Seth Estes ’15 knew being on the drum line of the Pride of the Mountains Marching Band would mean hundreds of hours of practice, rehearsals and performances. It started with the field shows at football games and a trip to the 2011 Tournament of Roses Parade when he was a freshman. It ended with the band’s great triumph, leading the 2014 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City his senior year.
All that marching and drumming produced a surprise for Estes, who graduated in May and already had a job waiting – a position on the drum line of the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, known as “The Commandant’s Own,” in Washington, D.C. “It’s kind of unbelievable and I couldn’t imagine being able to say this would happen a year or two ago. There’s been a lot of hard work, but everything seems to have built on itself,” said Estes.
In “The Commandant’s Own,” he is part of a long-standing music tradition in the Marine Corps. The group’s 90 musicians play in several hundred public shows and ceremonies each year and give special performances for audiences that include U.S. presidents, world leaders and other dignitaries. The corps, a sister group to the U.S. Marine Band, frequently appears in parades in the nation’s capital. The members also tour nationally and internationally.
All the corps’ musicians are on active duty, and Estes reported for 13 weeks of basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina, in early June. After that, he will reside in the historic Marine barracks at 8th and I Streets, near the Capitol Building in Washington. Music and performance are top priorities for “The Commandant’s Own,” and its members are rarely deployed.
Growing up in Lincoln County, Estes joined his school’s symphonic band in seventh grade. At East Lincoln High School, he switched to the marching band, directed at that time by former WCU drum major Dustin Stamey ’03, who encouraged Estes to enroll at WCU, major in music and join the band. “Seth has a lot of natural talent, and as he matured he was always trying to be a better musician,” said Stamey, now assistant principal at East Lincoln Middle School. “Through the arts education programs in his schools, he had some amazing experiences and a chance to excel and these opportunities are shaping his entire life.”
Matt Henley ’93 MA ’95, WCU assistant director of athletic bands, called Estes an “amazing asset” at the university. “I’m exceptionally proud of him,” Henley said. “From the classical stage to the marching band, he’s an exemplary model of talent combined with work ethic.”
Even though Estes was feeling “legitimately nervous” prior to departure for boot camp, he said all the hours on the field practicing with the Pride of the Mountains gave him excellent preparation for the military and his music career. “I came here to be in the marching band because that’s what I love to do, and now I get to keep doing it,” he said. “I learned the habits of preparation and practice at WCU. I think the band program has been developed in a way that helps its members succeed.”