Local News

June 29, 2014

Million Dollar marcher

Kinsey enjoying time with Alabama band

If you are unfamiliar with the world of marching band, the term “drum major” may be a bit misleading.

When most people think of a drum major, their minds go directly to either someone who plays the drums or to someone twirling a baton and doing high-kicks. In fact, drum majors are the individuals responsible for leading the band. They conduct music, discipline members, run rehearsals and carry out instructions from the band director.

Holly Kinsey, a 2012 graduate of Northwest Whitfield High School, has climbed the ranks in music performance and marching band and recently earned the position of drum major for the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band.

After years of hard work, dedication, late nights and strenuous practice, she has achieved the highest position of authority offered to students in a marching band. From the very beginning, she’s had her eye on that prize.

Kinsey was in sixth grade at Westside Middle School when her band teacher showed the class a video of the Marching Southerners, Jacksonville State University’s marching band. Though she had just picked up the clarinet for the first time not too long before that, she knew then that she wanted to march someday.

“Even then, in sixth grade, I knew I wanted to go into music,” said Kinsey.

She quickly learned how to play her clarinet, and after only six months decided to pick up another instrument. Breezing through the secondary instrument audition, Kinsey began playing the bass clarinet, becoming the only student in her grade with the distinction.

But that was just the beginning of what has proven to be an impressive path to success.

Kinsey decided to seek out her band instructor, Ben Milam, and ask him to teach her the basics of conducting music.

After learning the rudimentary motions and gaining a working knowledge of what is expected of a drum major, she decided to audition to lead Northwest’s Blazing Blue Marching Band at the end of her eighth-grade year.

“I auditioned my eighth-grade year just for the experience; I knew I wouldn’t get it as a freshman in high school,” she said.

After a year of marching clarinet at Northwest, Kinsey auditioned for drum major again at the end of her freshman year, and was selected to serve as the lieutenant field commander, or assistant drum major, for the 2009 football season.

Kinsey went on to serve as head drum major her junior and senior years. Smitty Barnett, the recently retired band director of the Blazing Blue Marching Band and band instructor at Northwest, praised her for her unfailing devotion to excellence.

“Holly was one of the best drum majors we’ve ever had,” said Barnett. “In the 29 years I served as band director at Northwest, I had a ton of wonderful students. Looking back at all that time, she is definitely one that stands out in my mind.”

Kinsey auditioned for the University of Alabama’s Million Dollar Band in the spring of 2012. During her freshman year of college, she marched clarinet and gained her footing with the nearly 400-member band. Though the change of pace was daunting at first, she quickly rose to the challenge.

“Marching with the Million Dollar Band is a little different from marching in high school because you have practice every single day for a very long time, including Saturdays. It’s more of a taxing experience time-wise,” she said. “The level of difficulty is also higher because we’re able to devote more time to marching.”

In the fall of 2013, her sophomore year, Kinsey began to climb the ranks at Alabama when she was selected as clarinet section leader.

“It was an honor to be able to become a leader in the organization and to help to propel it forward towards excellence even more,” said Kinsey.

Kinsey’s most recent achievement, though, happened at the end of April of this year when she was chosen as a Million Dollar Band drum major. The audition process was arduous, with three rounds of increasingly difficult tests and requirements.

Though she was taking 23 credit hours in school, Kinsey was not going to let that stop her from achieving her goal, even if that meant staying up until 4 a.m. some days.

“There were definitely some times, especially close to the end of the semester, where I realized just how much I had to do to prepare for auditions,” said Kinsey, “But I just kept saying to myself, ‘I will be a drum major by the end of this school year.’”

The first round began with 24 band members auditioning for one of the four coveted drum major positions. The hopefuls were split into groups of five and required to conduct a piece of music for a panel of judges. The group was then cut in half for the second round, where individuals were put through a rigorous interview process with the band director.

For the third round, the remaining six band members were put to the test when they were expected to conduct the Million Dollar Band for A-Day, the University of Alabama’s spring football game.

“It was like we got to be drum major for a day and got to try the whole thing out,” she said.

After A-Day, the four drum majors were selected, with Kinsey among them.

Now, with her new position, she will be responsible for helping with leadership and rookie and full band camps, where she will take the lead in instruction, organization and discipline of the Million Dollar Band with her fellow drum majors.

Kinsey credits Milam and Barnett for encouraging her to pursue her goals and helping her strengthen her skills.

“Initially, it was Mr. Milam that got me into band in middle school. Then I got into high school and Mr. Barnett kept that focus going for me,” Kinsey said. “Mr. Barnett really pushed me to go for this. He always inspired me to reach for more.”

But she doesn’t have a set career path just yet.

“I’ve considered being a college band director because I really like the aspect of being able to lead a college marching band,” she said. “On the flip side of that, I really enjoy playing music, so I don’t know if I want to go into clarinet performance or conducting.”

For all of her talents and attributes, her determination and humility are the ones that shine the brightest, according to Barnett.

“She is a tremendous musician, yes, but she doesn’t have to prove it to you. She is humble about her talents,” he said. “Holly does not give up, she’s disciplined, and that’s why she’s been so successful. She is going to meet any goal she sets for herself because she has the heart and soul to fight for it.”

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