Three days a week, the sound of trumpets honking, drums clashing and color flags whipping through the air echoes through campus from the lawn outside Worthen Arena as Ball State’s Pride of Mid-America Marching Band practices.
At the head of it all is Caroline Hand.
In 2014, Hand was hired as Ball State’s first female director of the Pride of Mid-America Marching Band, putting Ball State among the 5 percent of colleges that have female band directors, according to a study by Elizabeth S. Gould and University of Toronto.
Hand said she began her musical career in fifth grade when she attended a showcase hosted by the high school band for younger students. Hand also said the flute was the first instrument she learned to play, and it’s still the one she knows the best.
“[Students at the showcase] said, ‘You could be part of this,’ so, of course, I was all about it.” Hand said. “I wanted to join as soon as I heard all those sounds together.”
After participating in band throughout her middle and high school years, Hand said she decided to take a more traditional route in college. Enrolling at Oklahoma State, Hand chose to major in pre-med.
“I thought, ‘I'm smart, and I want to make money, so I think I'll go to med school,’” Hand said. “I took a few science classes, and I did fine in them, but compared to my music classes, I just had zero interest.”
After dropping her pre-med major her sophomore year, Hand rejoined the music crowd in the fall. Through her classes, Hand said she discovered her true passion for teaching music.
“I loved learning everything about music,” Hand said. “What I discovered too when I was in undergrad is that I love teaching a lot. I was a music education major and graduated and went and got a public school teaching job in Arkansas.”
Before coming to Ball State in 2014, Hand returned to school and completed her doctorate in conducting at the University of Minnesota.
After her audition into the program at the University of Minnesota, Hand’s mentor, Criag Kirchhoff said he was convinced he would never see her again — that she would pick a different university to study her doctorate — but to his surprise, she chose to stay.
“She is an amazing musician and an amazing person,” Kirchhoff said. “She is a very humble person and not someone that takes herself too seriously.”
Aside from Kirchhoff, Hand said Kathy Romey, director of choral activities at the University of Minnesota, was another one of her mentors.
“[Romey] helped me a lot with things that a male just couldn't really communicate in the same way,” Hand said. “That was a really kind of eye opening moment to see that representation matters.”
Similarly to Hand, Natalie Raffelock, junior nursing major who plays baritone in the Pride of Mid-America Marching Band, said she connected with Hand more than she was able to connect with any of her past male band directors.
“When you see a female who is so good at what they do, and so passionate about what they do, it makes the rest of us feel, ‘I'm just as good. I'm just as worthy as everybody else here,’” Raffelock said. “Dr. Hand is just one of those people that can make everybody smile, no matter what she's doing. She's just got this really contagious attitude.”
While Hand said she takes pride in being the first female band director, it took her some time to accept the label for herself. She said she feels like her work should speak for itself, but knowing how male-dominated the industry is, Hand knows she must show young women they have just as much of a shot at success as their male counterparts, just like she did for Raffelock.
“I think whether or not I'm a woman doesn't matter,” Hand said. “I think it is important that I am here, as the leader of the Pride, [so] female students see me doing this, and they then can imagine themselves in a leadership role. So, now I do place far greater importance on representation.”
Looking forward at the rest of the marching band season, Hand said her favorite part about Pride of Mid-America is simply its members and all the work they do.
“They're here over Labor Day, they’re supporting our team at IU [and] they're here before school starts,” Hand said. “They so enjoy what they're doing. Just come hang out with them for a little bit on game day and it's infectious. You can't help but have a good time.”
Contact Demi Lawrence with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.