Eight years ago, Brandon Folkes traveled from his home state of New Jersey to watch the University of Minnesota Marching Band perform. A young and up-and-coming tuba player, Folkes witnessed something on the field that day that essentially sealed his future.
"I saw them for the first time and I said I want to be part of that group," says Folkes. "There's something special about them, and you can't replicate that anywhere across this country."
Today, the Carlson School junior is not only in the University Marching Band, but he's a key part of it - the drum major.
"It is one of the most exciting, nerve wracking, terrifying, yet just thrilling experiences for me," says Folkes of leading the band on game days. "Each of the marchers you see out on that field is committed to upholding the band's 120-year-old tradition."
His rise to drum major started as a freshman in the band playing tuba (his expertise since the fifth grade). Last year, as a sophomore, Folkes made University Marching Band history by being named block captain (second in command)-a role that has predominantly gone to a fourth- or fifth-year band member-while still balancing tuba leadership duties.
"Stepping into that role was a big challenge for me. It was a big learning curve," he says.
This year, with block captain experience behind him, Folkes tried out and was named the 60th drum major of the University of Minnesota Marching Band.
Field testing classroom lessons
The band runs one of, if not the longest and most technically advanced pre-game shows in the country, relying heavily on the 90-degree high step marching technique. To get the pre-game and all their other routines down, preparation is a five-day-a-week commitment for the 320 members of the band, with Folkes taking the lead every day.
"It is a complicated process to teach these fundamentals and keep the motivation, the enthusiasm up with these individuals throughout the entire year," says Folkes, an entrepreneurship and public/non-profit double major who draws parallels to what he's learned at the Carlson School to help lead the group.
"Running this as drum major is essentially like running a business," says Folkes. "The Carlson School of Management has been absolutely great to me; the concepts of leadership in our strategic management-level courses, all that applies, so I'm constantly finding myself using those tactics, those tools out here with this marching band."
But it's on game day where the band truly shines, and where Folkes gets his biggest rush from leading the talented squad in front of tens of thousands of roaring Gopher fans.
"Out on that field I am having an absolute blast, because each one of those individuals marching next to me is having an absolute blast," he says. "They're having so much fun out there. They're so passionate, they're so talented, and for us to bring everything together and put it out on that field every game day - we're proud of that."
A key to Homecoming history
Of course, Homecoming is circled on every band member's calendar. On that day there will be the band's entertaining pre-game performance where Folkes will perform the drum major's trademark back-bend and goal post toss (tossing the baton over the goalpost and catching it), but also out on that field will be a piece of Gopher history that's close to every U of M drum major's heart.
Sewn inside Folkes' drum major jacket, behind the gold star upon the maroon overlay, is the gate key to Northrop Field, the original on-campus football stadium (1899-1923).
"You think back, Northrop Field, that holds a lot of significance to us," says Folkes. "And we pass that down to each and every drum major for them to wear within their uniform each year."
As long as he's the holder of the key, Folkes says he's dedicated to upholding the spirit and tradition of the "Pride of Minnesota." It's a role in which he takes great pride.
"I know when I look back on this organization, I want to be able to stand up tall and say, 'Yes, I was a drum major in the University of Minnesota Marching Band. I gave everything I had to that organization and I thank them for everything they've given me.'"
Watch Folkes and the entire University of Minnesota Marching Band perform during the Homecoming parade on Friday, October 21, and during the Gopher Homecoming football game versus Nebraska on Saturday, October 22.