Like many of you my first musical performance came via school bands. The one band that stands out in my mind is Marching Band. No other ensemble had the same level of precision and performance as the drumline. The camaraderie that existed between the members of the drumline was exceptionally strong. Although most of the drumline participated in other school bands, there was something special that happened when we were in formation on the marching line. We practiced all the time and performed in halftime shows, band competitions, band festivals and parades. We were The Keystone Oaks Golden Eagles Marching Band.
My first year as a member the school purchased all new equipment. I remember they were Pearls with a chrome finish. They looked cool but it was a polishing nightmare. The percussion instructor they hired was exceptional and he had us crushing our rudiments and playing his original cadences in no time. The first two cadences we played were called “T.E.” (his initials) and “Africa,” a tribal piece that gave us white boys some street cred’. We also performed a cadence called “D.C.” which apparently was a school tradition. I have no idea what it stands for but it was a jam.
I played on the snare line each year. My second year we traveled to Nashville to participate in a national band competition. I think we came in second place. I was made a co-captain my senior year. I was picked to participate in Pitt University’s Senior Day where we performed the half-time show with the Pitt Drumline. Those dudes were mind-blowing. I never saw a paradiddle used in so many ways. I remember we played a medley of The Who’s Pinball Wizard. I failed and tried to keep up.
That was the good stuff. I also remember performing in sweltering heat, marching in the rain and mud, freezing my ass off in the bleachers, having burning blisters and bleeding knuckles, dodging horse shit on the parade route and hours and hours of monotonous practice to make it all possible. The title of “band buddy” topped it off. Regardless of all that, we were the coolest section of the band, maybe next to the tubas, but it was close.
After graduation I attended an art school so my marching days were over but for others it had just begun. Music majors continued their time on the drumline well into their secondary education. Take my co-author and friend Rich Redmond (pictured above with me). Like me, Rich played snare for four years in the J.M. Hanks High School Marching Band. He was also a captain for three years. Upon graduation Rich became a member of the Texas Tech University ZIT drumline. There he played snare for three years and instructed the fourth while writing all of the drumline’s music. I asked Rich what the drumline meant to him. He said, “It was a great period of time to develop my rudimental playing and chops. That time created muscle memory that will never go away.”
This proves how valuable playing in the drumline was to both of us. It shaped my high school years and Rich’s college years. It inspired us as drummers and sparked many musical memories. Today, the drumline continues to influence me as a drummer. Many of the tom fills I do around the kit can be attributed to the drumline. I often approach the kit almost like a set of quads, playing front to back instead of left to right. I still practice my rudiments although they are nowhere near where they should be. I’ve even entertained the thought of buying a marching snare or a Kevlar drum pad. I do have a huge pair of marching sticks with rubber ends that I use to practice on hard surfaces from time to time.
With that said I want to thank our percussion instructor Tom Early and my fellow Golden Eagle drummers: Eric, Tim, Keith, Gay, Chris, April, Freddie, Jason, Josh, Rob, Mike, Jeanette and Gina. We kicked ass.