After years of experience with marching bands, Polly Middleton is well-versed in homecomings. And now she’ll have a homecoming of her own as she rejoins The Marching Virginians.
For five years, Middleton was the associate director of athletic bands at Virginia Tech, where she also served as assistant director of The Marching Virginians and director of the Hokies Pep Band.
This July, she’ll become only the fifth director in the 44-year history of the 330-member-strong Marching Virginians, also known as The Spirit of Tech.
“Polly is the perfect fit, and we’re delighted she is rejoining our musical family,” said Paul Steger, director of the School of Performing Arts. “She understands the unique and important relationship we share with Athletics, and her experience will allow her to draw on the traditions and take us in new directions. We’re also thrilled to have her as the first woman to serve as Virginia Tech’s director of athletic bands. Acknowledging that Bleacher Report lists Virginia Tech in the top 25 for game-day experiences, we feel like The Marching Virginians and all our fans are in good hands.”
After leaving Virginia Tech in 2016 to gain more leadership experience, Middleton spent one year as director of athletic bands at Arkansas State University, then another as director of Illinois State University’s marching band. Her more recent position was particularly gratifying because the university, the alma mater of all four of her grandparents, is in her hometown of Normal, Illinois.
Deciding to leave that position was difficult. But the draw of the Hokie Nation proved irresistible.
“I had fallen in love with Virginia Tech and The Marching Virginians,” she said. “I love what they represent. And Blacksburg feels like home.”
Middleton began her own musical career with the instrument perhaps least suited for a marching band: the piano. When she switched her focus to her second instrument, the French horn, she became mobile — and inspired.
“As soon as I joined my college marching band,” she said, “I knew what I wanted to do with my life — be a band director.
“Marching bands promote an aspect of community unique to performing ensembles,” she added. “There is participation from students across majors and across colleges. These students are passionate about supporting their school and providing the best atmosphere possible for each game.”
Middleton was herself a drum major for the marching band at the University of Illinois, where she earned her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in music education. She also received a master’s degree in wind conducting from Indiana University.
Despite years of excellent education, Middleton said that working with her predecessor and mentor, David McKee, offered even better training.
“I went to school for many years to learn to be a music educator,” she said, “but I learned so much working with Dave McKee. His passion and energy for the job are contagious, and his impact on students is impossible to overstate.”
McKee, who will retire this month after 32 years as director of The Marching Virginians, said he finds it gratifying that the search committee chose Middleton as his replacement.
“Polly’s impeccable experience was impossible for the committee to overlook,” said McKee. “More importantly, Polly understands the values that define The Marching Virginians — high performance standards, a solid community, and a history of service. The students are the winners here; they’re getting a veteran director with a love for Virginia Tech. I’m thrilled to welcome her back to Blacksburg as director of one of this nation’s great university marching bands.”
In addition to her work with The Spirit of Tech, Middleton will teach music courses in her role as an instructor in the School of Performing Arts. As much as she loves classroom teaching, though, she’s most looking forward to getting the band back together.
“I can’t wait to work with The Marching Virginians again,” Middleton said. “To be able to continue the legacy is an honor, both daunting and exciting at the same time. This is my dream job.”