The words of Lisa Tatum, brass caption head for The Academy, stuck with a younger Sierra Rogers.
“Apologize less,” Tatum had said to Rogers, who was, at the time, the Arizona corps’ drum major. “And say thank you more.”
It was a lesson in self-confidence — a professional, poised and others-focused form of self-confidence — that stayed with Rogers, who had long envisioned a career for herself in marching music education.
“I always had this tendency of feeling like I was taking up too much space, or being too loud, or being too out-there, and apologizing for that constantly,” Rogers said. “And (Tatum) basically taught me that reversal — just switching it up, so that mentally you can be more positive to yourself and allow yourself that space to continually grow.”
Less than five years later, she’s now the newly-appointed visual caption head for Madison Scouts — and that same wisdom continues to ring true.
“I think a lot of people in my age range can attest to this feeling of imposter syndrome, and not quite always feeling like we deserve the roles and the opportunities that are being presented to us,” Rogers said. “But I think, lately, I've been trying to take the mindset that I'm never going to be ready for it, so I might as well just go forward anyway.”
Rogers entered the drum corps activity through the doors of The Academy in 2012, as a 13-year-old contrabass tuba player. Her lengthy drum corps career evolved into that of a drum major, a position she held in 2017, 2018 and 2019 with her home corps in Arizona.
Throughout those years, Rogers picked up lessons from people of influence, including the likes of Tatum and other close female mentors. Tatum, in particular, served as a pivotal example of representation for Rogers, as one of a small handful of female leaders by which she’d been taught as a drum corps member.
“Having Lisa Tatum as the brass caption head my last year at Academy made a huge difference, just to see a woman in that role,” she said. “For there to finally be somebody who looked like me — and I could see myself kind of growing into a similar position — was groundbreaking for me.”
Rogers also made a point to mention the influence of Sharon Pearce — a drum corps superfan colloquially known as “contra mom,” as Pearce makes a point to connect with as many female tuba players in the DCI activity as possible — on her own drum corps experience.
“She goes to every show that she can, and she connects with every single woman who's played contra for the past 25 or 30 years,” Rogers said. “And she means so much to me.”
By the time she was preparing to age out of the drum corps activity, education was firmly ingrained in Rogers’ lifestyle.
Rogers was already an Arizona State University graduate by the time her final season of drum corps kicked off in the summer of 2019; her life was so fully embedded in the music education industry that members of The Academy that summer were also Rogers’ high school students.
All in all, though, that final year as a performer presented an opportunity to soak up information about being an educator, and provided a springboard into what came next.
“It was an interesting dynamic,” she said. “Especially in that last year as drum major, I spent a lot of time talking to the people who were teaching me at the time, the staff at Academy, and just picking their brains.”
When that summer ended, the natural next step in Rogers’ progression was to find somewhere to teach in the drum corps activity. After sending out a slew of résumés and taking part in several interviews, she landed in the role of visual instructor for Madison Scouts.
A few months later, her first summer as a staff member was promptly canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was during the months of shutdown that followed that Rogers had the chance to learn, in a new way, about the Madison Scouts as an organization — the corps’ mission, its people, and its values.
The Wisconsin corps conducted a variety of virtual educational programs from the start of the pandemic, which allowed not only the students to remain engaged, but also allowed Rogers to continue growing with the organization despite otherwise unfortunate circumstances.
“It was a unique experience,” she said. “The entire premise was that our mission is to create this educational experience for our students, and that doesn't have to stop just because we can't be in-person. I actually feel like I learned a lot more about what it meant to be a part of the Madison Scouts organization in 2020, even though I never actually got to be in person with them until 2021.”
Once the drum corps activity reemerged and in-person events returned, Rogers had the opportunity not only to teach with the Madison corps, but also to teach its first-ever gender-inclusive group of performers.
From the outset of the corps’ new chapter, Rogers said, she was inspired by the way the students of all backgrounds embraced what it meant to be a Madison Scout.
“It's just incredible to see the way that these students take up the name of the organization,” she said. “Every single student that I've taught over the last three years at Scouts, they are so proud to be a part of it, and I'm so proud to watch them step into that as well.”
Ultimately, Rogers was offered the position of visual caption head in the fall of 2022.
For one, Rogers said, it came as a surprise. Further, she noted, it came with plenty of responsibility, not only as a leader, but as an example of the same representation she sought as a drum corps member.
“This is something that, when I was starting out, would have made a huge difference to me, just to see someone who looked like me,” she said. “But I also understand that there’s a sort of pressure to find success within this role.”
“Right now,” she continued, “it's about finding that balance of understanding and appreciating the responsibility, but also trying to enjoy what it is, and trying to, hopefully, bring more women and non-binary folks into the activity.”
Despite more than a decade as a performer, drum major, instructor and now caption head, Rogers has potentially still just scratched the surface on her experience in corps leadership.
And on one hand — on the field, at least — her goals are straightforward.
“I hope some kids get better at marching,” she quipped.
The Madison Scouts are excited to announce that Sierra Rogers has been promoted to the role of Visual Caption Head.Posted by Madison Scouts on Friday, October 14, 2022
But of course, the drum corps experience goes far deeper.
As such, in a position of educational prominence, Rogers’ vision — for herself, for her organization, for her students, and for the activity in which she’s participated since her early teen years — is to create a more welcoming environment.
“I hope that more students leave with a well-rounded experience,” she said. “And I hope that the activity continues to evolve in such a way that we're taking care of our students better. I’m planning to put as much time, energy and effort into making that happen as I can.”
And ultimately, within that vein, her message to any young performer with lofty drum corps dreams — and to a younger version of herself — is simple.
“It's okay to not fit the mold of what you think a drum corps person looks like,” she said. “We all have a place in this activity. And we're all going to be better for the diversity that we bring to the activity.”