Meet the Musicians
United States Navy Band Drum Major
Drum Majors have played a pivotal role for centuries as leaders of military bands. The term itself refers to the top enlisted Army rank of Sergeant Major. Many centuries ago, the position was referred to as “Sergeant Major of the Drums,” and was a job of significant leadership, responsible for the defense of the drummers and bandsmen (as they relay vital communication to the troops for changes in maneuvers), the military discipline of all band members, maintaining standards of dress and deportment, administrative tasks, and overseeing the band’s overall standards of military drill and marching movements.
Today, the drum major’s role in a military band may seem like so much window dressing, but the job really has not changed a great deal; it is still a position of significant leadership and responsibility. Navy Band’s permanent drum major, Senior Chief Musician Michael P. Bayes, is the resident expert on every aspect of any ceremony the band performs, such as funerals at Arlington Cemetery, wreath laying ceremonies, and arrivals at the Pentagon or the White House.
The top two mission priorities for the band are to provide support for Arlington National Cemetery funerals and for ceremonial/protocol engagements in the national capital region, making Bayes the “go to” person for the command’s most important jobs. Part of his job is to assist the presiding officer to understand his or her role, a vitally important ingredient to a smooth and professionally run ceremony. Every band member who performs with the ceremonial band (and that’s virtually everyone, at one time or another) looks to the drum major for direction and guidance. Any question about the music, the proper uniform, maneuvers – literally anything to do with that performance – is directed to him or her.
The drum major has to know every aspect of every ceremony, everybody’s role in it, and be ready to answer every question at any time. Education and training are natural extensions of the job, and junior officers are often trained before they report to Navy Band. Training someone to preside over a big ceremony can take weeks, and they have to ensure zero defects in performance. The main job is to make sure the band and officer are comfortable with the ceremony. Without that, the performance suffers.
Navy Band drum majors are keenly aware of the centuries of tradition the sash and mace represent. They truly are the leaders and mentors to which the entire band looks for guidance and direction on the command’s top mission priorities. They lead the way.