Harrison City native flips for chance to be PSU drum major
Come football season, Chris Siergiej will strut on field in front of thousands of blue-and-white clad spectators and leap into the air for the decades-old front flip tradition that legions of Penn State fans anticipate.
Siergiej of Harrison City was selected as drum major of the Penn State Blue Band last month, a position he's worked toward for years.
“I decided that it would be really cool to do the flip in Beaver Stadium,” Siergiej said. “It's what all of our fans see in our stadium. Over 100,000 people are counting on the drum major to lead the flip.”
At the start of each football game, the drum major leads the band on field, conducting the ceremonial rat-a-tat football anthems and launching into a climactic, gravity-defying flip.
Fans have come to expect the flip, a custom that began in 1972 on a whim by a drum major bored with the traditional 50-yard line entertainment, usually a baton toss or back bend.
“He kind of felt that it was rather anticlimactic. At one point on a whim, he got down there and did a back flip. ... He landed it, and the crowd went crazy,” Blue Band Director and music education professor Richard Bundy said. “He took a chance, and it worked out well.”
In his audition, Siergiej consistently landed the front flip, plus he was a “well-rounded” candidate with leadership potential, Bundy said.
“The drum major is more than just a figurehead who does a flip,” said Bundy, who led the application process with several staff members and a former drum major.
Nine students applied for the position, and the process included an interview along with an audition to determine flip, strut and conducting skills.
The job includes leading the Blue Band in the public eye, conducting at games, leading the band in stretches, helping to train rookies at band camp, making public appearances and assisting in teaching drills, Siergiej said.
“(Siergiej has) been a really strong and dedicated member of the saxophone section. He has done very well as a musician and a performer for the band,” Bundy said. “He had a very strong record with us based on his membership at this point.”
Now a 21-year-old senior, Siergiej joined the band as a freshman saxophone player and said he felt motivated by the band's student leaders. He also played saxophone in the marching band at Penn-Trafford High School, from which he graduated in 2010.
Siergiej kicked off his music career in the second grade when he began playing piano. In fourth grade, he picked up the saxophone.
“What got me interested in music, when I was little my mother would play the piano all the time,” Siergiej said. “That's what I guess spawned my musical interests.”
Siergiej is the son of Richard and Lalana Siergiej and brother of Amanda, Marisa and Isabel. Upon his selection as drum major, Siergiej said he immediately called his sister Amanda, who encouraged him to join Blue Band, and his family members and friends.
“I couldn't stop smiling,” he said.
In addition to his double major in mathematics and computer science, Siergiej is involved with the Actuarial Science Club and the Association for Computing Machinery on campus.
This summer, Siergiej will work a full-time internship with Deloitte Consulting in New York City. He said he'll continue to train for his drum major role, practicing conducting skills and reviewing a handbook of marching fundamentals.
He'll also be mentally preparing to land that flip in front of a crowd of 100,000 — a feat he said he's “trying not to think about ... right now.”
Siergiej, who said he has no formal gymnastics training, learned to flip on his family's trampoline. When he first saw someone execute the move from the ground, he said “it seemed really scary.”
He's honed his skills by watching YouTube videos and films of himself flipping.
“Sometimes when I do it, I get like chills down my body,” Siergiej said. “I'm definitely going to have to mentally prepare this summer to focus on just myself and completing the flip and not let the other distractions — the shouting fans, the music that's playing — affect me.”
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