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Gibson County student follows mother’s footsteps

Gibson County student follows mother’s footsteps

Posted: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 8:01 pm

Sharon Lee must experience déjà vu when she enters Hardy M. Graham Stadium on a football game day at the University of Tennessee at Martin. She’s really been here many times before as a field commander for the university’s marching band from 1982-86. Last fall, the Lee family returned often to Graham Stadium to watch daughter, Savannah, continue the family tradition. A sophomore majoring in integrated studies, Savannah was one of two field commanders for the 140-member band. 

Field commanders, sometimes called drum majors, function as the band director’s assistants. “We’re also there to kind of keep the morale of the band up,” said Savannah, who plays French horn and mellophone and participates in concert band. She’s also a member of Sigma Alpha Iota, the UT Martin chapter of a professional women’s music fraternity that advances interest in music.

Sharon and Savannah’s enthusiasm for music and marching bands began early on and hit full stride at Gibson County High School, where Sharon is full-time field commander instructor and an administrative assistant for the band director. She is also assistant principal at Dyer Elementary and an English as a Second Language teacher at the school. Savannah was GCHS field commander for three years under the watchful eye of her mom, also a Gibson County graduate (the Lees live in Dyer). “My mom’s been teaching drum majors … since I was little, so I’ve just always been around,” Savannah said. “I’ve always known how to conduct the patterns and stuff, and so I just decided after my freshman year of high school to try out, and I made it, and I ended up loving it.”

Although performing at a high level for your mother isn’t the easiest task to accomplish, the Lees managed to make it work. “It wasn’t awful,” Savannah remembered. “I kind of enjoyed it because I was close to her, but if anything went wrong and she got mad or anything, you know, sometimes could carry over to the house.” 

Sharon has a “mother’s view” of those years working together. “It was rewarding for me because it gave me a chance to expose her to something that I loved so much, not only band but being a field commander,” she said, adding, “Anytime we had a rough day at practice, it sometimes meant a long night at home, but each time, it only strengthened our relationship as mother and daughter and teacher and student.”

Savannah’s high school experience prepared her well for field commander duties at the college level, which offers some different challenges. For one, there are “more responsibilities in college, even though in high school it’s a little more serious” as high school bands attend band competitions most every fall weekend. And then there’s the work preparing for college-level shows.

“We actually start about a week before the rest of the band,” Savannah said of the Skyhawk Marching Band’s fall camp. “We just get together and come up with ways to keep the band positive, ways to take care of problems, whatever comes up. We talk about ideas for the show.” The band starts practice on a Sunday and goes through Friday, including three nights last summer when the band stayed until 10 p.m. Different sections of the band also practice separately at different campus locations. Then, when the fall semester begins, the full band rehearses weekly, 6 to 8 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Besides hard work by the band members, Savannah credits Dr. Nola Jones, marching band director, and Dr. Andrew Bliss, who works largely with percussion, for the band’s high performance level. “They help try to keep us positive,” she said. “They give us everything we need to know how to do the show – the music, the drill. They have everything there that we need to make it as good as we can.” 

Sharon can recall her marching band days in Graham Stadium and make some informed observations of what she sees during performances. “Well, as far as marching, the routines are very similar,” she said. “The styles of music, of course uniforms, and the style of marching has changed, but yet the high level of commitment, hard work, responsibility, I don’t think those will ever change because of the high level of directors that UTM has been able to place in their marching band program.” 

As for Savannah’s performance with the band, Sharon couldn’t be more pleased. “I feel like she has grown into a mature young lady and a very mature conductor,” she said, adding, “I feel like she’s made a tremendous amount of progress this year as far as her conducting responsibility and just in general.”

Tori Abbott, an integrated studies major from Rutherford, is a fellow Skyhawk Marching Band member and friend who has watched Savannah assume the responsibilities of a field commander. Although possibly a little more objective than Savannah’s mom, she approves of what her friend has accomplished. “She does a very great job on the field and on the podium with it being her first year as a college leader,” Abbott said. “She’s surpassed expectations with flying colors. She’s stepped up, and you couldn’t tell that this is her first year she’s been at the college level, at all.”

During football game days, count the entire Lee family present as Savannah takes the field. Sharon is joined by her husband, Jeffrey, who has a geosciences degree from UT Martin, and daughter, Becca, a rising softball player who’s getting an early taste of college game day excitement. Years later, Sharon can still say, “ … I will never forget that feeling the very first time I marched on that field as a drum major.”

Today, Sharon Lee can only smile as Savannah takes the field at Graham Stadium. After all, Sharon has been there before. 

wcp 2/15/11