Not many college sophomores are drum majors of major college marching bands.
But Claire Harrison, a 19-year-old sophomore at Syracuse University from Brookfield, has always been in a hurry to achieve her goals. This year, Harrison, along with two seniors, is a drum major for the Pride of the Orange, the official name of the school’s marching band.
Harrison admitted that she was a little surprised to have been chosen to be drum major as a sophomore.
“I knew it was something that I wanted to do eventually but I never figured it would work out this way for sophomore year,” Harrison told the Landmark in a recent telephone interview.
After playing the piccolo in the Syracuse band as a freshman, Harrison, who was a drum major for the Riverside Brookfield High School marching band in her senior year, decided that she would apply to be a drum major now. She figured that going through the process would help her later when she would have a better chance to be selected.
But she shined throughout the application process, which consisted of interviews, conducting the Syracuse alma mater and fight song, and teaching a marching band fundamental skill.
“I’m just lucky that the stars aligned for me,” Harrison said.
Harrison said she has loved marching band ever since she joined it in high school because it combines her love for music, teamwork and sports.
“Since the minute I started marching band freshman year in high school, I thought maybe I can do the back bend some day at a major college,” she said, “and here I am and I’m just so grateful for all people, all the music education, and all the things that I have gotten me to this point because it is one of the greatest things in my life.
“My college experience and even my high school experience would not have been the same without marching band.”
Being in the marching band is a big commitment, even more so for a drum major, who is considered the band’s leader. On weeks of home football games, the band rehearses for two hours in the evening, four days a week and then has a two- hour morning practice on Saturday. Harrison arrives at practice at least 30 minutes before it starts and leaves at least 15 minutes after practice ends. Before a home football game, the 170-member band performs for about 45 minutes on the steps of a chapel on the quad. Then they march to the Dome, shouting tradition-filled gibberish as they go. Once inside, they play a pregame and halftime show, as well as between plays throughout the game.
Still, Harrison loves the excitement of running onto the field at the JMA Wireless Dome to the roar of a crowd that generally exceeds 40,000.
“It’s really the coolest thing ever,” she said. “The first time you run out of the tunnel and see all the people and see the dome is a really special moment that I’ll never forget. And to get to be in front of that means the absolute world to me. The fact that all these people that I care so deeply about has chosen me and trust me with the duty of leading them is the greatest honor of my life.”
At one of the first three games this season – Sept. 9 against Western Michigan – Harrison snagged the coveted center ladder position for the pregame show. She got to do the famous back bend when the drum major leans back to let her head or hat top touch the ground behind her.
“One of the coolest things ever,” Harrison said – even more so that night because it was also her birthday, and her mother was in the crowd.
Harrison is double majoring in political science and magazine writing and digital journalism, and minoring in Spanish. In addition, Harrison, who freelanced some stories for the Landmark last summer, also works for the Daily Orange, the Syracuse school newspaper where she is an assistant copy editor for the news section.
Does she ever sleep?
“Not really,” Harrison said in text message. “I have the rest of my life to sleep.”
Those who knew her at RB are not surprised that Harrison has taken Syracuse by storm.
Back then, she was involved in myriad activities, including serving as a student representative to the school board her senior year while she worked a part-time job. Yet she was always prepared.
“Claire was incredibly dedicated and thorough while she served as student board rep and I imagine she’ll bring those same traits to her new leadership role,” said RB school board president Deanna Zalas.
She also was a leader in the RB band.
“She’s just an amazing leader and she did awesome things for the RB band,” said James Baum, director of the band.
He added that he couldn’t recall any other RB graduate in the last 20 years who went on to become a college drum major.
Yet as much as Harrison loves band, she has decided against a career in music. For now, marching band is perfect.
Harrison, who maps her life out years in advance, said she plans to get a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She hasn’t decided yet what she will do when she leaves Syracuse.
“I could see myself having a career in Washington, D.C. and working in the government or working on campaigns, something like that because I have a real passion for that,” Harrison said. “Through some classes I’ve taken I’ve discovered a passion for public policy and research and things like that, but I could also see myself being a reporter chasing a beat, moving across the country, living that scrapy life that everyone always talks about.”