For NU drum major, the beat began at Maine South
Northwestern University Drum Major Michael San Gabino got his start leading marching bands while a student at Maine South High School in Park Ridge. | Photo by Daniel M. Reck
Updated: November 2, 2012 10:34AM
PARK RIDGE — Before he became a drum major for one of the country’s most recognized university marching bands, Michael San Gabino was at the top of his game at Maine South High School in Park Ridge.
San Gabino, one of two drum majors leading Northwestern University’s Wildcat Marching Band this football season, got his start as a drum major with the Maine South High School Marching Band and as a performer across the school’s Fine Arts program, including orchestra, symphony band and choir.
The experience, he believes, prepared him for what to expect in the Big Ten.
“It gave me a sense of confidence that I could do it,” the Park Ridge native and 2009 Maine South graduate explained.
Now a senior at Northwestern, San Gabino, a saxophone performance major, is in his third year of leading the Wildcat Marching Band, a role he refers to as “an awesome experience.”
“It’s really been unreal. I’ve gotten to do so many different things with the marching band,” he said. “The biggest thing is going to all these bowl games.”
One of the unique aspects of the Northwestern Marching Band is the diverse half-time shows performed. Themes this season have featured Broadway numbers, alternative rockers the Foo Fighters, popular cartoons and James Bond.
“We formed a martini glass on the field and made a bow tie, so that was very fun,” San Gabino said of the James Bond show.
As drum major San Gabino is also a performance artist, his on-field back bend routine a Big 10 tradition.
“It’s a cool thing to show your showmanship and get creative,” he remarked.
San Gabino cites Joel Matter, director of bands at Maine South, as one of his musical mentors.
“I think he really tried to expose us to different types of music, not just in the marching band, but in a concert setting,” he said.
The opportunities given to the Maine South Marching Band were “unmatched,” San Gabino believes.
“I think the greatest thing, both freshman and senior year, was getting to go to U of I and performing for the state championship games for football,” he said. “It was an amazing opportunity.”
Matter says it did not come as a surprise that San Gabino would rise through the ranks to take his place as drum major at Northwestern.
“As a music student he was top-notch,” Matter recounted. “He was someone who was always prepared and did the right thing.”
Matter said he could easily turn the band over to San Gabino’s direction because of the leadership skills he always demonstrated.
“He was the type of kid everyone loved,” Matter said.
As for life after graduation, San Gabino is planning to attend law school with a goal of practicing entertainment law and working for a performing arts organization. He would also like to give saxophone lessons while continuing to perform himself.
“Music will always be a part of me,” he said.