Junior drum major excels as a young leader

September 13, 2017 — by Caitlyn Chen and Eleanor Goh

While the rest of the band scattered to go on a lunch break on a hot Saturday afternoon, junior and drum major AJ Lee stayed behind when he noticed the drum major scaffold on the field. The scaffold had to be moved to the quad before practice resumed after lunch, so Lee, without question, began pushing the huge scaffold to the quad by himself.

When band director Michael Boitz saw Lee pushing the structure alone, he came to help him out, but said he knew that Lee would have gladly pushed it to the quad by himself.

“He’s not a complainer, he just does,” Boitz said of Lee. “He's the most organic leader: He does what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and whether he wants to do it or not.”

Drum majors who aren’t already seniors are rare. Every year, a couple of juniors apply for the position, but are usually not chosen as one of the three or four drum majors — Lee was the exception.

“AJ stands out almost every day; he is one of the hardest working students we have,” Boitz said. “He is a rare combination of really exceptional talent that is outdone only by his work ethic.”

Boitz added that he could think of multiple times when Lee went out of his way to help others in the band or make the program better.


The audition process

To be chosen as drum major is a complicated process — after filling out an application and turning in recommendations from one teacher, one band student and one past drum major, Lee was interviewed by all three music directors (Boitz, Andrew Ford and Jason Shiuan). The interview was followed by an audition, where Lee conducted and gave feedback as applicants of other leadership positions played their instruments.   

Lee said that he decided to apply after being inspired by drum majors in the past, like 2014 alumna Lauren Casey-Clyde and his own brother, 2017 alumnus Jaewoo Lee.

“Lauren was a great leader who really motivated me to pursue the music program,” Lee said. “Also, because everyone told me I look like my brother, I pretty much wanted to do everything he did. When he got drum major, I thought, ‘Well, now I have to try out.’”


It all began with MESH

Lee’s musical journey began in fifth grade, when he participated in MESH (Music Education with Saratoga High), a program in which students from Saratoga High help elementary students play one of the four base instruments — flute, clarinet, trumpet or baritone. He started with the trumpet, but switched to the French horn in sixth grade and has been playing it ever since.

Though Lee had not been a section leader prior to becoming a drum major, he gained experience as the drum major of Redwood Middle School’s band in eighth grade.

But he said the amount of leadership compared to his current job was miniscule. Now, Lee conducts the band and organizes the band’s leadership team with the other two drum majors, seniors Austin Shi and Alexander Tran.

The three meet with the directors for half an hour before and after rehearsals from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursdays.  

“I take what the directors tell us and relay it to the band,” Lee said. “We get together and we talk about what we have to go over and what mistakes there are.”

For Lee, the job has not been easy, especially as a junior. With a heavy class load as well as standardized testing preparations, he has struggled to balance academics with his commitment to band.

He sees his main responsibility as drum major is to set a positive example by being completely devoted to band.

“I can’t miss rehearsals for anything, even if it’s the SAT,” Lee said. “I also have to know the music better than the regular band does, because I cannot lead others if I don’t know my music.”

With many interests and academic goals as a junior, Lee is thankful for his parents’ constant support during his transition from sophomore to junior year. He said that his parents have helped him out a lot with time management, which has been his biggest struggle.

Moreover, Boitz considers Lee a “Renaissance man,” excelling as a musician, as an academic student and also as an athlete who plays soccer and badminton, and handling it all in a “kind, calm disposition.”

“He’s already been exceptional [as drum major],” Boitz said. “He does more behind the scenes that people don’t realize than just about anyone I know.”

Though Lee does not plan on majoring in music in college, he sees himself continuing to play French horn and applying his experience in band to other future careers.

“Band has shown me what is necessary for a team to accomplish a goal,” Lee said. “The patience required for working with younger students as well as thinking about the entire group rather than just myself is a skill that will be useful, no matter what I decide to do.”


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