The Driving Force Behind the Slippery Rock University Marching Rockets!
Some people are content to follow the crowd, others prefer to march to the the beat of a different drummer. Well, this is a site dedicated to the different drummers that I have been fortunate enough to work. This site is not merely another haphazard layout for a few photos and a list of names; rather, it is a careful study of the culture of the percussionists at the university.
Percussion as a culture? Why not? A culture is defined as an invisible web of behaviors, patterns, and rules of a group of people who have contact with one another and share a common language. Drummers have their own private places, vocabulary, literature, and behaviors, particularly this group at Slippery Rock University. To learn all this, I have spent several months studying members of the drumline and other percussionists after spending a season marching with them. Granted, there are other drumlines out there, but these drummers mean more to me than sources for a paper; they are leaders, consultants, and, most importantly, friends. I would like to thank them for always being there when I need them the most, both on and off the field.
There is something special about being in a band. A person can make millions as a soloist and become a household name while households are content knowing the name of a group instead of focusing in on the individuals in the group.
Ever since Aristotle's categories, mankind has been mass producing social labels to make people become aware of what they are and are not. People are stretched or shortened to fit society's abstract forms. Perhaps I should take the time to further examine the parts that make up the unique whole that is the SRU drumline.
I hate having to generalize the members of the section since everyone is different. There are six members in the percussion section of concert band and there were 12 drummers in the drumline last season, much smaller than average. The age varies from 18 to 28, with the slight majority of them majoring in music. The dress is casual and the laughs are frequent. They will often eat together and have slumber parties. Two of them are roommates and several more are planning on getting an apartment together next year.
Let us take a quick look at the leaders, Jim and Deanna, the section captains. Deanna graduated last semester and was a bass. Jim is a non-traditional student who will probably not be in marching band again next semester. They were both good leaders that were very talented drummers in their own respects. Together they kept the section running smoothly, despite subtle signs of strain as the season wore on.
Jim, a snare, always seemed a little more professional and serious than Deanna did. Shannon said that it may have been due to the fact that when he instructed high school drumlines he had to remain a little separate from the kids or else they may not have taken him seriously. Or maybe he wanted to associate with only the best and avoid others that were beneath him, but I doubt that would be true.
Deanna was a highlight of the section. She was 21, had her own apartment, and often invited the section over towatch videos and hang out. She worked at Copy Corner and was always copying the music for the section. She wasremarkably patient helping everyone understand the music and drills on the field. I really don't think I would have been able to survive the season without her guidance. She wasn't a music major like Jim, but I got the impression that she loved drumming just as much.
SRU Drumline Vocabulary
Accessory (auxiliary) percussion: the smaller percussion instruments, mainly ideophones, usually played in the pit. Common examples are the tambourine, triangle, and castanets.
Band Buddy: an upperclassman that is selected to assist a freshman during his or her first year in band.
Band camp: the first week of marching band before classes start in the fall, when we learn most of the music and drills and learn to work together as a section.
Band manager: a person who assists the band by moving the percussion equipment, setting up the field markers and podiums, and miscellaneous other odd jobs.
Bass drum: the largest drum. In marching band it is harnessed with the shell parallel to the ground so that both heads can be struck with mallets.
Battery: the part of the percussion section that marches in marching band. See also: pit
Beat: the regular, predictable stress in a piece of music that divides the rhythm.
Bells: a keyboard arrangement of tuned metal bars that have a specific pitch.
Block band: used mainly during band camp, the band members are spaced four steps away from each other to practice marching rudiments.
Cadence: the song that the battery repeats for the band to march to.
Crab step, crabbing: see side-stepping
Crash cymbals: a pair of large metal discs either played together (crashed) or struck with a drumstick (see: holding)
Cross-sticking: When one mallet is crossed over the other while playing to hit a note, used mostly on tenors and mallet instruments.
DHS: Drumline Horror Stories, a series of fictional writings by yours truly.
Dis Bitch: a ritual that takes place when a single zemm-zemm keeps making a mistake that causes the rest of the band to keep doing drills. One drummer will start playing a certain exercise, and soon all the drum line surrounds the zemm-zemm, playing the exercise as loud and fast as possible.
Down-beat: the regular, predictable stress in a piece of music that is usually the easiest to feel. Usually counted as 1, 2, 3, 4.
To dress the drum: to put the plastic cover on the drum for practice Drills: the individual marching routines on the field, where the members move to certain spots in a specified number of beats.
