A newsmaker you should know: Penn-Trafford grad to lead Penn State band

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Christopher Siergiej has "flipped" for his new role with the Penn State University Marching Blue Band.

Mr. Siergiej, of Penn Township in Westmoreland County, is the band's drum major this year.

To audition for the coveted drum major position -- the musician who teaches, leads and sometimes conducts the band -- candidates must have a proper musical background and, at Penn State, be able to do a signature series of acrobatic forward flips.

"I prepared by practicing flips, but I didn't decide to apply until a few weeks before the actual tryouts," he said.

Mr. Siergiej, 21, is a senior at Penn State studying math and computer science and has played the saxophone in the Blue Band for the past three years. He is a graduate of Penn-Trafford High School, where he played in the band.

"It was a big honor to be chosen," he said of the drum major position. "I really want to give back to the Blue Band, and this is a great way for me to do so," he said.

Organized in 1899, the Blue Band performs to capacity crowds in the 107,232-seat Beaver Stadium on the main campus -- home of Nittany Lion football. The band, in its trademark blue with white crest uniforms, has performed at every major bowl game in the U.S., including the Rose Bowl and the Tournament of Roses Parade.

Season opener for the 310-member band is noon Saturday when the Nittany Lions meet Eastern Michigan.

Drum major tryouts were held in the spring. Ten students, including Mr. Siergiej, were interviewed, and then those who were called back had to perform a series of multiple flips and splits. They also did a brief performance as band conductor.

This year, Mr. Siergiej and another applicant tied in the audition process. Two weeks after the initial tryouts, they both had to come back for another round of tryouts -- which, of course, meant more flips.

"We were just flipping over and over. The two of us pushed each other to perform better," he said.

When he learned he was selected, Mr. Siergiej called his older sister, Amanda, who was a big reason why he chose to go to Penn State in the first place.

"She went to Penn State and loved it. When I told her I was chosen [to be drum major], she just screamed into the phone," he said.

The history of drum majors can be traced to the British Army in the 1650s.

Mr. Siergiej said a drum major has a variety of duties, including marching and leading the band during performances as well as leading band members in a series of stretches and calisthenics to get ready to play. He also works with new members to prepare them for the marching season.

Mr. Siergiej also will attend public events for the band, and, of course, he will work to perfect the famous "flip" performed on the field before each football game.

"I have to land it in front of a crowd of more than 107,000," he said.

Mr. Siergiej loves to run and has three marathons under his belt, which he said help keeps him in shape.

"My very first road race was the 2011 Pittsburgh Marathon. I guess that says something about me -- my first road race ever was 26.2 miles," he said with a laugh.

Mr. Siergiej has held internships over the past two summers, one in San Francisco and one in New York City, but he is looking forward to spending his last year in the rural beauty that is State College.

"I love the city, but Penn State has given me so much," he said. "I hope this is one way I can give back."

Details: www.blueband.psu.edu.

neigh_east - neigh_south - neigh_westmoreland

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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