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CGB Interviews Cal Band Drum Major


"How come the Drum Major isn't the one playing the drum?" via

Through hard work, dedication, and pure nepotism, we were able to snag an exclusive interview with the incoming Drum Major, David Nagle, in the California Marching Band (Donate Here!).  It wasn't easy given the fact that 1 out of 5 of our Marshawnthusiasts and 1 out of 1 of our Jahvidtician were never in the band!  But somehow, someway we managed to pull it off.  Call it moxie.  Call it dadgummitness.  Call it personal ingenuity.  Call it living in the bushes outside his apartment until he agreed, I do not know.  I do know, he has a great front yard topiary, though.  So modern!

All I know is that his answers to our hard-hitting questions are after the fold!  If you guys like this interview with David Nagle, we can start interviewing other Cal band members like me or Ragnarok.  And then also more with me.  I've got my fingers cross, this is a hit!  I have so many witty anecdotes to share with the world!

1) Besides marching in bright gold tights, what does the drum major, in specific, do to bring Saturday halftime shows into existence?  Take us through the process here.

There's quite a bit of work that goes into each show, from myself as well as the other 230 members of the band. I oversee the Stunt committee which is charged with the creation of what you see on field as well as maintaining the marching excellence of the band. In the weeks leading up to a show, they work long nights using a computer program called "Cal Chart" to plan out the complex formations and flows that make up a field show. It takes a lot of dedication, patience, and creativity, but this year's group is really something special and I think you'll enjoy what they have in store.

After the show is charted and printed out for the band, we begin rehearsing it in the week or so before the game (if there is an away game in between home games we have an extra week to rehearse). The Drum Major specifically runs rehearsals each day, teaching the show to the band step by step. I climb up a tower we construct before rehearsal so I can get a good view of what's happening on the field and point out any areas that need help or improvement.

2) What goes into the process of selecting a show?

It all starts with the creation of cut tapes, which are ideas for halftime shows with different songs spliced together. These are created by members of the band and anyone can submit a cut tape (I submitted the sports show last year). I present these submissions to the band in several listening sessions where everyone has the opportunity to chime in and give their two cents on what shows they like, which ones they dislike, and what changes could be made to make the cut tapes better. Gradually myself, Andrew Person the student director,  my stunt committee, and MAC (the musical activities committee) narrow down and refine the selection to approximately a top ten. In the end, after a few rounds of cutting and re-cutting, the Executive Committee sits down and decides what the final show selection for the season will be.


"Artists rendering of Cal Band Drum Major with members of Ex-Comm" via

3) What shows can we look forward to next year?

I have to keep it under wraps for the time being, but I can promise you that we have a solid line up for the fall. Don't worry, I'll let the California Golden Blogs break the news before any other blogs.

4) What baton-catching practices are there for drum majors?

There aren't specific exercises I do to work on it, but I live close to Underhill field so I've been stopping by every day on my way home to get in a few practice tosses. I also recruited the help of a former bandsman, Hector Salcedo, who worked with me on getting my toss higher and more controlled.

5) Why can't we sing the words to California Indian song anymore?  Why did you do that to us?

I think you'll be pleasantly surprised with pregame this season.

6) What songs would you love for the Cal band to play that are totally unfeasible?

Well I got the songs I REALLY wanted last year by making the sports show cut tape--what makes some of them difficult is the odd measures that throw off the marching, but we managed to make it work on the field. [TwistNHook Edit:  Here are the videos I took of this show, which included a recreation of The Play, last year] I've always wanted a good arrangement of the Power Rangers theme song, but it just doesn't seem to translate to marching band...oh well. Most of what I would want to play though has managed to find its way into our packet, one way or another. Cal Band's been around for a long time and played so many shows over the years that we've accumulated one of the most diverse music libraries of any college marching band.


[TwistNHook Edit:  The above-mentioned recreation of The Play put into the Sports Show]

7) How awesome is Carry On My Wayward Son by Kansas and why can't you guys play that more?!??!?!

I am with you 110%. Trombones have that sick intro, and I never get tired of playing it. As long as my chops are still up for it, that song rocks my socks off. You'll have to talk to Andrew about playing it more, that's his gig.

8) What year are you in school?

Myself as well as the rest of Ex-comm are all going to be 4th year seniors in the fall.

9) What's your major?

I'm doubling in Psych and Molecular and Cell Bio. Basically I'm either going to be a doctor or a psychic. Or a psychic doctor.

10) Did you already know how to use the baton (or whatever it's called) before becoming a drum major?