Drill sheets: see field charts Drumline: the percussion section of the marching band
Dum-dums: derogatory term non-drummers use when referring to drumline members.
Dummer: a combination of "dumb drummer"
Dynamics: the volume levels requested for certain parts of a song.
Field charts: the large sheets that show what drills are to be done when.
Field exercises: the practicing of block band and/or the drills.
Front ensemble: see pit
Fusions: a type of cymbal crash where the cymbals are crashed and quickly brought back together.
Gakk: usually a bass technique where the mallet is clicked on the rim of the drum.
Harness: the metal brace that attaches the drum to the drummer for marching.
To harness up: to put the drum on.
Head: the membrane of the drum.
Heel pop: when the heel is lifted while marking time, signifying an up-beat.
To hold for snare: when a cymbal player holds the cymbals for a snare to play on with a drumstick.
Ideophones: instruments that vibrate as a whole to make noise.
Mallets: 1) collective term for the large keyboard instruments, 2) special sticks used for playing bass and mallet instruments.
Mark time: when the heel is lifted off the ground but no steps are taken.
Off-beat: a beat between an up-beat and a down-beat. Usually counted as E and A, as in 1E&A, 2E&A,etc.
Perc room: short for percussion room, the place where the percussion instruments are stored.
Percussion: 1) the instruments that are struck or shaken to produce noise. 2) the section made up of percussion instruments
Pit: the area in the front of the field where auxiliary and large percussion instruments are played.
Plant the heel: to step forcefully with the heel to emphasize the down-beat.
Quints: a tenor that consists of five drums.
Rock jacks: a band camp activity where jumping jacks are combined with spelling out ROCK.
Roll stepping: a common marching style where the heel is planted so that the marching appears smoother.
Section: a group of similar instruments (snare section, pit section, flute section)
Section Captain: the appointed leader of a section.
Sectionals: a practice held alone by the members of a section.
Shell: the cylindrical metal side of the drum.
Side-stepping: where the weight is kept on the balls of the feet, and the feet cross one in front of the other.
Snare drum: a double-headed drum played at waist-level that has a series of metal wires running against the bottom head.
Strip the drum: to take off the plastic cover for a performance.
Tenors: a group of differently pitched drums attached to a single harness and played by one player with mallets.
The Barn: the wooden enclosure in the band room that stores the drums and other things used by the drummers.
Tonal basses: where each bass is tuned to a different pitch. Tonal basses play at different times so that a tonal melody is produced.
Toys: see accessory percussion
Up-beat: the instant that lies equally between beats, usually counted as &, as in 1&, 2&, 3&.
Visuals: physical motions done to catch the attention of the audience.
Warm-up: a musical drill done to relax the wrists and prepare the mind before performaning.
Zemm-Zemms: a term for members of the band who are not drummers.
As Typical a Practice as it Gets
For my research, I was permitted to observe one of the concert band practices. This is how it went.
The first song starts softly, and few percussionists are needed. Dan sighs and slouches down further in his chair, still playing lightly on his chest. Everyone else in the section give the music intense concentration. Dan gently critiques Liz's cymbal technique and Shannon jokes with her further. Liz seems to take it lightheartedly, but I wonder if she resents his advice. If the winds are asked to play by themselves, the percussion will still quietly play their parts.
The next piece is fast and staccato. Andy has to play woodblock and triangle at the same time, but each is played on different (and usually off-) beats. As Berry takes more time to coach the winds, the section is obviously bored. They anxiously shift their weight and wander around. When he suddenly calls for everyone to start at a certain measure, Andy is forced to rush to his spot. Once there, he is completely engrossed in his music; his eyes never leave the sheet. Jim practices his important solo run in the air but seems disinterested once the music starts again. Gina shakes her wrist out and looks around the room as the band takes itfrom the top again. She quickly switches mallets for the concert chimes.
Andy handles his cowbell solo perfectly and is obviously pleased, grinning from ear to ear and giving a 'thumbs up' to whoever is watching. He gets his whole body into the music: his toe taps to emphasize the beat, he nods his head lightly along with the music, and he conducts the few rests that he comes across. When he has to step away from the stand to play the gong, his eyes remain focused on the music stand. Gina carefully plays the concert bells as if afraid of scaring the notes off of the page. Her grip is light but controlled, and her wrists dance gracefully over the bars. Shannon takes to her mallets with more force (Gina said that it is the only way to play quickly) and beams a huge smile back to Andy once her passage is over.
