Belleville’s Michigan fans will see a familiar face leading the University of Michigan Marching Band onto the field on Saturdays now that Belleville High grad Jeff Okala has been named the band’s new Drum Major.
Okala graduated from Belleville High School in 2011 where he was also the drum major his senior year.
Michael Campbell, the high school’s associate director of bands, praised Okala’s work ethic and musical talent.
“He was very much a hard worker. He was a talented musician, a very natural musician, he had an excellent ear which helped him a lot. Particularly in playing Jazz music,” said Campbell.
This talent was reflected in Okala’s winning of the school’s Louis Artmstrong Jazz Award in his senior year, according to Campbell.
Before being elected to lead the university’s marching band, Okala played bass trombone for two year as well as working as a member of the equipment staff where he helped repair the band’s instruments.
As drum major – or as the stadium announcer refers to him ‘Michigan’s man up front’ – Okala says he will be the face of the marching band. He will be responsible for using whistle commands to give song tempos as well as performing a baton twirling routine while the band performs.
Okala will also be responsible for teaching the band marching fundamentals during band week in August.
To be picked as the drum major, Okala had to go through a two part selection process. The first part required Okala and the other candidates for the position to perform their pregame routines in front of the marching band administrators. The staff members approved roughly 10 candidates who could move on to the second round of the selection process which consisted of the candidates performing in front of the entire band. The band members are ultimately responsible for electing the drum major according to Okala.
For Okala, the fact that his peers are the ones making the decision makes his selection much more meaningful.
“Truly, it’s an honor. I’m still trying to grasp it,” Okala said. “Just knowing that my peers voted for me…shows how far I’ve come. I can’t wait to get started.”
While Okala will be the face of the band, he remains humble about his role in the program.
“I like to think that the band is this Rolls Royce and I’m the little figurehead on the front of the car.”