When you’re working with one section, it’s hard to keep everyone else engaged. It’s giving everyone a task. Making sure everyone is focused on the then and there.”
“We practice a lot to have the 10 minutes of fame,” she adds. “And when the 10 minutes are over, everyone is so proud of themselves.”
A May 2024 graduate, Hulslander feels well-prepared for student teaching in the spring semester. “I’ve learned so much about how to lead a rehearsal, talk to students, and set high expectations.”
In addition to marching band, Hulslander maintains her own musical chops on saxophone. “A recital is challenging. It takes a lot of time to find repertoire, practice it, and to really know the music. The dots on the page are just an outline. To express it how the composer wanted it expressed is a whole other level.”
All of my students will be my peers in four years or less
“All of my students will be my peers in four years or less,” says Brennan. “With Kaycee, I can call her in the office and ask, ‘What would you do?’ ”
Hulslander recalls how her own view of the band grew over her Mansfield experience. “At first, I just wanted to be in band because it’s fun. But later, I also wanted to be in a band because we’re making something beautiful, and we can express different things. Nothing in the band is about me. It’s about us. It’s about making something bigger than ourselves.”
“The connections I made at Mansfield will be long-lasting, forever,” says Hulslander. One connection is especially important. “At Mansfield, I met the person I’m going to be with. Because of music, I met my fiancée, Jeremy Jacobus, a percussion major, who proposed to me last April.”
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of The Mansfieldian.