When she steps onto the field for the halftime show Friday night at North Hall High School, Bryanna Channell will not just be leading the Flowery Branch High Marching Band for the first time in a football game; she will be continuing a family tradition.
Channell, a senior, is the third member of her family to serve as drum major at the school. Her brother, Christian, was the school’s drum major from 2014-16. A third cousin, Lauren Bozeman Gauthey, was the Flowery Branch drum major during the 2008-09 school year.
“It’s honestly been overwhelming,” Bryanna said this week. “It’s been difficult, but I’ve been able to get through it. For the most part it’s been very fun and very exciting. I’m really excited to see how all of it turns out and where this band goes.”
Band director Dennis Naughton said Bryanna is the school’s first female drum major at the school in the past eight years. In addition to Bryanna and Christian, Naughton has also worked with their brothers, Thomas and Caleb, as members of the band.
“The drum major is the most visible on the field leader of the entire organization,” said Naughton, who has worked with both students. “It’s not like she got it because her brother was here. She got it because she worked hard for it. She auditioned well.”
The road has not been easy for Bryanna, who was diagnosed in 2014 with Lyme disease, which kept her out of school for a while.
“I decided to join color guard that May and I would go through rehearsals and I would barely make it through rehearsals; I would sit out all the time,” she said. “It just wasn’t fun at that moment.”
She and her family made the decision to seek treatment at a clinic in Florida, according to her mother, Leslie. Through two weeklong visits to the clinic, Bryanna said she is “cured” of Lyme disease.
“I never thought I would get here personally and it amazes me how God can perform miracles like that,” she said.
Bryanna was one of nine students to try out for the lead role with the band last spring.
“My brother, Christian, inspired me a ton because he was there for the first two years that I was there when I started marching band,” she said, adding she thought it would be “fun” to continue the legacy of family drum majors.
Christian, now a student at the University of North
Georgia, said he remembers when his sister told him last spring she was going to try out for drum major.
“She came to me a month, maybe two months before tryouts and wanted help,” he said. “I showed her, ABC, ‘that’s how you do it,’” he said. “Then the practice was up to her, to be persistent was up to her. Those were things she had to learn. I’m proud of her that she is where she is right now.”
Christian said he did not understand the work required for drum majors until he actually won the job.
“When you’re a freshman, you see the drum major and say, ‘I want to be that one day,’ but you don’t get to see all the behind-the-scenes stuff that you get to do,” he said. “It was a little overwhelming at first.”
He said getting the position of the conductor of the band in the stands his sophomore year helped prepare him to be drum major and helped him to grow as a leader.
“At that age, I was trying to figure out how to be leader, figure out where I fit in, how I wanted to lead,” he said.
Naughton said Christian’s struggle to figure out his leadership role as a sophomore and Bryanna’s battle with Lyme disease made the road to becoming a Flowery Branch drum major, “somewhat of a rocky path for both of them.”
“Both had different challenges,” Naughton said. “Other than that, they are very, very different to me. The role of a band director is really more than a teacher. I’m a doctor, I’m a nurse, I’m a counselor, I’m a father, I’m a brother, and I think between the two I’ve represented all these to them.”
While she is excited, Bryanna said the job has been a lot of work.
“There’s all the stuff you have to get done in a small amount of time like memorizing music, making sure everything is done, that people are following the rules,” she said. “I think the best is coming. We haven’t even started games yet. The most exciting or most fun thing right now is being on the podium and conducting while they’re playing and feeling that rush. I think that’s the most cool thing ever.”
Gauthey, who is now living with her husband in Switzerland while preparing to move to Thailand to do mission work, said she has many fond memories of her time as drum major at Flowery Branch.
“My strongest memories are of spending time with friends,” she wrote in an email Thursday. “I made my best high school friends in band and loved all the time we got to spend together. I also remember some pretty nervous moments having to get up on the drum major stand in front of the whole high school in a poodle skirt (our show was ’50s-themed) and being pretty jealous that my co-drum major got to wear a T-shirt and jeans to look like the Fonz.”
She said she is happy to be part of the family tradition.
“I love that we have a little family tradition of drum majors at FBHS and I’m just happy they also get to experience how much fun it is and the awesome, unique, geeky experience of high school band,” Gauthey said. “I cherish my memories of that time.”
Christian said he didn’t even know that Gauthey was a drum major until after he already had the position.
“I think what happened was I looked up on the wall one day in the hallway and I saw her picture in the drum major spot. I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s my cousin.’”
Looking ahead to that first halftime show at the game Friday night, Bryanna said she is excited.
“It’s going to be really awesome,” she said.
Gauthey also remembered that first game.
“I remember plenty of nerves before my first game as drum major, and I’m sure Bryanna will, too,” she said. “They will pass and after a few games she’ll be feeling nothing but excitement when she walks out onto the field. My advice is to have as much fun as she possibly can, make memories with friends and just enjoy her time. It goes by quickly”
Christian offered his little sister a little advice as well.
“The first game, it’s exciting until you walk into the stadium and everybody starts cheering,” he said. “You gotta keep that game face on and can’t crack that smile. Then it’s time to march on the field and that’s when your heart starts pounding. The first game is a little scary. When you get on that podium and you’re getting ready to think about tempo and start conducting, it’s a little intense, but it is fun.”
He added that he will be a little nervous watching that first game as well.
“I’m definitely be clutching my seat a little beat,” he said. “I’ll be nervous for her, but she’ll be fine.