Shaun Jones and Stephanie Swierczek, two Illinois natives selected to lead the Purdue "All-American" Marching Band as drum majors in 2001, enter into relatively unpopulated ranks in Purdue Band history.
Jones, a senior engineering management major from Geneva, Ill, is one of just a handful of men to have held the position for three consecutive years. Swierczek, a junior political science major from Aurora, Ill., is just the third female ever chosen to wear the tall bearskin hat and carry the drum majorís mace.
Although the marching band dates its colorful history all the way back to 1886 on the Purdue University campus, all three women chosen for its top leadership position have served within the last decade. Until the late 1960s, men made up the entire band because of the programís ties to the Reserve Officer Training Corps. In the early years women only performed with the band as majorettes even though it was required that they also be able to play instruments.
The first woman to serve as drum major was Fort Wayne native Anne Woods in 1991-92, followed by Danville native Cathy Tuttle in 1993-94. Both married fellow band members, and Cathy Tuttle Russell continues to make her home in West Lafayette.
Swierczek, who also served as drum major of the Waubonsie Valley High School Marching Warriors Band in Aurora, Ill., enjoyed the challenges of the position so much she auditioned for the drum major at Purdue at the end of her freshman year in 2000, and again this year. Drum major try-outs are traditionally held on the final Friday of spring semester classes each year.
"Iím so incredibly honored to have been chosen to represent the Purdue "All-American" Marching Band and the university in this way," Swierczek says.
"I want to have a real influence on making this band the very best itís capable of being. Weíre one of the best marching programs in the nation, and to have my name associated with it is the greatest thing in the world. I want to give that pride and enthusiasm back to the members of the AAMB by doing the absolute best job I can."
Jones, a fifth year senior who knows the challenges and rewards of working with a 340 member band well, says involvement with the Purdue Band has impacted his life positively. "If I could go back and start college over again, I would still choose to participate in the music program. I think it is one of the best decisions I have made in my college career," says Jones.
"I really enjoy doing what I do, being a showman and working with all the people. I also enjoy being a leader and learning how to lead."
The student leader of the "All-American" Marching Band has always been the drum major. Although the titleís origins lie in military protocol, there has always been a student leading the Purdue marching band. At the turn of the 20th century the organization was run solely by students.
Since 1954 two drum majors have been chosen to fulfill the positionís responsibilities, and Purdue remains one of only a few universities where the drum major has the responsibility to conduct the band in the stands.
Marching band, for students like Swierczek and Jones, is an infectious musical adventure. "I do it because I love it. I love hearing the thousands of fans go crazy when weíre down on that field representing this school and supporting the team," Swierczek says.
"Band keeps me motivated, in shape and active. Thereís nothing like it anywhere else. Being the drum major is just the icing for me. The whole band experience is the really great part."