N.C. State Drum Major: A Campus Celebrity
Today, N.C. State Marching Band Drum Major Aaron Thomas will get a haircut. Thomas, 20, may not really need a haircut, but for the North Carolina native, Wednesday haircuts have become one of his pre-game rituals. “Typically the Wednesday before a game I get my haircut,” said Thomas, “Drum Majors don’t wear hats so I need to keep my hair fresh.”
One of N.C. State’s three drum majors, Thomas can be seen leading the N.C. State Marching Band during football games in the center of Carter Finley Stadium, which has a seating capacity of 57,583. With more than 50,000 pairs of eyes on him on any given game day, maintaining a good image is something that is important to Thomas both on and off the field. In his words, “Image is everything.”
Thomas auditioned for and was selected to join the N.C. State Marching Band in 2010, 54 years after Walter Holmes, the first African American joined then, State College Marching Band. During his audition, Thomas was required to play two scales: Concert F- Scale and Concert D-Flat. He was selected on the spot to join the Marching Band by band director Dr. Paul Garcia, who told him, “We’ll work with you.”
A junior, double-majoring in political science and communication, Thomas began playing the trumpet at age 12. He eventually transitioned to the mellophone. In 2010, he graduated from Harnett Central High School in Black River Township, N.C. but not before leading the Harnett Central Band as drum major during both his junior and senior year of high school.
Having enjoyed his experience as drum major in high school, Thomas entered college with his heart set on one day leading the N.C. State Marching Band. “Coming out of high school, the drum major experience was really fun. I knew on the collegiate level it would be a lot harder, more challenging and [that there would be] more expectations, but it was something I looked forward to,” said Thomas.
As drum major, Thomas’ responsibilities include not only leading the band during game day performances but also assisting the band director and leading practices. “I literally do stuff for the band every day,” said Thomas.
Despite his busy schedule and the challenges of balancing school and band, Thomas still makes time to give back to the community, assisting the Broughton High School Band during their Tuesday and Thursday practices. While he currently helps out as a volunteer, Thomas is looking to gain a permanent position.
A marching band enthusiast, Thomas was surprised to learn about the recent investigation of hazing taking place within the North Carolina Central University Marching Band, and even more so about the death of Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University Drum Major, Robert Champion, “I know in a lot of the HBCU bands, hazing is very prevalent, but I feel like for someone to be in danger doing something they enjoy…I just don’t agree with that,” said Thomas.
One of the only African Americans to hold a leadership position within the N.C. State Marching Band this year, for Thomas this does come with a sense of pressure, however he also views it as a “huge honor to carry on the legacy.”
A campus celebrity in his own right, Thomas is constantly recognized on campus as “the guy who makes hand gestures on the field during football games.” However, with plans of obtaining his Master’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Howard University, Thomas does not mind all the attention; in fact it’s his favorite aspect of being a drum major. “Just knowing that someone is always watching you, someone is always looking up to you whether you’re on the field or off the field, it’s a great feeling,” said Thomas.