This is a rerun of a post I made in December, 2013 and unfortunately lost in a giant computer and database crash. I believed it to be lost to the ages, however, I found a copy unexpectedly today while assisting another blogger in site management. I am reposting it here because… Well, because I liked it and was disappointed to have lost it. More importantly, it celebrates a terrific friendship dating back to 1972 and continues to this day.
But MOST importantly, I hope to settle this highly contentious disagreement once and for all.
I’m the better Drum Major.
Now SOME might try to mislead you to the conclusion that I’m not, but I am. Seriously, I’m not kidding around here.
I’m the better Drum Major.
This misinformation campaign has been going on since 1974 and I think it’s time for the definitive work on this subject to be written, disseminated and entered into the public record. So make note of this. You’ll be tested on this at some point and I expect y’all to have the right answer:
I’m the better Drum Major.
Someone is spreading lies about this. And I think I know. Who is it that dares to challenge decades of Drum Major greatness? Well, that would be the SECOND best (by a long shot) Drum Major, Jeffrey Tobin. While I respect Mr. Tobin and actually consider him to be a friend – perhaps even his ONLY friend, I’m just tired of the whining. Get over it, dude! Here’s a hanky. Go dry your eyes, put on your big boy pants and get a life.
“Come and take it – Slogan at the Battle of Gonzales”
(Yeah, I searched Google for that. Dammit Jim, I’m the better Drum Major not a military historian.)
This all goes back to the Valley Forge Military Academy and Junior College Band. I was a member from 1971-1976. The aforementioned Mr. Tobin joined me in my second year. It was during that second year that I started practicing to lead this talented and accomplished group (including Mr. Tobin) of high school and college musicians while on the march. You’ve probably seen photos of military bands each with a brightly dressed Drum Major in front of the band with a mace, a roughly five-foot long staff, weighted at one end and adorned with all sorts of flashy accoutrements. The Drum Major uses the mace to move the band forward, turn left or right, or perform some other maneuver all while the band performs martial music to stirring effect. The Drum Major’s specific movements are rehearsed so often that just a glance from any member of the band and they know what the hell is going on.
Being the Drum Major was a big deal at Valley Forge. The Drum Major had a different uniform and a huge, ornate sash sewn with gold thread. The sash weighed a ton, but it looked awesome and as soon as I saw the Drum Major my plebe (first) year, I knew that’s where I wanted to be.
Greg Ream was the Drum Major my plebe year. Jeff Zimmerman was the Drum Major the next two. That gave me three years to practice and get good at it. Somewhere along the way, Jeff Tobin also developed an interest in being the Drum Major, but as I was hoping to be the heir apparent, he’d have to get in line behind me where he belonged. And much to his credit, he did.
We were friends – still are, really. Best of friends. For the years we were at Valley Forge, we practiced the mace manual, which is what the movements are collectively called, almost every day. Yeah, we were both pretty damned good. Jeff even developed a modification of the manual for the mace in which we could both participate simultaneously. Yeah, he’s creative AND talented. Best friends, yes, but I hate his guts anyway.
So the year comes and the Bandmaster, Col. D. Keith “Duke” Feltham notified me that I’d be the Drum Major in my fourth year and since there was another after that before graduation, probably my fifth year as well.
It was a lock. When Duke said something, it happened. Period.
So in the 1974-75 academic year, I was the Drum Major of the Valley Forge Military Academy Band.
But Mr. Tobin, that rat in sheep’s clothing, never let me forget he was waiting in the wings for me to have a heart attack at the tender age of 19 or some such other debilitating event.
In fact, while digitizing some music from reel-to-reel tapes of the era, I found this on the back of one of the boxes. My note mentions my cadet rank at the time “M/Sgt Drum Major.” Please note Mr. Tobin’s handwriting reads “But not for long, Ha Ha!”
So anyway, as I said, there I was in the fall of 74, leading the band as the Drum Major. That was, until drummer Pat Parker was involved in a serious automobile accident taking him out of the four-man drum line for a number of weeks prior to the band’s VERY important performance at the Harrisburg Horse Show. We’d already learned the marching routines thoroughly. Reorganizing the band to account for Pat’s absence and relearning everything was far harder than sending me back to the drum line where I’d been the previous two years. Fortunately, there was one man who was prepared to step in and lead the band while I was back in the drum line.
That’s right. Jeffrey Tobin, back stabber.
I jest. (I don’t.)
So Jeff led the band until Pat came back healthy, took his place on the drum line and I went back to the front of the band where I belonged, Jeff in the trombone section behind me where he belonged.
I was the Drum Major for Harrisburg and the rest of the year proceeded without incident. I did my job as the Drum Major proudly and with all the dignity, flair and precision that I could muster – and that was a lot. WAY more than that wanna-be in the trombone section.
The next year, to make a long story short, as expected, I was again selected to be the Drum Major. Until they needed a trumpet player on the march. But this time, it wasn’t temporary and I was asked by Col. Feltham if I’d go back and play trumpet instead of being the Drum Major.
Yeah, not part of the plan, but we were all being paid generous scholarships and Duke always stressed professionalism and all that happy horseshit (all of those things are true, but it felt like happy horse shit at the time) and so of course, I reluctantly agreed to step aside and play trumpet.
So Jeff Tobin could take the mace.
So a few weeks in to the 1975-76 academic year, Jeffrey Edwin Tobin became the next in a long line of bandsmen to lead the VFMA band.
Did I mention we’re still friends?
Well we are. Thoroughly.
And I could not have been more fortunate to hand over the mace to a finer cadet, a finer person and yes, even a fine (Ha! You thought I was going to say “finer,” didn’t you?) Drum Major. If I were going to give up something that was that important to me, I would have wanted it to go to someone worthy and who deserved the opportunity as much as any of us who led the band.
Jeff performed admirably. We still kept at the double-man mace manual often. We continued to be a team through those years at VF, then at Westminster College. When we discovered that we both had some talent for radio, we were a team there too, doing all sorts of crazy stunts at our respective radio stations.
Ok, so maybe I wasn’t the best Drum Major. (But I was.) But Jeff was damned good, too. Really good. Really, really good.
I like to think that I’ve mellowed over the decades, but I’m still bitter and I’m still better.
I jest. (I don’t.)
No, seriously. I’ve mellowed. The long-standing feud about who’s the better Drum Major is now, due to advancing age, a long-sitting feud. But there’s no person alive or dead who I’d consider a peer when it comes to being a Drum Major other than Jeff.
I didn’t say that out loud, did I? (I did.)
So ok, you can believe whatever you want to about who’s the better Drum Major.
Just lie to me about it when you see me, ok? I have feelings, you know. Thanks.