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Meet Jada Dabney: Ramsay High School’s Drum Major of Excellence

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Jada Dabney, a senior at Birmingham’s Ramsay High School, inside the school's band room which is her "happy place." (Joe Songer, For The Birmingham Times)
By Haley Wilson
The Birmingham Times

For Jada Dabney, a senior at Birmingham’s Ramsay High School, music is therapy.

“I feel like people don’t really realize how music has an effect on your life,” she said. “You listen to music in your car, you hear it in commercials and movies, … but it does something more for you—it puts you at ease or in a better mood without you really thinking about it.”

Dabney, who plays the trumpet and French horn, is a drum major for the school’s Marching Rams. Her “happy place” is inside the school’s band room, where she reflects on how music has helped her build connections and meet lifelong friends.

“Being in the band is like being in a family,” she said. “Sometimes you disagree on things, and then seconds later you’re back loving on each other. I’ve made a lot of friends, even from other schools. … You make a lot of great connections through band because the music really bonds you together.”

Dabney already has plans to take her love for band and music to the next level at Tennessee State University (TSU), where she will enroll next fall and major in music.

“I really wanted to go to a school that was the right fit, and I think that is TSU because I just love the things they do,” she said. “[I love] their style of music. I’ve been to their preview days, … which are like band days. They allow high school students to play in the stands with the [band members, as well as] be part of the field show. It was a really amazing experience.”

Young Roots

Dabney, 18, said her early experiences with music stemmed from her home life, in which music played a big part.

“My dad, [Kenneth Dabney], is a pastor at Beulah Missionary Baptist Church in Birmingham,” she said. “I’ve been in church pretty much all my life. Before my dad was a pastor, he would preach and also play for the choir. I really enjoyed listening to my dad sing and play. So, in a way, I guess watching my dad play inspired me to play.”

Dabney reflected on days when her family of five would often wake up on weekends and play the piano together.

“My dad would get up and play [the piano],” she said. “It could be 11 o’clock at night, and he would just start playing. I do the same thing, so that’s how I know I received that trait from him.

“If I’m listening to a song and think, ‘I want to learn how to play that,’ we would get up and start practicing. I can recall so many times when I would be up listening to [my dad] practice for choir rehearsal, and I’d catch on to the tune in my head.”

Dabney’s mother, Lawanna, played clarinet in high school and sings in the church choir: “My mom has a beautiful voice, and hearing her sing often relaxes me and calms me down.”

Life in Band

Dabney said her senior year in band has been her favorite. “I can honestly say that this has been the most fun year of marching band I have had,” she said, adding that this year is different because there were so many school closings last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now that band is back, Dabney is happy to return to the field. The Ramsay band practices from 4 to 6:30 p.m. on Mondays and from 4 to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, which can be a little challenging, Dabney said.

What makes it meaningful, however, are the connections. “At the end of the day, it’s all love in band,” she said. “My band directors really serve as mentors to us. Not everything is always about band. They’ll notice if you had a bad day and will ask, ‘Hey, how is everything going? You need to talk?’ … They’ve really tried to get us prepared for college, too. I’ve seen people lend extra equipment or give a pair of socks if someone needs them out on the field. We really look out for each other.”

Part of being in band also includes learning the more “traditional” side of things. “Sometimes you have to move a certain way or play to a certain song because that’s how it’s always been done. I really value when we have to learn the traditional things because I believe that is so important,” said Dabney, pointing to pieces like the school’s fight song and alma mater for graduating seniors.

No matter what the piece, Dabney puts her all into everything she does. “I really try to train myself to learn everything from memory as soon I get the new music piece,” she said. “For example, we have to learn the song [‘P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)’] by Michael Jackson. … I already know the song, but its different when you actually have to perform it. So, it’s important to practice as much as you can because it’ll eventually become second nature to you.”

Dabney holds herself to a high standard. “It’s important that I [avoid being] too hard on myself because, at the end of the day, nobody is perfect,” she said. “Sometimes I try to be good so bad that I get in my own way. … Sometimes I really have to talk to myself and say, ‘You’re doing just fine, you’ve practiced a lot, enjoy yourself and just feel the music.’”

That’s why music will always be her best therapy. “If people were to ask my advice on how to relax and stay calm, … I would simply say, ‘Turn on some music,’” Dabney said.