Historic drum major marches to his own beat on and off the field

Ceon Rumphs is the Golden Wave Marching Band’s first African American drum major.
Ceon Rumphs is the Golden Wave Marching Band’s first African American drum major.
Ceon Rumphs is the Golden Wave Marching Band’s first African American drum major.

By Jenna Press
Assistant City Desk Editor

Although he has a passion for music, Garland junior Ceon Rumphs actually never intended to become a drum major. But this year, after three years at Baylor, he became the Golden Wave Marching Band’s first African-American drum major.

“I wanted to see if I could be in a leadership position, and I actually auditioned for the position of undergraduate staff,” Rumphs said. “But the directors recommend that I audition for other leadership positions as well, so I chose to audition for drum major.”

Despite the title, Rumphs plays the saxophone, and has nothing to do with drums, an instrument he claims he can barely play.

“I do not play the drums,” Rumphs said. “It’s called drum major because when we’re conducting, we’re really communicating with the drum line, saying here’s the tempo, here’s the count sequence, things like that.”

When Rumphs learned he would be a drum major, he was surprised but excited. He did not know, going in to the position, that he was the first African-American drum major Baylor has ever had.

“After I was given the position of drum major, the director mentioned in passing that to the best of his knowledge I was the first black drum major that we’ve had and I was kind of shocked,” Rumphs said. “It kind of came by surprise, I had no idea. I didn’t have any intention of trailblazing, but it’s definitely an honor.”

Rumphs said being the first African-American drum major hasn’t changed how he approaches the position.

“I hope I can be a quiet inspiration for other people, so they can see that it’s not something that’s reserved for somebody,” he said. “I mean, you can do anything.”

Cassandra Rumphs, his mother, knew he would be successful at Baylor.

“I knew he would make drum major if he tried out for it,” she said. “He’s that good. It’s amazing to know he’s part of Baylor history. We were over the moon.”

Although Rumphs’ position at drum major is a Baylor first, he doesn’t like to make a big deal about it. Exceedingly humble, Rumphs downplayed his own successes, hesitating to talk about both his musical achievements and historic position in the band.

“I don’t want to flaunt it,” he said. “I thought it was interesting, but I guess to me it’s more of a behind-the-scenes servant leader thing.”

Rumphs has been playing music for almost his entire life. Starting with piano in first grade, Rumphs moved on to the saxophone and continued on to marching band in high school, where he was the drum major his junior and senior years.

“Ceon has an ear for music,” Mrs. Rumphs said. “He was gifted with that. I think it’s in his blood a little bit, from his dad.”

Rumphs’ father also played the saxophone in high school, and Rumphs has carried on his father’s legacy, winning awards at both state and national levels, including first-division ratings at State Solo and Ensemble all four years of high school.  His achievements culminated in a gold medal at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, a national achievement program, his senior year.

“He just ran away with it,” Mrs. Rumphs said. “When he auditioned for high school, he made honor band, first chair, and that was unbelievable, as a freshman. He was born for music.”

Now in his third year at Baylor, Rumphs is the first African-American drum major the Golden Wave Marching Band has had in its 112-year history.

When Rumphs came to Baylor, he knew he wanted to be in the marching band, but wasn’t sure how the experience would differ from his high school years.

“I started freshman year not really knowing what to expect,” he said. “I had only seen a little bit of the Golden Wave band, but I knew I wanted to do marching band because I had a lot of fun in high school. I really liked it freshman year, and I knew I would be coming back.”

Being a drum major means having a great deal of responsibility, Rumphs said, but that’s something his high school experience helped him prepare for. He enjoys being drum major, and works hard to make sure he’s the best he can be, going above and beyond his position in the band.

“Being drum major really means being a leader and a role model to the rest of the band,” Rumphs said. “Someone that people, especially freshman, can look to and get some sort of insight from. If they have questions about anything they can come to me, and I do everything that I can to really make their transition from high school to college easier, because it’s not always easy.”

Although it’s a lot of work, Rumphs said, being drum major is also fun.

“I would say my favorite thing we do right now is the mace work that we have, the routine,” Rumphs said. “It’s really an interesting thing that’s uniquely us, but it’s also something that has been a part of the drum major position for decades. It goes all the way back to military bands, and so it’s kind of a nice tribute we have to the older drum majors, but at the same time it’s kind of a new thing, more contemporary, something that’s just uniquely us.”

The mace is a five-foot tall staff that the drum majors spin and toss, adding some additional pageantry to their show.

Rumphs will be auditioning for the same position in next year’s band during the coming weeks. A music education major, Rumphs hopes to become a music professor someday.

“I would like to pursue further degrees, get a master’s and a doctorate because I want to teach at the university level,” Rumphs said. “I think that’s an ideal fit for me, something I’ve wanted to do for several years, so that’s the path I’m taking.”

His goal to work as a music educator is something his parents support wholeheartedly.