Solomon Reynolds never intended to be a drum major.
The junior studying music education at N.C. A&T State University was perfectly happy playing the piccolo in the school’s band, affectionately known as The Blue and Gold Marching Machine. But a conversation with one of the band’s leaders en route to a game his freshman year changed everything.
“He told me I should try out for drum major, and I was like, ‘I can’t dance,’” Reynolds says with a laugh. “And he said, ‘You are a leader; you can learn to dance.’”
Reynolds laced up his dancing shoes and now serves as the band’s head drum major, leading a group marching 250 strong.
The band has a rich history at A&T. Founded in 1918 with just 50 members, the band was merely another extracurricular on campus. Through the years, it grew both in size and stature at the university, becoming an official entity of the music department during the 1960s. Since then, the band has set the festive tone at thousands of football games, homecomings and parades, including the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. The band even got a shout-out on social media from Bruno Mars recently after playing several of the superstar’s songs during a halftime show.
But The Blue and Gold Marching Machine isn’t just your typical walking instrumentalists. In the tradition of many HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), A&T’s marching band puts on a high-energy show complete with choreography, dancing and plenty of fun.
“It just comes down to a stylistic difference,” Reynolds says. “The whole idea and focus is giving the crowd a show. It’s about getting the crowd involved and engaged.”
A lot of work goes into that show. Band members practice six hours a day, five days a week — that’s on top of their classes and homework. Then they perform on game-day Saturdays. On Sunday, they rest.
“Dr. (Kenneth) Ruff, our band director, always says the level of importance goes school, band and everything else,” Reynolds says. “Often our social lives are with other band members because we have the same schedules — we’re a big family.”
Ruff says Solomon does a good job striking that balance.
“He’s a really solid student,” Ruff says. “He does well academically. He’s really focused. And he brings that same spirit to being a drum major.”
Reynolds and his assistant drum majors and planning committee meet during the summer to map out routines and songs for the coming school year. Selections range from traditional marching band pieces to pop music. They even get suggestions from students on what to play.
“We’re bouncing ideas off each other and working it out for game day,” Reynolds says. “Our main role is to make sure the band is learning everything and has their stuff together.”
For Reynolds, all that work doubles as on-the-job training — his goal is to be a college band director after graduation. And while marching bands may sometimes be the butt of jokes in popular culture, at A&T, the Marching Machine is no laughing matter.
“A lot of people think that band is for nerds and geeks or whatever,” Reynolds says. “But especially with HBCU bands, and specifically our band, we’re the top. We’re the ones people look to — we’re the entertainment and we bring the hype and spirit to the school.”