Passing the baton – A new drum major preps for LSU’s biggest crowds ever

Inside Tiger Band Hall hangs a painting of the view from the top of Victory Hill. Surrounded by a purple and gold sea of fans, every member of the band will march down the hallowed stretch of asphalt depicted here before each home game. And, just before they reach the gates of Tiger Stadium, they’ll stop in the street to play the heart-rattling notes of “Pregame.”

For Taylor Herpin, last year’s Tiger Band drum major, this painting came to life the first time he led the group down the hill.

“I was like, Wow, does it really look like that [painting]?'” Herpin says. “And it really does. There’s so many people—all eyes on the Tiger Band.”

In the summer of 2013, Herpin, a trombone player, beat out a dozen competitors for the coveted title of drum major. From the field, he says that thunderous first tune is unforgettable.

“It just sends chills through your bones to be able to stand in front whenever they play those loud notes,” Herpin says. “I remember the first time we did it at preseason camp I got goose bumps, and I started tearing up a little bit because it’s just so thrilling and exhilarating.”

Herpin remembers the nerves of leading the band’s most iconic drill in a sold-out stadium that’s always daunting in its sights and sounds. But the thrill only gets better, Herpin says, as the season goes on and worries about what could go wrong give way to confidence and satisfaction in the things that go right.

After months of halftime shows and a trip to Ireland to lead the band in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade this year, Herpin’s last duty has been to train the 2014 season’s new drum major, 24-year-old alto saxophone player Mary Bahlinger.

The first female drum major since 2001, Bahlinger will face a bigger Tiger crowd than ever before in the newly expanded Tiger Stadium.

“It was a little bit of a shock at first when I realized I’m going to be that one person standing in front of 100,000 people,” Bahlinger says.

She has spent her summer mentally and physically preparing herself for the upcoming season, and she’s ready to take on her first hurdle: a grueling preseason camp. The band’s final roster is chosen only a week before the fall semester begins, giving Bahlinger just a few days to get this new lineup ready to perform.

She doesn’t mind the crunch, though. As much as she looks forward to putting on her new uniform and taking those first few paces during “Pregame,” Bahlinger went after the role of drum major so in this, her sixth year with the band, she could give her all.

“I want to be a personable figure, and I want to make the band as much of a fun place for the members as I possibly can,” she says.

Coming from the close-knit saxophone section, Bahlinger can’t wait to get to know more of her 300-member Tiger Band family like Herpin and so many majors before her.

“The best part about being drum major was that I was able to meet a lot of people outside of the trombone section,” Herpin says. “And I made a lot of friends through the entire program, from the Color Guard, the Golden Girls, the drumline, and all of the wind instruments. Actually getting to know every single member of the band was really cool.”

With a massive family of musicians and the driving anticipation of an unprecedented football season at her back, Bahlinger is ready to step into those pristine white shoes and march. Fans waiting near the stadium gates or watching from the stands can catch her in action this fall, leading the band that has underscored the LSU experience for more than a century.

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