I actually didn't--In high school I played football and was never in marching band so I wasn't exposed to the whole culture until I joined Cal Band in college. Going into the process of selecting our Drum Majors, I thought that it it would be important to have these skills prior to being chosen, but there is so much more to Cal Band's version of the position that goes beyond performance on the field. Not to say that I haven't been working on my baton skills, the back bend, and all of the other performance aspects of the position, its just that those skills are something that you can learn and work on individually over the course of a year whereas the qualities that are necessary to help the band reach its potential must be there from the get go.

11) What's the best benefit of being a drum major?

Personally I'm most excited to be leading the march up to the stadium on game day, and I'm psyched that we'll still be playing in Memorial this season! Otherwise I'd be leading the band up to Candlestick or something. Hopefully if we make it into a certain bowl game, I'll get to lead the band in another type of parade.

12) What is your drum major nickname and can we write it on this blog?

I won't officially have one until the start of fall, when we have our teaching assistant orientation program (TAOP), but you're welcome to come up with one if you want: just no foreign dictators this time.



13) Whats your view on the UCLA band?  Be honest.

So although I wasn't in a high school marching band myself, I assume it would've looked and sounded something like UCLA's band does. All jokes aside, they are great musicians. But in my mind, the band's purpose on the field is to be entertaining to the crowd, firing them up for the game, and UCLA's band never seems to engage even their own crowd well.

14) USC band?  Be REALLY honest.

I had a lot of proud moments last season, but one of the proudest was out marching USC's band in their own home. It was plain and obvious to everyone there that when it came down to sheer enjoyment of the halftime show, we left the Trojan Band in the dust. Their fans would probably never acknowledge this, but they all knew the truth deep down. When USC's band was on the field you could hear crickets chirping in the stands, and that should never happen at home: your fans are mentally prepared to appreciate and enjoy your performance (with the exception of Stanford) and its your responsibility to give them something fun and exciting. USC's band just doesn't do that. On top of that, I can't understand for the life of me why they need to mic a 300+ person marching band and pipe it all throughout the stadium. They really can't produce enough volume on their own? Like UCLA, I know their musical standards are high so I know its a good bunch of musicians, but when you only play two songs you don't really get to showcase that talent.

15) What would you say the importance of tradition is to the California marching band?  What is your favorite tradition?

Cal Band is steeped in tradition and lore, just like many groups on campus, and we have a lot of cool traditions ranging from stuff that's been around since the foundation of the band to recent traditions only a year or two old. Tradition is great because it connects everyone who has ever been a part of this organization. I'll run into alumni and ask them about traditions that I assume couldn't have been around for more than a few years, only to find out they've been around for 30 years or more.

There are quite a few great ones that you can watch for every game day: You can hear the Drum Major giving inspirational words to the band before they rush up sproul steps for the rally. You can see individual sections doing "continuities" such as the karate kick as they march up from Sproul to the stadium. And if you listen carefully, just before pregame, you can hear band members clinking each other's uniform buckles for good luck.

Other than that, you will have to join band to find out.

16)  What made you originally interested in becoming the drum major?

I actually just felt very passionate towards the end of the year that this was something I could do and wanted to do. It wasn't necessarily something I aspired to the first day I joined band, in fact I hit a few road bumps along the way, but come the end of the season I just couldn't see myself in any other place. You really have to love this band unequivocally to put in the work involved in being an ex-comm member, because at the end of the day you are volunteering (we aren't paid or compensated) your time and sanity to make a great experience for the 230 people in band and the 70,000 fans watching our shows every game. But for me, the rewards are inherent in the position: I can't wait to see this years band successfully perform their first show at the Maryland. I can't wait to see them burst out of the tunnel and march down the field while I'm chucking the baton at the other end.

17) What are your plans after school?

I'm going to take a year off before applying to Med School. I'll probably stick around Berkeley and GSI chemistry  for the summer, then either find a job or travel for a bit while applying and interviewing.

18) What instrument do you play?

I've been playing trombone for 10 years.

19) When Twist was in band, he nearly got kicked out on several non-consecutive occasions.  If you were Twist's drum major, would you kick him out?

I've seen and heard some crazy things in my 3 years in band, and I doubt Twist could pull off anything that would really shock me. Plus, i'm the Drum Major, not the Senior Manager. I'm good cop, she's bad cop. I'm fun dad, she's disciplinarian mom.  [Twist Edit:  That may be technically true, but I assure you the Drum Major that year was equally as disturbed with me as the Senior Manager was]  And I'm a softie, I'd hate kicking someone out of band. Maybe my mind will change after I actually meet him.

20) Does saying "I'm the drum major" get you laid?

About as much as saying "I'm President of the Bridge Club". So yes. [Avinash Edit:  Hey!  I was the President Of My Local Bridge Club for 3 years.  You cut me deep, Drum Major!  You cut me deep!]