Throughout the years, there have been 49 distinct members to serve as the drum majors of The Marching Virginians. This unique group of individuals have each brought something new and different to the position, while maintaining a high level of performance and leadership. With Drum Major #50 coming around the corner, I had the honor of interviewing a few former drum majors that could offer stories and advice.
Dennis Furr (1974 and 1975)
How did you come into this role when the band was just formed?
I met Roger Heath, the first band director, at Virginia Beach during my senior year in high school. I didn’t know there was going to be a band there until Roger showed up. I won the best drum major award twice at Robinson High School, plus the best drum major award at VA Beach Music Festival. When Nixon’s second Inauguration ceremony happened, I was selected to lead the combined 22 high school bands from Fairfax County called the Spirit of 76 Band. Roger Heath was an all-inclusive kind of band director. He was trying really hard to make the MVs a great experience for everyone. Dave Mistretta, who was an excellent Drum Major from Annandale High School, was added and we became a drum major team about mid-season that first year.
Any additional comments?
I’m very thankful for my roommate my freshman year, Bob Liebau. Bob, along with Al Kraft, Brett MacMillan, McKenzie Dosier, Gary Burgess, and Dave Ward were always very encouraging and supportive along with a host of others. We have our 45-season coming up and it would be great to see the original CHARTER MVs attend Homecoming both for the 45th and 50threunions.
Ben Nelson (1999, 2000, and 2001
How did the position of drum major help you past graduation?
I got my first job out of college from another MV (Rob Bohannon). I found my wife on her first day of Band Camp in August 2000 and made lifelong friends in the MVs. I found a mentor and role model in Dave McKee. I learned that leadership principles are universal. The experience of being a Drum Major and leading this group has helped me perform at a high level in job interviews, leadership roles, and has provided a platform for me to give back to the MVs and the university. Even today, people are impressed when I tell them that I was Drum Major of the Marching Virginians.
Would you discuss some of your most significant memories in this position?
One memory is from the National Championship. Our fans were absolutely incredible. The entire experience (other than the final score of the game) was the most fun I had as a member of any musical ensemble. However, the most impactful moment I had while Drum Major was leading the Pregame show after 9/11. Performing Colors and the National Anthem meant much more than it ever had. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. It's those types of moments that are unscripted and unforgettable.
Words of wisdom to pass down to the future drum majors?
Own it. Leverage the network of former Drum Majors, learn from their successes and failures, and bring your own unique style and personality. Own it. Hold yourself to a high standard. Be an extension of Dr. Polly. Own it.
Stephen Shelburne (2006, 2007, and 2008)
What were some of your favorite moments in uniform?
Every chance we got to perform pregame. That was (and still is) such an exciting show for the MVs!
Why did you decide to audition for drum major at Virginia Tech?
It was a role I thoroughly enjoyed during high school and I thought it would be amazing to have the same opportunity with such a great ensemble. What an incredible honor it was! It helped me learn how to work with and learn from all sorts of people. Those skills are invaluable in my daily job.
What is something you would like the next drum major to know?
Make meaningful connections and love every moment.
Alex Schmidt (2008 and 2009)
What were some of your favorite moments as drum major?
a) Watching Tyrod Taylor win the “Miracle in Blacksburg” Nebraska game in 2008.
b) Conducting the Star-Spangled Banner during Pre-Game the Thursday night after President Obama was elected.
c) Running the Hokie Bird flag out through the end zone with the cheerleaders at the end of our Peach Bowl win over Tennessee in my last game as Drum Major
Any advice for the Drum Major #50?
You still have a lot to learn, your character matters more than you think it does, and it is every bit as fun as it looks.
Any additional comments?
I’m grateful for every single interaction and conversation I had with Dave McKee, Will Petersen, and Tony Marinello. The access I had to learn from those two incredible teachers was amazing. Also, Dave always used to say, “There are only two people in Lane Stadium who can make 66,000 folks lose their minds: the quarterback, and the Drum Major.”
Jenna Sharer (2016 and 2017)
My second game as Drum Major of the Marching Virginians was against The University of Tennessee, at Bristol Motor Speedway. I had never seen the band so electric and excited to be at a football game. Even though it was a tough loss for the Hokies, the band's energy, enthusiasm, and excitement was so inspiring and an honor to lead.
What is something you would like future drum majors to know?
Remember that being drum major is about what you can do for the band; it is not necessarily about what the band can do for you. It is easy to get caught up in the moment, but the name of the game is remembering how you can serve the Marching Virginians with your unique strengths while embodying and being a role model for the Spirit of Tech.
What is something you learned while in this position?
Being drum major and simply just a member of the band taught me the aspect of paying it forward. My freshman year, I had so many positive role models and advocates that made sure I was set up for success. I was so impressed and inspired by many people who paid it forward to me. The rest of my Marching Virginian experience I focused on giving back to others and being a mentor. While my career is not in music, paying it forward is something I like to incorporate in my everyday life and I believe will give me the energy I need as I progress further into my career.