Alumna Holly Kinsey to Conduct the University of Alabama Million Dollar Band

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The Million Dollar Band performs during pregame. (Photo courtesy Jeff Kinsey.)


Holly Kinsey would rather be drum major of the Million Dollar Band than win a million dollars. If that doesn’t say something about her commitment to excellence, then I don’t know what else could.

“The chance to be drum major of [the University of Alabama Million Dollar Band] means the world to me,” said Kinsey, a 2012 U.S. Army All-American Marching Band clarinetist. “I’m so thankful to my directors for giving me this opportunity, and I am so excited to serve the Million Dollar Band in this capacity.”

Holly Kinsey poses in her Million Dollar Band uniform. (Photo courtesy Holly Kinsey.)

Holly Kinsey poses in her Million Dollar Band uniform. (Photo courtesy Holly Kinsey.)

Kinsey isn’t entirely new to this position of drum major, the title used for the leader of the band who conducts performances and leads rehearsals. She was assistant drum major at her high school in Georgia for one year and was head drum major for two years.  After joining the Million Dollar Band, she became the clarinet section leader her sophomore year. Now as a junior, she will be one of four drum majors of the band.

Yet it wasn’t merely Kinsey’s exceptional music skills or leadership abilities that earned her the position; it was also her work ethic and character that allowed her to snatch this top spot.

“We give our drum majors a great deal of responsibility with the Million Dollar Band. Subsequently, we only choose students for the drum major position that have a great deal of integrity and have proven record of superior work ethic,” said Dr. Ken Ozzello, Director of Bands at The University of Alabama and director of the Million Dollar Band. “Holly Kinsey certainly meets and exceeds these criteria. She is also an outstanding musician who can contribute a great deal from the podium.”

Kinsey spoke highly of her time with the USAAAMB and how it helped her reach the point she is at today. I had the chance to catch up with her this week to ask her more detailed questions about her new position.

– – – – – –

What are your goals as a drum major of the Million Dollar Band?

One of my personal goals for next year is to serve the band with integrity. I want to strive to do the right thing on and off the field, and I think that’s an important aspect of being a leader.

What do you think set you apart from the others auditioning to be drum major?

By also auditioning at the end of my freshman year, I was already familiar with the process, and it helped me immensely in preparation for each stage of the audition. I also think my experience during my sophomore year as clarinet section leader helped me to improve my leadership skills a great deal.

How did you prepare for drum major auditions?

For the first round of auditions, the twenty-four candidates were to conduct two pieces of music. We were given the music

The four new Million Dollar Band drum majors smile for a picture. From left to right: Savannah Smith, Jessica Palmer, Connor Fox, and Holly Kinsey. (Photo courtesy Holly Kinsey.)

The four new Million Dollar Band drum majors smile for a picture. From left to right: Savannah Smith, Jessica Palmer, Connor Fox, and Holly Kinsey. (Photo courtesy Holly Kinsey.)

shortly before the beginning of spring break, and I devoted my entire week to practicing the songs. I’m pretty sure that I was conducting more often than I was not! Following this, twelve people made it to the second round, which was an interview with the band directors. Initially, I started out by thinking about potential questions that might be asked and how I would answer them. This process led me to really explore my own ideas about leadership and think about aspects of being drum major that I had never considered before.

The final round was by far the most challenging. The six remaining candidates were to conduct the MDB at A-Day, our spring scrimmage game. For me, this stage of preparation was the most intense. Every night I watched a part of an Alabama game online and practiced conducting along with it. This helped me to be more comfortable with what cheers and stands tunes to call at the actual event.

I definitely put in a lot of hours into every single day of the audition process, and some days it just felt overwhelming. But one night I was talking to my roommate, and I said something that I don’t want to ever forget: “If I am lucky enough to become one of the drum majors, I will work every bit as hard then as I am working right now to earn the position. I don’t ever want to take it for granted.”

What are your future goals?

I’m not sure yet. I’ve explored some careers, and right now I’m particularly interested in being a band director at the college level, but I’m also equally interested in pursuing performance on my instrument. After my experience with the USAAAMB, I’ve also been intrigued by the idea of being in a military band, but for now, I’m keeping my options open.

I’m double majoring in Clarinet Performance and Music Education, but many tell me that I should pursue one direction or another. For a while, I listened to this, and I debated for a long time which one I would “give up” to pursue the other. But now I realize that my life wouldn’t be complete without both.I understand it will be a challenge, but I would like to incorporate aspects of both majors in my future. Recently, I heard a quote by Leonard Bernstein, and it sums up my thoughts completely:

“I don’t want to spend my life, as Toscanini did, studying and restudying the same fifty pieces of music. It would bore me to death. I want to conduct. I want to play the piano. I want to write for Hollywood. I want to keep on trying to be, in the full sense of that wonderful word, a musician. I also want to teach. I want to write books and poetry. And I think I can still do justice to them all.”

If you could give one piece of advice to other musicians hoping to reach the position of drum major in their bands, what would it be?

Don’t ever give up. Work hard, follow the rules, and as my high school band director would say, “Grow where you’re planted.” In other words, learn to be a leader in your current situation—no matter your “title.”

Is there anything you learned from USAAAMB that you hope to instill in the members of the Million Dollar Band?

When I was in the USAAAMB, our director T. André Feagin emphasized one particular concept to us: To whom much is given, much is required. This is something I really tried to apply to my life, and it’s a value that has definitely helped me in my time in the Million Dollar Band. We’re very fortunate in the MDB to have many amazing opportunities, but because of this we have to work very diligently to assure our performances are top quality. I hope to continue this in my time as a drum major for the organization.

How do you believe USAAAMB has impacted your life since you left San Antonio?

The USAAAMB completely and utterly changed the course of my life. At the beginning of my senior year, I was determined to attend a small private college where I would major in clarinet performance. The schools I was looking at didn’t have a marching band, but at the time, that was okay with me. I had greatly enjoyed my experience in my high school marching band, but at the time my entire focus was on the wind ensemble and concert band world.

By now, the college mail had started to come in, and around the time of my selection tour that October, I got a letter from the University of Alabama offering a full ride with the National Merit Finalist scholarship. I completely objected to this because UA was the exact opposite of what I was looking for. The school was a huge public university and not at all what I had in mind. Meanwhile, around this same time, many of the All-Americans had started talking to each other on our Facebook group, and my interest in marching band was slowly being renewed. Because of this, I began looking into Alabama’s marching band—The Million Dollar Band, and I was blown away.

My parents were insistent that I give UA a shot, and by now, I was convinced that I at least needed take a tour. To my complete shock and surprise, I fell in love with the campus, its atmosphere, and absolutely everything about the university.

After the USAAAMB in January, I had no question in my mind of where I would attend college. After this experience, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could not give up marching band. Without the USAAAMB, I would have never attended UA or even been in the MDB. Thankfully, the USAAAMB intervened in my life because I can’t imagine myself anywhere else! People often ask me why I chose to go to the University of Alabama, but I think my story is the exact opposite—The University of Alabama chose me. It still blows my mind that the place that was the exact opposite of what I was looking for ended up being the perfect place for me.

The USAAAMB gave me the courage to pursue my goals, and it taught me that I am strong enough to achieve anything I set my mind to. My experience in the USAAAMB was a turning point in my life, and the impact it had on me is indescribable. I could not be more thankful for what the USAAAMB has done for me.

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