In the 125-year history of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, there has been only one combined band commander hailing from Sealy.
Nicholas Rossi, a Sealy High School graduate of 2016, was bestowed with that honor toward the end of last year but he knew his previous responsibilities did not go away immediately.
“When I was told about being the combined band commander, I still had to do my job as the Aggie band sergeant major and make sure everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Rossi said. “That was my bread and my butter but trying to transition into (the band commander) position toward the end of the year which, ultimately, I’m still working on what that needs to be. I think it’s going to click when everyone’s back and the new freshmen arrive but my job will kind of be to point in a direction and start walking that way.”
The Aggie band is the largest military band in the country and all of the nearly-400 members end their days nearby in one of two dormitory halls reserved for band members regardless of which unit they were assigned to as freshmen.
“The band has two chains of command, you have the Aggie band and on top of that you have a combined staff, so combined band refers to the two halves of the band; the infantry band and the artillery band,” Rossi explained. “Each of those have a respective staff under them and under each of those, there’s three outfits. There’s six outfits total and each of those have their command teams that trickle down all the way to the freshman level and then there’s a drill field chain of command so the drum majors are atop those and I’m still held responsible for them but the three drum majors at the top have representatives from each instrument that kind of communicate with them.”
Last year, Rossi served as the band’s highest-ranking member from the junior class at sergeant major and after going through a grueling interview and application process, he was given the news in person by the previous year’s band commander (the highest-ranking member of the senior class), Caleb Brown.
“He called me in to his room and was just talking and joking around but then he got all serious and just kind of handed me the rank and said, ‘It’s going to be your turn to do it next year so don’t forget you’ve got a lot of people supporting you,’” Rossi recounted of the interaction. “Gave me a pat on the back and said, ‘This is the season of congratulations, you’re going to have a lot of people giving you pats on the back.’”
The biggest of his support system, his parents, were the next to know the news before anyone else gathered the information from the Commandant’s Facebook post.
“I called home and called mom and dad and they were happy,” he said. “Had a day to myself to think about it so I called home and I went and told my brother right after that so it was kind of cool to tell him before anyone else knew.”
Nick’s younger brother, Nate, was also promoted to Cymbal Freak heading into his sophomore year and has been on the ride alongside the newest Aggie band commander since their days with the Sealy High School band that they mentioned playing a major role in their time there.
“Junior high came and we got into band, we had two cousins who did it so we were like OK, cool we’ll do that,” Nick said. “I joined on as a drummer in sixth grade and stuck with it throughout high school and I enjoyed the camaraderie I got from being with those kids and when we went there, we dropped off all the baggage we had, everything we were worried about we left it outside and that was cool so I wanted that when I went off to college too and I also wanted the discipline and the challenge.”
Nate added that following in his brother’s footsteps allowed him a different vantage point at the experience Nick was having and that allowed an educated decision to be made on his next step as well.
“The perspective of going to a school that offers that, I always wondered what if I did that and where would I be if I didn’t,” Nate said. “I really didn’t want to pass that opportunity up because I thought I would miss out on something and I’m really glad I didn’t.”
What he does get, however, are a lot of is early mornings, as his brother laid out.
“A typical morning is we wake up at 5 and then we’ll go do our run or pushups or our indoor training, mental stuff like how do you deal with stress, then we go eat chow for 30 minutes then 7 to 8:30 is drill and then we start our academic day after we shower and stuff,” Nick said. “Then in the evenings, Monday Tuesday and Thursday we do chow in the evenings again so that’s the main camaraderie.”
He has furthered his relationships with his bandmates and that put to rest one of his biggest concerns going into college where he was unsure of if he would be able to make friends at such an overwhelming place.
“I was real worried going into freshman year I was going to have homesickness because I wasn’t sure if I was going to have anyone to talk to,” Nick said. “Just because you don’t know, it’s a big place and I don’t know anyone there but you’re kind of forced too, I was too tired to be homesick because I was too tired to think about missing it and I would always have my buddies too. We would grab dinner, go shopping, get a haircut, it was good to always have that group there and I know hopefully I’ll be at all their weddings and they’ll be at my wedding.”
Nate echoed those thoughts with the buddy system that allows growth and knowledge to come from most any situation.
“You go through all the hard times with your grades, the challenges the corps throws at you and then you’re there with the good times too with the band,” Nate said. “It all makes it worth it especially that your buddies are tired too and it makes it easier because you’re definitely not the only one but they’re probably my biggest support group.”
Nick will get an extra support group in the form of the other key leadership position holders and their work has already begun, as they left Wednesday on a four-day muck retreat that gets them away from the concrete jungle and more in tune with each other.
“We get off campus and look for things we have in common in this other place without going back to our rooms and our buddies,” Nick said. “We come back and not quite everyone but most kids are back and then the fish (freshmen) arrive and then those kids who are training the fish and then everyone else arrives.”
When the rest of the band does finish their move-in ahead of classes starting on Aug. 25, Nick Rossi will be the one the Commandant mentioned in one of the speeches he delivers to the newest crop of corps members every year.
“I remember freshman year we went through a bunch of briefs but there’s always one speech the Commandant gives where he says, ‘In three short years, one of you is going to be the corps commander and one of you is going to be the RV commander and one of you is going to be the Aggie band commander,’ and I never thought that kid was going to be me,” Nick said. “When I was a freshman the job was to worry about myself and so that’s what I did, it was a day-by-day thing and sometimes I had to take it hour-by-hour and it was a little rough sometimes but I was happy there was someone in front of me.”
Now, his name will be synonymous with the ultimate leader of the band and he looks forward to the opportunity to represent his hometown.
“It’s interesting to balance personal and professional life, my name will be interchangeable with Aggie band commander, that won’t be anyone else’s name,” he said simply. “It’s pretty cool, I’m excited, I’m proud, I learned a lot from my teachers in high school and they helped me learn and grow and then I went off to college to learn and grow some more on my own but it’s a big honor. It’s hard to think about during the day-in-day-out stuff but I think I learned a lot from a small-town work ethic and I’m looking forward to carrying that with me.”