Top Drum Major

“Please welcome to the field, the Eisenhower Knights Marching Band…”

“Drum major, Jessalyn Peterson, is your band ready?”

It was. And so was she.

When the band comes out on the field, Peterson is at the front. Like the announcer said, it’s her band.

During a show, the band works as a unit. Generally, the individual musicians and auxiliary should not stand out. The drum major, on the other hand, is always visible.

“It gives me an adrenaline rush,” Peterson said of hearing her name announced over the loudspeakers.

She and Field Captain Kayla Kuppertz respond with a salute. Then she ascends the podium and begins the show.

“My job is to lead the band,” Peterson said. “I am basically a band director on the field.”

And she does an excellent job of it.

At the recent Tournament of Bands Atlantic Coast Championships, Peterson was named Best Drum Major out of the 22-band field in Eisenhower’s group.

Although she had been named Best Drum Major at several competitions this year, the championship event was different. “I did not expect it at all,” she said.

Outwardly, she kept her composure. On the inside – “Very excited.”

It was the culmination of six years of marching.

For four of those years, Peterson knew she wanted to lead the band. As a freshman, “I was pulled out to help the younger students and I realized how much I liked it.”

“I wanted to help kids,” she said. “I really liked helping them, teaching them how to do things, and leading the band.”

Peterson will be one of four drum majors leading the Tournament of Bands All-Star Band at the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia.

Being the best Group 1 Open drum major at the ACC is an honor. But it’s not the first for Eisenhower. Peterson was on the field, as an assistant to the last Eisenhower drum major to win that particular award.

Peterson had been the band’s field captain – second in command – for the past two years. Mollie Marsh was the 2012-2013 drum major. “I learned everything about how to be a good drum major from Mollie,” Peterson said.

She learned well from a good teacher. Marsh was named to the All-Star Band last year.

“I remember being on the field with Mollie when she was named top drum major,” Peterson said.

She was excited for her friend. And this year, she learned what it was like.

“To experience what she was feeling was amazing,” she said.

“I think we have been very lucky to have students that have worked as hard as Mollie Marsh and Jessalyn Peterson,” Director Mark Napolitan said. “Jessalyn strives for excellence in everything she does and she puts in the time needed to get done what needs to be done. She had a great mentor with Mollie last year and was able to improve throughout the season on her own this year.”

Some of that improvement came as a result of watching other bands’ drum majors. “I see different styles of directing,” she said. A few times, she has taken things that those other leaders were doing and incorporated them.

Attention to details like that is one of the things Napolitan said makes her a successful drum major.

“I am very detail-oriented,” Peterson said. “You could ask all of the students in the band… if it wasn’t the way I wanted it, they knew that they were wrong.”

That’s just how she works. “If something’s wrong, fix it.”

She’ll have plenty of opportunity to make positive changes in the lives of young people down the road.

She intends to pursue a career in music education and pass on her expertise and enthusiasm.

“I love being part of the band,” she said. “It’s been my life for six years. It’s my home away from home… my second family.”