By Patti Samar
Elizabeth Dewey and Anna Senkmajer are the leaders of the band.
And yet, the drum majors of the Port Huron Northern Marching Band also march to the beat of their own drummer.
Put them together and they are able to make beautiful music.
Their hard work paid off, recently, when the PHN Marching Band earned two awards as a result of their performance in America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit: First, after stiff competition with 11 other bands, with the support of their families, friends and community, the PHN Marching Band was named winner of the “Battle of the Bands” competition, and second, the band also received notice from The Parade Company, organizers of the annual parade, that the PHN Marching Band earned first place as the Best Adjudicated Band.
The two female co-drum majors (they share this responsibility with a third, male member of the band) could not be more different in personality, but they have learned how to take advantage of their individual strengths, and how to work together, to create a positive, award-winning environment for members of the band.
“We all have very different personalities and you have to work with that,” said Senkmajer, 16, and a junior.
“It’s all about finding a balance,” said Dewey, 17 and a senior. “We take all of our characteristics to make one perfect drum major.”
“We talk about who is best fit to deal with a problem,” said Senkmajer. “It takes a lot of different factors of consideration to make it all work.”
Dewey, who is the daughter and granddaughter of two women in the community who are recipients of Blue Water Woman of the Year Awards, has learned by watching the examples set by her mother and grandmother, the importance of developing strong leadership skills.
“My mom and my grandma are leaders in the community and they have taught me to be a leader, too,” she said. “One of my goals was to set a good example and empower kids to do things they didn’t think they could do. I want to inspire other kids and when they tell me my encouragement helped, it makes me feel good to know that we’ve made a difference.
“Knowing that people look up to me definitely helps me keep my focus. Your attitude has an impact on everyone else.”
Senkmajer, who is the daughter of band director Erick Senkmajer, said that Dewey really encouraged her to break out of her shell and try out for drum major, which was a role she didn’t initially believe she was destined to have.
“I always looked up to everyone in the band,” she said, noting that she attended marching band practices with her father even before she was in high school. “I don’t think I ever realized that could be me someday. I really didn’t think it was something I could do.
“But it is very attainable and by the time it happened, I felt very comfortable in the leadership role.”
Music has been an important part of the lives of both young women. Senkmajer grew up playing oboe and, with her father serving as band director, has been involved in music most of her life. Dewey plays trumpet and French horn. She plays and sings with the PHN jazz band. Both young women see music continuing to be an important part of their lives, albeit in very different ways.
“I might consider doing music as an elective in college or finding a community band,” said Senkmajer, who is interested in pursuing a non-musical career path. “I’d like to study architecture and interior design with a focus on accessibility for people with disabilities. I have friends with disabilities and there is no reason for accessibility to be any different for them than it is for anyone else.”
She noted that the PHN marching band has two visually impaired students who have performed just like any other students. “Seeing the way we’ve accommodated them and seeing how happy it makes all of us to do so. It should be normal to accommodate people with disabilities.”
Dewey, on the other hand, plans to make a career out of music. Next fall, she will attend Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she plans to major in commercial music, where she will learn about music performance, the technical aspect of operating a recording studio, copyright issues and concert promotion and organization, among other topics.
She is not yet certain what area she will focus on in terms of a career.
“There’s a lot to figure out,” she said.
Participation in the PHN marching band has provided both students with opportunities to travel and compete at levels beyond what many in high school have the opportunity to experience. During their tenure in high school, the band performed at Disney World, has marched in the nationally televised Thanksgiving Day parade and will visit Washington D.C. this spring.
Dewey said: “Band pushes you to do and think about new things.”
“We’re really fortunate to be part of such a high functioning group,” said Senkmajer, who noted that winning the Battle of the Bands was especially meaningful because “we knew we had the community behind us. It makes it worth whatever struggles we go through.
“I know I’ll be able to apply leadership skills I’ve learned as a drum major to whatever I do in the future.”