Willnauer shares passion with Wildcat band
Before De Soto High School's football game Friday against rival Mill Valley, Kody Willnauer is putting on a show.
Prancing down a lane formed by the Wildcat Marching Band, the senior drum major seemed to defy gravity with a backward-leaning strut that earned hoops and hollers of the instrument-laden musicians. Willnauer responded with praise of his own.
"Trumpets. You're great. Where have you been all year?" he yelled while slapping backs and hugging members of the section.
It is all part of the duties he shared with Catrina Lane and Bob Boone, Willnauer said.
"Talking with college drum majors and at band camp, basically I was told what you put out is a sixth of what the band puts out," he said. "I try to have a passion for whatever I do. Not every person in the band is going to have that same passion. But for just 20 minutes if I can help get that same adrenaline flowing in them, that's what it's all about."
De Soto High School band instructor Justin Love said Willnauer and his two fellow drum majors made his life easier.
"Most bands this size would have one or two drum majors," he said. "When I went to pick them, I couldn't decide on one or two. Each had something outstanding to contribute."
Willnauer brought a musical knowledge of someone who already taught piano to younger children, Love said. Lane had leadership abilities honed from her involvement with the Civilian Air Patrol and school positions, he said. Boone brought an experimental enthusiasm that now had the band dancing in the stands of football games, he said.
Willnauer said he attempted to improve the band by getting things ready in the morning before rehearsal, helping members with their music and sharing his passion.
His passion to fully engage in the moment led him to take risks, Willnauer said. His movements were over-exaggerated, he said, partly out of an effort to pump up the band and in part to put on a performance.
"There are other drum majors who simply just keep the beat," he said. "Musicians are artists playing from the heart and soul. I want to draw that out of them to perform the best they can.
"I haven't been told yet it's a distraction. I can't play football. I can't play basketball. I might as well do something I can do better than a lot of people."
The crowd noticed his performance, Willnauer said. His flashy moves sometimes draw hecklers, he said, but he said compliments from parents and students outweigh the negative comments.
"A basketball player told me he thought I was going to fall off the ladder at halftime," he said. "That was one of the biggest compliments I've ever had. That a basketball player would notice what I was doing out there to get more from the band and say something was really great."
The basketball player might have responded to Willnauer and the band's competitive nature, which received an extra kick by the presence of the Mill Valley band at the intra-district rivalry game and a one plus earned two days before at a Baker University band festival.
"Of course we're competitive," he said. "I believe the band is, and I tell them, 'you know you're better than that band over there' to get them to play better.
"To get a one plus -- to theoretically to be all 100 percent across the board -- of course you have to want to do your best. I don't know of any other band that received a one plus.
A talent and passion for music runs in Willnauer's family. He teaches piano to younger children and earned a one for oboe at the state festival.
His father, Kent Willnauer, was a band major at Morningstar College in Iowa. Two of his father's brothers were also drum majors, one at Morningstar and the other at Baker University.
The younger Willnauer is considering either going to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. to study political science or attending Kansas University as a music major. Should he pick the latter option, he said his goal would be to become a drum major.
To realize his goal, he would have to overcome a lot more competition than his father or uncles faced, Willnauer acknowledged. He would also need to learn a different instrument, he said.
His high school instructor said Willnauer's goal was realistic.
"I went to K.U. and I believe he would have just about as good a chance as any I've seen there," Love said. "He's got the desire to do that, and that would give him an edge."
Meanwhile with the band slated to go to Dallas for the New Year's Cotton Bowl Festival, Willnauer has more immediate goals.
"I want the band to turn heads down in Dallas and around here," he said. "It's really good to have the School Board and city behind us. We'd like to have that support all the time.
"It would be a good thing if the same amount of people showed up for a choir or band performance as football games."