One of the most important aspects of preparing for an upcoming marching season is the selection of the next year’s leaders. While band council officers are usually elected by members of the band, section leaders are typically chosen by the director. For many years, I had students simply apply for the position by turning in their name for consideration. However, several years ago I decided to have interested students apply by writing essays. This idea gave me an opportunity to see what ideas students had about how to make the band better.
I provide a very basic outline of things to address in the essay. The following are some examples of what I look for in a good section leader essay, and some of the responses I have received over the years.
They should mention qualifications and personal qualities that would make them a good section leader.
“I have been an All-Region player for four straight years.”
“I’m a very outgoing and energetic person. I have a great sense of humor and get along with about everyone.”
“I would be a great section leader because I am a very dependable yet eccentric person. I know when it’s time to work hard, and I also know when it’s time to have fun and be silly.”
“I am a responsible person. If I see something that needs to be done or fixed I do my best to fix the problem.”
“I have the necessary experience and training to be an effective section leader.”
“I am a good listener. I am able to identify the needs of other players and find innovative ways of filling them.”
“A section leader must have qualities like patience, determination, and communication.”
“During marching season I was constantly complimented on my flex step. I reached all of my spots on time and spaced out my steps appropriately from one point to another.”
I also ask applicants to mention things that have been done in the past that they like and give examples of what they think can be improved and how they would improve it.
“As a section leader, I don’t want the section to look at me as someone who will let them off easily like some of our past section leaders. They should look at me as someone who knows what they are doing and someone they can ask for help.”
“During summer practices, I think we should all go to the same place to eat lunch so that we can bond and get to know each other better.”
“In my opinion, the clarinet section needs stronger vocals, more enthusiasm, and should memorize their music better. I will set the right example by doing it myself.”
“I want to encourage the freshmen to hold on through the summer heat and work hard until that first Friday night game so they can see how it is all worth it.”
“With maturity being a problem in my section, I know it will be my responsibility to keep them in line.”
“I like how Ashton encouraged everyone, especially the freshmen. I would do the same.”
“I know that I messed up a few times this year, but now I have my priorities straight. I’ve definitely matured and learned from my mistakes.”
Section leader essays can also help in unexpected ways. The year I was leaving for another position I asked all of the applicants to address the fact that they would have new directors the next year. I then gave the essays to the new director.
“No one in the band has ever witnessed a change in directors, and it will certainly impact the band. All I can do is try and make the transition as smooth and positive as possible.”
Requiring section leader essays is almost worth it just for the entertainment value. One student even won brownie points by quoting from one of my books. It was hard not to give him an edge.
“You will probably see this essay and automatically deny me the position of section leader, but before you do, just listen to the reasons I want to be section leader. I know you see me goofing around and not being responsible, but I’m going to change.”
“If I became section leader I’d make sure no one gets out of line. They might get out of line once, but that would be the last time.”
“I’m loyal and I will do anything you need me to do. I might talk back, but I always do it.”
“I think I would be a great section leader because I have an awesome personality.”
“Sorry about the smudges. It rained.”
“I turned fifteen Monday so that means for fifteen years I’ve wanted to lead a drumline.”
“After reading this you’ll go home, pet your blind and deaf dog, and think, ‘She sounds like she would really be a great section leader.’”
“First off, I would like to say, since it’s teacher appreciation week and all, that if you suddenly died, band would really stink. (You probably don’t hear that enough.)”
“I do not know how to read a drill chart but I will gladly learn.”
As for judging the essays, I look more at content than length. Some of the better section leaders may not be great writers, so I often overlook spelling and grammar errors. After the selection process is completed, I file the essays in case I have a problem with a particular section leader the next year. If something occurs, I can pull out the essay and say, “You know, last year you wrote that you believed that a section leader should set the proper example at all times. Do you see yourself as doing that right now?” They can’t argue too much with their own words.
There are some unexpected benefits of filing the essays as well. In preparation for this column, I was reading one written by my now son-in-law years before he began dating my daughter. Maybe I should have made him write an essay before I let him date my daughter. After all, dating my daughter is a much more serious responsibility than being a section leader. However, it’s too late for that now; I guess his wedding vows will have to do.