Meet The UMN Marching Band: Chamberlain Gregg, Drum Major

Nov 22, 2019

The 58th Annual Marching Band Indoor Concert is quickly approaching on Nov 23-24 at Northrop. In anticipation of the performance, we asked five University of Minnesota Marching Band (UMMB) members a few questions to delve more into the experiences of and process behind the Pride of Minnesota.

In this interview, drum major Chamberlain Gregg reflects on his unique role, the UMMB’s impact on the University and people, and the amount of dedication it takes to be in the band.

Tell us a bit about your role in the band.
In the marching band at the U, the role of drum major is pretty unique. You have to be prepared to take on a variety of duties at any given point, and so much of it is unrelated to the performer that everyone sees at the games. At rehearsals I’m in charge of teaching the band fundamentals needed for the shows were working on, boosting morale as we get through the tougher parts of the semester, organizing events and opportunities for the band, and being the big brother to those who need someone to talk to. At the games it's my job to carry on traditional components of the pregame show like the swinging gates during “Battle Hymn,” conduct the band in the stands, spin mace/baton as a solo performer during halftime, and keep the band and student section energized and excited throughout the game (see the picture above of Chamberlain jumping off the wall of the student section post-pregame show).

When did you start playing your instrument? Did you always see yourself in a marching band?
I started playing trumpet when I was in fifth grade. The marching band at my high school was only for high schoolers, but throughout middle school I was very excited for it and I definitely knew I always wanted to be a part of it. When I was a junior in high school, I came to my first Indoor Marching Band concert at Northrop, and by the time the concert finished I knew where I was going to end up. This concert gave me so much emotion and excitement about the idea of being a part of this group, and it really is a dream come true to now lead it for the 58th Indoor concert.

We understand the Marching Band includes students from more than 100 different majors. What is your major?
I’m majoring in Industrial & Systems Engineering.

How do you manage rehearsals, performances, etc while also playing the role as student?
It can be very stressful at times to focus on all the parts of being drum major while also being a student. The best way I’ve found to manage everything is to use my free time to get as far ahead as I can in my schoolwork. Then without as much school to think about, I can think about how to improve the band, and what opportunities to look into. I’ve come to a point where I sometimes feel guilty if I sit and watch a movie because I know I could be doing so much more with my time, but so far everything has been worth it.

Can you reflect a bit on the process of preparing for an event or performance?
For me, I really need to take time and just compose myself, think through the day and everything I need to accomplish, and make sure I make it special for everyone else. Game days are some of the best days of my life, but also some of the most strenuous as there are SO many things I am responsible for, not to mention the physical exertion I have to prepare myself for during our pregame show.

From the band's point of view, on the Monday after a game, we have auditions for pregame to determine who will take what role for the next game. Each member will either be responsible for the Ceremonial American Flag (CAF) during “The Star-Spangled Banner,” marching as a part of the ‘Main Block’ of the band that makes formations during the show, or marching with a flag of a different school in the big ten conference. Most people participate in a variety of roles throughout the season. For halftime, everyone is on the field making formations, and we learn a new show for every home game––sometimes with only one week to memorize 4-5 new songs and learn drill!

What is your favorite part about being in the band?
The best part about being in this band is knowing every day that you have the opportunity to impact this college in a way unlike any other student. Carrying on long standing traditions and making life-long memories with your best friends around you the whole time.

Were you involved in the Justin Timberlake Super Bowl appearance? If so, how was that experience?
I was! The superbowl performance was during my rookie season in the band, and it was an amazing way to close out the season. It was a lot of work, and a lot of secret rehearsals required for the biggest show of the year. We would spend 8-10 hour days at US bank stadium, learning our part of the show as well as how it fit in with everything else. At one of our earlier rehearsals where we were just beginning to learn the show, unbenounced to us Justin Timberlake was watching us, and even came down to say a few words to the band! When we concluded our rehearsal by singing “Hail! Minnesota,” he said something along the lines of “Man, I want to be a Gopher!”

Are you going to the 2020 Rose Bowl?
The Gophers are undoubtedly going to Pasadena this season!

Do you have a favorite song to play or perform?
Depends on the context: for pregame where the performance is more centered around the marching than spinning mace, the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is definitely my favorite. If I’m performing in the more traditional sense, I’d say “Malagueña” would have to be my favorite.

How do you perform when it’s so cold at games??
Personally, I love performing our pregame show when it's freezing! Our pregame show is the longest in the Big Ten, and is extremely physically demanding––its pretty refreshing to warm up as the show goes on!

Halftime for the whole band can be pretty difficult, though. As the game goes on, many brass instruments' valves freeze, making it so they can only play whatever note they happen to be locked into. Our property team makes ‘winter-mix’ composed of valve oil and antifreeze to put in instruments to prevent this from happening, but sometimes it's just too cold.
For myself & the twirlers, my mace & their batons only get colder as the game goes on, meaning it hurts more & more with each toss we do. It's also pretty tough to keep your hand dexterity as it starts going numb from the cold, so we have to make sure to use lots of hand warmers just before we perform.

What is something that a non-Marching Band civilian would be most shocked to know about the Marching Band?
The sheer amount of rehearsal time that everyone in the band dedicates themselves to––throughout the semester, each student puts in over 500 hours across all the events we do. We have rehearsal for 2 hours Mon-Thu every week, with additional practices Fri and Sat if there’s a football game. AND, because we need to practice before kickoff for games, if it's an 11:00 am kickoff, rehearsal begins at 6:00 am sharp, with most groups arriving for other reasons by 5:30am at the latest. And we’re Minnesota tough, so when it gets down to the freezing temps we have here, we just bundle up and get out there!

What are you most looking forward to with the 58th Annual Indoor Marching Band Concert?
I’m most looking forward to looking out on the crowd as we march in, and immediately spotting those who have never been to an indoor concert before. There really is no way to put into words the amazement you feel as the band marches all around you, and I can’t wait to see those people that have no idea what to expect.

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