Drum major leads band on march to recognition

When the Peabody-Burns High School band marches, it’s not 76 trombones leading the big parade but senior drum major Kate Topham.

With flute-or more recently, piccolo-in hand, Topham has led the PBHS band as drum major for two years now, following two years as assistant drum major and several more before that as drum major for the elementary and then junior high bands.

“I just enjoy doing the parades,” Topham said. “It’s a lot of fun, because we dance in a lot of them.”

Topham not only leads the other band members in the dance steps during parades but helps to choreograph the moves and teach them to the band before the big day.

The band marches in several key parades each year, including the Peabody Homecoming Parade, various Christmas parades, the River Festival Sundown Parade in Wichita coming up May 6 and the McPherson County All Schools Day Parade May 13.

Topham said she enjoys the public affirmation the band gets from marching in parades.

“We do a lot of marching,” she said. “It’s really fun to get recognized (through that).”

The band has gotten recognition recently in other venues as well, she said. They were the featured high school at a Friends University concert band program March 31 in Wichita, an experience Topham said was well worth the late-night arrival home.

Born and raised in Peabody, Topham started playing the flute in fifth grade, choosing that instrument from among several others because her aunt owned a flute.

She comes from a family that prizes playing an instrument: her mother played percussion and her father the trumpet, while her brothers Andrew and Aaron play the trumpet and saxophone respectively.

Topham is the first-chair of 11 flutists in this year’s band, and she is the band’s only piccolo player, she said.

She has worked hard to get to that position, she said.

“I practice a lot,” she said.

And some aspects of playing require more work than others.

“It is hard to keep in tune,” she said. “It’s very hard to match pitch with the one sitting beside you.

“That’s something I have to work on,” she said.

Topham has made time for this extensive practice amid a host of other activities, including participation on the cross country, basketball and track teams as well as in Business Professionals of America. She is also president of both the National Honors Society and the senior class.

It’s a good thing she has a lighter semester academically, she said, giving her room to breathe in the middle of year-end activities and events.

Upcoming band events for Topham include not only the year-end parades and the spring band concert but regional and state competitions for soloists, ensembles and large groups.

“Our band’s really concert, marching and pep–it’s all one thing,” Topham said. This diversity keeps its members busy in a variety of events both on and off campus, she said.

Topham plans to slim down her extracurricular schedule next year when she attends Southwestern College in Winfield.

She will run cross country and track, she said, but will likely take a break from playing flute or piccolo in any band.

“It’s been fun, but I don’t want to get too involved my freshman year,” she said. “I can always get more involved, but I don’t want to commit to too much and then have to back out of things.”

She is undecided on her major but is considering biology or pre-med, she said.

“I’d really like to travel around and see the world,” she said. “If I did go biology/pre-med I’d really like to go work overseas with children.”

Pediatrics would be a possible career field, then, but she’s just waiting to see what happens in the next few years, she said.

“I’m kind of open to anything right now,” she said.

Whatever she does in the future, she said playing in and leading the band has prepared her with important life skills.

“It’s kind of taught me to persevere, to practice,” she said. “Sometimes I don’t want to take my flute home, or take my piccolo home, and practice.”

Going back to playing the flute after learning to play the piccolo has been an especially difficult transition, she said.

“That was frustrating for me, because here I’d been playing the flute forever and now I can’t really do it as well,” she said. “So I had to really get through that and work hard.”

Band director Steven Glover has worked with Topham for all of his seven years with the bands and commends Topham for her excellence as a player and a leader.

“She’s done a good job of leading the band in parades and football shows and has helped students learn the different steps,” Glover said. “She has been supportive of the other students in class and has tried to help them so the band can be the best it can be.”

Glover said he would like to see Topham keep growing as a musician.

“I do hope that she continues to participate in music because she has definite leadership skills,” he said. “I would like to see her continue to develop those for a lifelong enjoyment of music.

“She’s been a really great asset to our band,” he added. “We’ll miss her next year.”

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