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Combining student leadership and showmanship at the Indianapolis 500

Jonathan Heidegger’s role as drum major for the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band requires him to flex his leadership skills and be an expert on the band’s music and marching formations. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

Since 1919, the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band has performed on race morning, opening the day’s festivities with live music and entertainment. Since 1946, Purdue has accompanied the majority of the “Back Home Again in Indiana” performers, bringing the historic anthem to life every year. Purdue has also participated as the host band for the AES 500 Festival Parade, held the day before the race, since the parade’s inception in 1957. This story is part of a month-long, behind-the-scenes look at Purdue’s storied history with the Indy 500.

Purdue at the Indy 500: Purdue “All-American” Marching Band drum major Jonathan Heidegger believes in the importance of live music

A lot of people think the drum major is just the person who waves their hands in the air and keeps time. And, well, that’s one part of it. At the Indy 500, a lot of my role is the showmanship of it all — wearing the big, tall bear hats, leading the band through the parades — but there are also the logistics. Like making sure the space that we have under the pagoda is right and that everyone knows what they’re playing and has a clear tempo. We have to follow a run-of-show because it’s a televised event — making sure to play during certain parts, not playing during others, keeping to the schedule and making sure everyone knows what’s about to happen.

One thing that we talk about a lot is how much live music matters to these events. The tradition of the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band being at the Indy 500 for over 100 years is sometimes easy to take for granted. The music sort of manages the crowd because we’re a part of the crowd as well. We’re all cheering along — but for us, the cheering is through our instruments in what we’re playing. It’s really amazing to have that performer aspect behind it in these large-venue events.

If you haven’t seen the Purdue “All-American” Marching Band in person, you have to get yourself either to a game or to the Indy 500 to see it.

Jonathan Heidegger
Senior, computer science, ’22

Being able to have the honor to stand in front of a group of such talented musicians and lead them in that way, I never take it for granted. It’s always amazing, and if you haven’t seen us in person, you have to get yourself either to a game or to the Indy 500 to see it.

This student spotlight is part of a special series highlighting Purdue’s many connections to the Indy 500. Thank you to Jonathan Heidegger (senior, computer science, ’22) for sharing your story.

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