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Drumline Unmasked – How Winter Percussion Combines Music, Marching and Competition

March 4, 2014

Fallon Middle School Drumline - EvelynWinter percussion, percussion ensemble, drumline – all of these phrases fill me up with more excitement than words can describe. However, they didn’t always. When I entered middle school in 6th grade, like many, I didn’t have a single clue of what winter percussion was. I knew that it involved marching, drums, and competing, but other than that, I had no idea what drumline entailed. Despite my slim knowledge, I decided to take part in winter percussion, and I have ever since.

My name is Evelyn and I currently attend Fallon Middle School as an 8th grader. Presently, I play the snare drum and serve as co-drum captain for the Fallon Drumline. Over these three years of participating, I’ve met many people that have never heard of winter percussion. This lack of familiarity with the activity has motivated me to inform everyone I know what drumline is, and what it is like to be a part of. Whether it’s my peers at Fallon, parents, or you, the reader – I aim to inspire more students to give drumline a try.

While the drumline season begins in late fall, my band director, Mr. Carpenter, brews on theme and song ideas long before the season begins. When the first practice comes, everyone has a shot to try out different percussion instruments such as bass drums, snare drums, and tenor drums (quads). Students even have the option to be in the pit where they can play instruments such as a piano, guitar, xylophone, drum set, and countless others. Everyone has a chance to learn how to play different percussion instruments and are informed of the correct technique and approach. Mr. Carpenter arranges and provides the music that corresponds with the theme of our show. Fallon’s theme for 2014 is “surfing”, so we play songs such as Wipeout and Pipeline.

Fallon Middle School Drumline 2After a couple of rehearsals focused on becoming familiar with our instruments and songs, we begin marching practice. Mastering the correct way to march takes more hard work and practice than most people think. You must keep an equal step size while making sure you’re not swaying your upper body. You must also stay in the same step with everyone else who is marching and ensure you are stepping in tempo. However, it doesn’t end there. You must march correctly while playing the music accurately, and from memory. It isn’t easy, keeping all of this in the back of your head. However, after a couple years, marching in time and playing in tempo becomes a habit.

At the beginning of every winter percussion season, Mr. Carpenter holds one seven-hour super rehearsal where we learn the drill he created. A drill in drumline is a choreographed pattern of marching written specifically for the music being performed. When we learn a drill, we start off slow – learning where we stand to begin the show and where we move set by set. By the end of the super rehearsal, we have learned the drill to all of the songs and have done several run-throughs playing along with the pit. Everyone leaves that day feeling confident and excited to perform. And before you know it, the thrill of competition approaches.

At competitions, each drumline competes in their division and are judged and given a score based on several categories (such as percussion analysis and visual appeal). The judges also give feedback so that we can improve our show, which is what takes place at our rehearsals. We clean up certain aspects of our show, change the drill, improve our marching, and work on playing musically and accurately. Each of our rehearsals is a ton of hard work.

Fallon Middle School Drumline Warm-upAfter all of the experiences I’ve had in middle school, I can safely say that nothing beats the feeling of showing the audience what the Fallon drumline has achieved. Each time we perform, I get an overwhelming feeling of pride – seeing people in the audience smiling and moving to the beat of our show. Although winter percussion is a competition against other schools to get the highest score, it is also a competition against your own drumline to improve each performance and to beat your previous score.

My 8th grade percussion season is coming to a quick close, with only one more competition before California Color Guard Circuit (CCGC) championships. This last competition happens to be here in Dublin, right at Fallon Middle School on Saturday March 8! Fallon is hosting an all day winter color guard and percussion show with over fifty schools attending. This show will include performances by the Fallon, Wells and Dublin High School color guard and drumline teams.

Going into drumline in 6th grade, I had no idea of all the new friends I’d make and the memories I would form. I can see that not just in Fallon, but in Wells and Dublin High as well, everyone who participates in winter percussion form more than just a drumline, they become a family. These three years of drumline have not only taught me how to play and march, but they have taught me how to work hard and the value of teamwork. My final wish as my time at Fallon soon comes to a close is that everyone who is planning on joining winter percussion has the same marvelous experience I’ve had.

  1. Katherine Utsumi permalink
    March 4, 2014 7:40 am

    Thank you Evvie for this wonderful piece. If families and student musicians read your well articulated article and are “on the fence” about joining drumline this is just the thing to get them to sign up.Congratulations on a great season and best of luck on Saturday. We hope you are considering joining DHS Drumline next year. The Irish Guard would love to have you.

  2. Aileen Parsons permalink
    March 4, 2014 1:53 pm

    Great story, Evelyn! You and your fellow students at Fallon are doing amazing things!! Kudos to Mr. Carpenter for all his hard work.

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