Becca Anderson readily admits it — her drum corps résumé isn’t extensive.
She hasn’t worked in countless different roles with countless different drum corps organizations. She hasn’t slowly, methodically climbed her way up the proverbial food chain.
But when given opportunities, she’s capitalized. She’s been heard. She’s earned the respect and confidence of the high-ranking figures within the marching music activity.
And now at the helm of Mandarins’ design team, as the Sacramento corps’ creative director since 2020, Anderson provides a shining example of the unique places, backgrounds and experiences through which creative and educational leaders can be found and fostered.
“I feel like I have such little experience compared to most people,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people think they have to have this plethora of marching experience to excel in the activity. And I don't think that you do, I think it's the way that you educate yourself as well.”
As she noted, Anderson’s career has bounced in and out of the drum corps activity, starting with her time as a performer.
Anderson’s introduction to the marching arts came at Tarpon Springs High School in Florida, where — after growing up in dance — she originally started on bass drum before transitioning to color guard in the school’s marching band program. She followed her brother to Carolina Crown, where she spent the 1996 season, before graduating high school in 1997.
It was four years before Anderson performed with another drum corps, finishing her marching career in The Cadets’ championship-winning 2000 season. In between, she spent a season of indoor color guard with The Company Independent World color guard.
“Again, I don't have a lot of drum corps experience,” she said. “All these people have these huge résumés, but it just takes those little opportunities that overlap.”
As a drum corps educator and designer as well, Anderson doesn’t have a laundry list of positions to rattle off, either — she taught briefly as color guard caption head at Seattle Cascades and Oregon Crusaders in the late 2000s, but then spent significant time away from drum corps.
And when it came to why, she was candid. Working full-time in the drum corps activity is a challenge.
“It was so time-consuming doing drum corps and trying to design, so I made the conscious effort not to do that anymore,” she said. “I had offers here and there that would come in, but I just could not. I couldn't, financially, be able to leave for a huge part of the summer.”
But the marching arts remained a passion. Over time, Anderson established her life and career, working with a variety of indoor color guards and scholastic marching bands in various creative capacities.
It was that work that led to her position of design leadership at Mandarins. In the fall of 2020, Anderson was contacted directly by corps director J.W. Koester — an individual whom she highly praised for his dedication to the Mandarins organization and the well-being of its participants — regarding the role of creative director.
After discussions with Koester and other members of Mandarins’ staff, it was ultimately the quality of those people across the board that drew her back into drum corps.
“He had seen some work that I had done with a local marching band, and some of my winter guards, and I guess he just liked my vibe,” Anderson said. “I had no idea what he was calling me for, so when he said he wanted me to be the creative director, I was stunned. My initial reaction was, ‘Well, I can't do this. This is too much.’”
“I got such a great feeling from all five of the people that were on the design team,” she continued, “and I just felt like I had to say yes. And my instinct was right; these people who I work with are wonderful.”
Ultimately, Anderson’s career in drum corps design didn’t necessarily take off because of the places she’d worked, or the volume of work she’d done; it took off because of the abilities people saw in her, the mentors she had in her life, and the way she maximized what she could learn and glean from those around her.
She spoke highly of several mentor figures in her career, but specifically honed in on Jeannine Ford, a longtime color guard educator who has helped develop Tarpon Springs High School’s outdoor and indoor color guard programs to a level of consistent nationally prominence.
Her husband, Kevin, became the band director at Tarpon Springs the same year Anderson entered the school’s doors as a student — she’s been connected to the Fords since the beginning.
As Anderson described, Jeannine Ford was and is many things to her, including — but certainly not limited to — a flowing well of information from which to learn, a role model by which to be inspired, and a close, trusted and formative mentor.
“(Ford) was so incredibly inspiring,” Anderson said. “Even on bad days, it was a learning experience. She cared so much about who she was with all of the students, all of the staff.”
But Ford, further, was an example of representation. In reminiscing on the many ways her life and career had been impacted by Ford’s influence, Anderson emphasized the importance of such mentorship — and, especially, such influential female mentorship.
In a world of marching arts design which — as far as she could see as a performer and growing educator — was male-dominated by a noticeable majority, Ford showed Anderson that she could find her own niche as a designer, and she hopes to do the same for young women currently finding their own ways in the activity.
“I have had quite a few women along the way that have been in these prominent leadership roles that have shown me that you can be that person, and there's a place for you,” she said. “For me personally, having a younger person who is associated as female, they can see me, and they can say, ‘She's doing that, I can do that.’”
Along the way, Anderson noted her fair share of experiences being talked over, overlooked, or having her ideas dismissed. A self-described introvert by nature, she had to train herself to be vocal, and to stand up for herself and her perspectives.
She passed the importance of those same qualities as advice to those who may hope to follow in her career’s footsteps.
“I had to get comfortable with doing that, which was terrible, because that's not who I am,” she said. “But when I started to see it, I started to say something. So, that's one thing I want to get out there, too — don't be afraid to get your voice out there and get your voice heard, because it's really important. If I can do it, I want to inspire other people to do it as well.”
Further, she emphasized the value of going out of one’s way to speak up from a posture of learning, as well — asking questions, starting conversations, and seeking the advice of those with experience.
“I've actually had a few people, over the past two years, come up to me and say, ‘Hey, can I bother you and talk to you about how you got where you are?’” she said. “And my answer is always yes. I think that for people who want to succeed in this activity, first and foremost, it's like any job that you're trying to get — educate yourself, find out who those people are who you look up to, who you see as successful, and reach out.”
And her message to the marching music activity as a whole — knowing the kind of individuals who shaped her, and whom she’s seen shape others — serves as a worthwhile foundation.
Be good people.
“I feel like the only way that we can have a great experience is if we really try to abide by that,” she said. “From the ground up, when you commit to excellence, it's not just in your performance, it's who you are on and off the field.”