Percussion and performance: Winter drumline getting ready to take on the competition

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Members of the stationary percussion or “front ensemble” of Southgate Anderson’s High School’s winter drumline practice Sept. 27 in the band room. Shown are 17-year-old senior Gabby Beltran (left), 15-year-old sophomore Danielle Maniaci, 16-year-old junior Emily Adkins, 17-year-old senior Giancarlo Salerno, and 14-year-old freshman Sarah Chapman.

Sunday Times Newspapers

SOUTHGATE – It’s a dark, rainy Sunday night, and for the next three hours, 26 teens will voluntarily march, drill, practice and obey orders.

The teen percussionists are members of Southgate Anderson High School’s winter drumline, one of the only winter drumlines in the area, and are hard at work preparing for their upcoming seventh competition season.

Drumline Assistant Director John Dusik said the Southgate Anderson drumline members’ ability to have fun sets them apart from other teams at competitions.

“A lot of kids just really like to go out there and… have a lot of fun when they play, and I think that comes out in the music and sets them apart.”

The drumline placed first in the Percussion Scholastic “A” Michigan State Championships in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and finished 12th out of 68 scholastic teams at a Winter Guard International world competition in 2009 in Dayton, Ohio.

Scholastic “A” teams are students from one high school and several middle schools feeding into that high school, with no outside recruits.

The percussion students, in grades seven to 12, work 12 to 20 hours a week in the evening from late November to mid-April preparing for regional and national competitions.

Winter drumline’s stationary front ensemble focuses on melody while the moving battery of drums and cymbals focuses on rhythm.

The stationary front ensemble practices in the band room on mallet instruments like the marimba, vibraphone and xylophone, along with a synthesizer, bells, drum set and an electronic base guitar.

The battery, a moving percussion section practices synchronized moves on the field to create a visual effect with bass drums, cymbals, tenor drums and snare drums.

“Anything at its highest level is fun, and these kids get an opportunity to go on a main stage at Grand Nationals competition… and represent not only themselves but the community,” Director Paul Loos, who arranges the music and designs the show with the input of the drumline staff, said. Loos started with the Southgate Anderson drumline this year, and has worked since 2000 with other drumlines.

He said some of the seniors were with the drumlines when they took 12th place in the Scholastic “A” Winter Guard International, WGI, world semi-finals in April 2009 in Dayton.

This season the winter drumline is scheduled to compete in four regional competitions, Michigan state finals and a world competition.

Matthew Wheeler, a 16-year-old junior, said he has committed much of his time and energy to the drumline. He said he became hooked on drumline in sixth grade when he saw them perform at his middle school.

Because the group spends many hours together working to perfect their routines, they have become a cohesive group.

“We’re all a really tight, close family,” Wheeler said. “All of us respect and care for one another even though sometimes we want to strangle one another. But in the end it all just comes down to the feeling you get after (you do well in) a competition… there’s just no other feeling like it in the world.”

Rachel Bost, a 17-year-old senior, has been in drumline for four years. She said they practice for at least three and a half hours three school nights a week in the beginning of the season, and seven or more hours on Saturdays and Sundays as well as during school holiday breaks as competitions approach.

“It’s really grueling and sometimes I just want to quit,” Bost said. “But when I think about the competitions… especially if we win… you just get this feeling of accomplishment.”
Emily Zaleski, who coaches the front ensemble, said those who succeed at drumline are committed, and have a lot of patience and endurance.

“You’re doing the same eight minute piece of music for months and months and months so you have to be patient… you might spend four hours perfecting three of four measures of music… you can’t let yourself get frustrated.”

Loos said a group’s success also depends on playing music to which people can relate.

“You want to do something rhythmic and difficult… but we want to make it attainable to the student and the person that’s watching the show,” Loos said.

He said he tries to design the music to match the personality of the group each year.

“This group… is very outgoing,” Loos said. “They don’t have a lot of fear.”