The section quietly resets as the winds start the next song. Gina sits beside Dan to ask for some instruction while Liz retreats to a corner to look over her music. Confused about one section, she asks Andy for advice. Then she complains to me about her "gay bar: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4" Much of the music is repetitive. She yawns and twirls her hair. Jim checks out a spot on his arm with great interest. Shannon practices balancing a mallet on the palm of her hand. She sits on the floor next to Andy as he continues working out another piece on the floor with his hands. Gina seems to have a highly animated conversation with Liz without speaking. They then proceed to work out a ballet routine.
Suddenly, Shannon jumps up, hits the bass once, and then sits back down. Jim inspects his mallets after a particularly strong string of rolls that I could feel ten feet away. Andy's practice has become more animated as he goes over the tom-tom part on his knees. His long arms and slender fingers add an element of subtlety to his fluid motions. Gina fills out a chart saying who plays what on which song. Liz grabs a pair of mallets and, out of sheer boredom (I hope) does her imitation of canoeing and skiing, among other things, and Andy replies in the same manner. He has spread out a blanket on the floor to have better technique, and he is once again absorbed into the music.
Gina shows me her bass part: 16th notes and off beats! She considers it more of a challenge than her typical parts on mallets. Shannon carefully adjusts the tuning on the timpani for the next song. Gina makes a playful grab for Andy's hat, causing Liz to start laughing. Andy seems a little over-enthused about his triangle part. Next thing I know, Liz slaps Andy, causing Gina to attempt to hold back laughter spasms so strong that she happens to kick a chair over in the process. This only results in more poorly stifled laughter as Gina pretends to moon him.
Dan props his elbow on Liz's shoulder during a slow section of the song. Jim decides to readjust the bass and tweak the tuning pegs. When the music starts again, Liz gets her crash in perfectly and is simply all smiles. Yet Dan covers his ears and proceeds to give Liz some spirited suggestions. After the next crash, she gives Dan a dark look that causes Andy and Gina to laugh. Shannon looks slightly pained when Berry says that the last note will be held as long as he wants; it takes a lot of effort to roll that loud that long.
There is further reshuffling for the next song. Dan impatiently starts to walk away after Berry cuts off the band only measures into the song. Gina, a little hesitant to hit some of her bass notes, shakes her head in acknowledgement of her mistakes. She makes a sarcastic remark about the music to Andy, but her next hits are more confident. Shannon seems to fly from one instrument to another, quickly resetting her music so that she does not miss a note. Shannon yells at Liz for a gong roll, which she hurries to, and for a crescendo, which she supplies. Then Liz quickly goes back to her cymbals. Gina grabs a second mallet for a fast part.
Jim clicks out the beat for a few measures on the rim of the snare since the band was getting lost. The ending is fast, and loud, and powerful, and one need only look in their faces to know that they knew it too. And there is yet more resetting for the next song. Andy scrambles to reset his corner. Shannon says, "Run, Andy, run!" and he replies with a laugh, "I'm trying, I'm trying!" I guess you just had to be there. This song has a fast tempo that causes all the drummers to unconsciously nod their heads to the beat. Gina is going so fast on the xylophone that she leans over with intense concentration. She finally relaxes during a slower part of the song. She shifts her weight onto one foot and rests her hands on her hips.
Andy decides to start putting away some of the instruments to facilitate their leaving faster, and he accidentally gets a solo when one of the shakers shift as he moves it. Everyone in the section turns to look at him and laugh it off. I also noticed his gong technique: not only would he play the gong with it almost completely behind him; but to dampen it he would simply slip one hand behind the gong and press it firmly into his buttocks. No wonder he seemed so enthusiastic. How truly awesome are the myriad splendid powers of Andy's magnificent ass!
Slippery Rock Drumline Literature
Yes, while music may sooth the savage beast, these drummers also know that writing can manage stress in a thousand and one ways that hitting the skins cannot. The Barn is full of lists, song parodies, and other short odes to the SRU Drumline.
However, this year saw a sudden increase in percussion-themed literary works due to the fact that, basically, I wrote most of them. My computer says that the first Drumline Horror Story was created Sunday, September 06, 1998 7:18:00 PM. I wrote Percussion Horror Stories in high school, but they never recieved the same deal of success that the DHS did.
I was soon inspired to write DHS II and DHS III, each a collection of inside jokes and memorable events that happened to the drummers. Let me reassure you that these are fiction stories; no one has been killed and not all events mentioned have any basis in reality. I also wrote the percussion purity test, some ideas for slogans on our band shirts, and a list of what I learned in drumline.
This page was last updated on May 4, 1999
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