Things are a lot different this school year, but the band still marches on. With Covid-19 protocols and regulations, Lufkin High School seniors Abbey Lantis and Joel Sarmiento take their responsibility as co-drum majors in stride this year as leaders of the award-winning Lufkin Panther Band.

Abbey Lantis sports purple wings and a feather boa for one of the dress up themed nights during summer practice. PHOTO BY: ANDY ADAMS/Lufkin ISD

Lantis said, “Being a co-drum major is very rewarding because we’ve both been through the same tryout process and have worked really hard to be here. We’ve had to practice a lot to not only learn new things, but learn them together.”

Her co-drum major takes his job with much pride and self-reflection.

Sarmiento said, “It’s a pretty amazing feeling knowing that I get to be one of the drum majors of such a great band program. It really makes me think about every little thing I do and how I do it because I want to offer the best version of myself to our drum major team, the band directors, and my peers.”

Due to Covid-19, the duo reflects on how things are different this year including the tryout process of becoming a drum major.

Lantis said, “Our tryout process was a little different because of Covid-19 regulations, but we each got to march on the field and interview like always. There are some amazing band traditions and activities that we’re missing out on, like overnight band camp at Pineywoods. We would also begin learning our performance drill a lot earlier in the year, so it will be an adjustment pushing it back a couple of weeks. Thankfully, the majority of our events have just been postponed rather than cancelled and I’m hoping they won’t be pushed back any further.”

Sarmiento said that even though the audition process was different, the foundation was still the same.

He said, “It included an essay, interview (a virtual one instead of in-person which was much less nerve-racking), and performance of a self-written drill. There was originally a service project that was part of the process but was scrapped due to COVID-19.”

Some may think of a service project getting scrapped as a good thing but Sarmiento isn’t that kind of person. He’s a go getter, a difference maker.

Joel Sarmiento wears a mask and keeps the band socially distanced as they practice their field routine.  PHOTO BY: ANDY ADAMS/Lufkin ISD

He said, “I want to help as many people as I can with anything whether it be music, marching, academics, transportation, or just someone to talk to.”

Lantis is a people person and loves the band for the students.

She said, “The people have always been one of the best parts about band. Band students are very welcoming and all want to have fun, so it’s really helped to see everyone excited about band camp and it’s made the regular practices more enjoyable.”

Even though school is back in session, there are hundreds of students learning virtually this year, one of those being Lantis.

Lantis said, “I’m doing virtual learning, so I come to school every morning for band and leave right after to do classes online. I still come after school occasionally for uniform crew procedures or majorette practices.”

Sarmiento, on the other hand, chose face-to-face learning.


He said, “I chose face-to-face learning because I struggled with virtual learning at the end of last year, so I gladly took the opportunity to return to in-person learning and will be doing my part in keeping myself and others around me safe. To keep others safe, I first have to start with myself and make sure I wear my mask and not go to school if I have any symptoms or worries, then help ensure that we stay socially distanced during rehearsals, and lastly, just encourage others to keep themselves safe when they’re outside of band or school so we can get through this school year.”

Lantis agreed that before COVID-19 the students used to talk to friends, walk to their spots together, or play before practice. Now the students have to stay distant.

She said, “I often walk around making sure people are far enough apart because we don’t want anybody getting sick.”

Even with the changes, both drum majors had a great first day of school.

Lantis said, “My first day of school was good! There were a couple issues with Zoom and Google Classroom, but it was nice to have a somewhat “normal” first day.”

Sarmiento said, “It felt great to be back in school on the first day. The district has been doing a good job of getting it as close to normal as possible while also keeping us safe. It was nice getting to see my new teachers and friends again after months of being out of school. All the water bottles around the school are pretty cool too. I’ve definitely been taking advantage of those.”

Lantis is on the majorette line, an Ignite mentor, and a Drug Free All Star and has her sights set on the University of Texas at Austin. She plays the oboe and flute.

Sarmiento is involved in the Interact Club, STEM Academy, and National Honor Society. He also works at Chili’s and is not sure which college he wants to attend but has applied for several where he can continue music.

He said, “I still don’t know if I want to major in math or music or both so we’ll see how that all plays out. Whatever happens though, I will for sure be continuing playing music on my euphonium whether it be as a major, minor, or in a college band.”

Both Lantis and Sarmiento have been impressed with how the band directors have handled all of the changes.

Lantis said, “All of the band directors have been making plans for pretty much every outcome and have helped keep things enjoyable even under the stress of a new school year and pandemic.”

Sarmiento agreed, “The band directors have done an outstanding job of adapting to these new situations on the fly. I wasn’t expecting band to be anything like it used to be but they’ve put in a lot of time and effort to manage to keep it as normal as possible with all these guidelines. The band boosters as well have been important in this process. They had been giving out prizes and treats after summer rehearsals since we couldn’t have band camp this year. Overall, I am very appreciative of how hard the band staff and band boosters have worked to give us what we have now and I look forward to what lies ahead!”

With so many changes, the band co-drum majors have done their best to make sure that the students are able to still have fun and stay encouraged.

Sarmiento said, “As of now, we are still able to march a drill, have in-person rehearsals, audition for bands later in the fall but of course, that is all subject to change. One thing I know for sure though that will remain the same this year is the family culture our band has. There’s just something special about being with other band members whether it be virtual or in-person that COVID-19 can’t change.”