Woman Up Front: England makes debut as

BY LISA KOIVU
Daily News Editor
Published September 4, 2001

For the first time in its 103-year history, a woman is leading the Michigan Marching Band into Michigan Stadium this fall.

Paul Wong
Drum major Karen England does the traditional back bend after leading the marching band onto the field before Saturday"s football game. Women were first allowed into the band in 1972, but this year England becomes the first female to serve as drum major.<

LSA senior Karen England of Greenville made her debut as the band"s first female drum major Saturday. After taking the field for the first time, England said everything was a blur.

"After I"d finished the tough stuff, I was strutting down the field and I looked up and saw my face on the big screen and I was thinking, "I"m finally here, leading the best band in the country,"" England said. "I heard the crowd go wild and up until that point I didn"t know the crowd was there."

While much has been made over her being the first woman to take the position, England said gender has nothing to do with job performance.

"It was very exciting to make history, but that"s not the reason I tried out. I thought it would be cool to be the first, but now in the season the woman factor doesn"t play a role as long as you can do the job," England said. "To the band I"m just the drum major."

Euphonium player Kelly Johnson, an LSA junior, said there has been no difference in leadership between England and previous male drum majors.

"Gender doesn"t matter at all in fact, athletic and teaching ability are worlds more important than gender," Johnson said.

Tenor saxophone player Dan Schimpf, an Engineering junior, said he thinks it"s about time a female had the position. "I don"t think anyone set out to keep the drum major position a male-only job. I just think that so much time passed between when women were allowed in the marching band that it became harder and harder each year to pick a woman," Schimpf said.

Drum major auditions are held during the spring, with those trying out going through a day of various activities, including demonstrating their marching, whistling and vocal capabilities. At the end of the day, band members vote for their choice.

Marching Band Director Jamie Nix said many factors go into choosing the drum major.

"The band looks for a great leader and good role model. Also the band looks for a strong marcher," Nix said.

While England has tried out for the position for the past three years, she said she had no idea whether she would be selected this time. "It was so hard to tell it could have gone one way or the other. You don"t really know how everyone else will do because you practice on your own," England said. "I didn"t know how much I had improved, but my intentions were to do my best."

England said one of the drum major"s trademarks, the pregame back bend, is not as hard to perform as it looks.

"I"ve been doing the back bend since my freshman year and it has taken a lot of time to perfect it. You have to keep in condition to do it coming up is a lot harder because you can get stuck," England said. "I was more worried about being loud enough."

Nix, who is in his first year of leading the band, said the band will focus on presenting a wide variety of music and working on marching ability.

With the marching season underway, England said she wants to continue to work on continuity within her performance. "I want to toss higher and just be as flexible as possible. I need to be ready to help out wherever I"m needed," England said.

Daily Staff Reporter Kristen Beaumont contributed to this report.