Girls can play, too!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing some members of the Grambling State University World Famed band members, well just not any band members of course. If you have ever seen the band perform before whether in the stands at the game, doing halftime shows, or at the pep rallies. You know there is something very special about the percussion section, the snare line to be exact. If you don’t know by now, I am talking about Ya’Lisha Gatewood and Bianca Hartwell.    

Courtesy photo Two Grambling State University female members of the World Famed Tiger Marching Band strike a pose.

Courtesy photo
Two Grambling State University female members of the World Famed Tiger Marching
Band strike a pose.

First, I had so many questions to ask one being how it feels to be a girl on a snare line section in a marching band. They gave me some great information. Ya’Lisha is a native of Shreveport, Louisiana but is a graduate of Airline High School in Bossier, Louisiana. Bianca is a native of Arcadia, Louisiana and she is a proud graduate of Arcadia High School. Bianca is a freshman with a major in music. Ya’Lisha is a Junior, double major Child Development, Spanish as a minor and Mass Communications and Child Literacy as a minor. 

The first question I got started with was how they began playing the drums they both had two different stories on what inspired them to play? Miss Bianca’s response was “Dr. Roebuck (who is the first female director of the world famed tiger marching band) came to Arcadia, she inspired me to pick up the drum, and it was something different.” Bianca said. What’s amazing is that her dad played in high school band and for her to pick the same drum her dad had played all through high school was just an awesome feeling.  

Ya’Lisha’s response was “I originally wanted to be a majorette like my older cousin, I thought that was cute and prissy, but my school didn’t have that”, “so that summer before six grade I saw the movie Drumline, if I would have never saw the movie Drumline I wouldn’t be playing the drums.” “So when I saw the movie Drumline I was like I am going to go to school and play the drums, my grandmother played the clarinet here, and my aunt played the saxophone, and she was like Ya’Lisha want don’t you go to Grambling and play the drums, I never noticed the part of the movie where the lady is singing the national anthem and a Grambling’s band player is walking out to the field until I got to college, I was like that’s Grambling” “And so it just happened to be 45 minutes down the road, now watching the movie back it has a sentimental value because now we are wearing those same uniforms.”

My next question I asked was how people perceive females playing the drums? Ya’Lisha response was “The guys here are accepting, we only hear negative comments during homecoming.” “We may argue I mean they are guys and they have their male egos but not us (YaLisha and Bianca) we don’t argue as both said with laughs.” “But we only hear it during homecoming, they would be cursing.” “Talking about those girls can’t play, y’all don’t need to be playing” Ya’Lisha said. “Oh they let girls on the drumline now?’ Bianca said.  When asked how they manage school and band, their answers were surprising; they told me it’s really not that hard. “My freshman year I made a 3.5 with band and everything like that, it can get hard, we do practice hard but they do release us so that we can go and get some our work done.” Ya’Lisha said. When asked about how long they practice their responses were “We practice from 3:15- 6:30 and then we have to come back for 7:30 or 8:15”. The latest the band practices depending on what day is 10:15 or 10:30. Only juniors and seniors get to schedule classes between the hours of 3:15 and 6:20 so they get to use a class conflict so during band time the juniors and seniors get to attend some of the late classes because the band directors want to make sure we do graduate.  Freshman and sophomores HAVE to make sure there classes are over by 3:15. 

Another rule the band members must follow is everyone has to sign a hair contract, the band directors as a whole came up with this idea. Before young ladies could wear long hair but some of the ladies ended up abusing that right so they took it away. So now none of the young ladies can wear weave at all. “The staff between last year and this one came up with the hair agreement, you are supposed to have your hair like at shoulder length, and basically it has to fit up under your hat” Ya’Lisha said. “Even with natural hair you can’t have any color, can’t have dreads, any twists” Bianca said. The young men also have a hair rule to abide by “Guys have to have like military haircuts, if a young man has dreads he has to cut them off in order to be in the band” they both told me. Both young ladies are on scholarship and Ya’Lisha is even P1 which is a top ranked position in the marching band.

When asked to describe Dr. Pannell in three words, both Ya’Lisha and Bianca said “funny, very religious, and he cares”, a lot of band students doesn’t think he cares but he is doing what’s best for the band but a lot of people can’t see that, “you have the ones that are disciplined and the ones that aren’t, well the ones that are discipline see where he is coming from, “I see where he is coming from.” “He’s very classy,” also Bianca added.  Dr. Pannell stays on top of the band students about the right things like having manners where ever you go, being energetic about playing not just songs of today but about playing songs that are oldies but goodies, and just make sure you are dressing well, “if it’s not classy, it’s not going anywhere” the girls told me Dr. Pannell says. Next year is Dr. Pannell 89th year being over the band.  Bianca’s three words to describe Dr. Pannell.

When asked about how they feel about negative criticism that describes the band as a whole, especially on how they feel about our biggest rivalry Southern they had to say “We do what we are told, if we are not blowing loud it’s for a reason, people worry about the music not blowing just to be blowing, and they want to hear the flow of the music” Bianca said. “When we are at parades and stuff they say oh Grambling ain’t nothing, Grambling sorry, that just gives me more energy to show what we are about, especially when I am playing we have to have a straight face like an intimidating one, so I just try to show out and play to my best ability”, “We might not be the biggest band, there is nothing wrong with that, yeah Southern is a big band  but when they play there is no quality it’s just loud, we could play loud but you wouldn’t hear the melody and the flow of the song” YaLisha said. They even gave me an example of where they felt Southern lacked quality in their music and that was when Southern played Purple Rain by Prince at last year’s Bayou Classic. “Nobody knew it was purple rain until half way through the song, when we play our songs you can hear it and you can feel the melody in it” Ya’Lisha said.

In conclusion, I had a blast and wonderful opportunity being able to interview such lovely young ladies. They were so approachable, intelligent, kind, and sweet. I just really enjoyed interviewing them and I want to thank them again for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet with me. The World Famed Tiger Marching Band is always open to accepting new band members whether you know how to play an instrument or not. The door is always open, so if you think you have what it takes to be in the World Famed go talk to one of the band directors here at Grambling State University.