By Liam McKenna
This time, I’m going to toss in some random commentary in this font.
3.24.2015- Most folks probably think a snare drum gets tossed in a closet until high school football season rolls around again and marching band starts up. Others know it is a crucial part of a drum set, so it likely gets shelved until jazz season starts this spring along with everyone’s impersonation of J.K. Simmons’ Oscar-winning performance in the movie “Whiplash.” Few, though, know of indoor drumline. Southern Regional High School has an indoor drumline, and its show is as energetic as that Simmons performance.
This lead, or lede as one of my journalism professors drilled into my head, was something longer than I could have ever imagined doing just a year ago. I joined The SandPaper because its writing style was so different than a traditional newspaper. Well, there was also my love for Long Beach Island.
Fittingly, the drumline’s show for 2015 is titled “Plugged In” — and it’s truly a show.
“The lights, the floor, the big ramps, the uniforms, the helmets, the voiceovers: It’s been crazy,” Drum Captain Mike Baglio said.
Yeah, this isn’t just a couple of bass drums, tenors and snares lined up playing a little something like Nick Cannon in “Drumline.” Start by picturing a marching band standing on a football field. Take away the band. Replace that field with a basketball court, and squeeze the percussion section into it. Add drill, movement, for the drumline. That, at its core, is indoor drumline.
I really tried to have quick-hitting, descriptive sentences in that last paragraph from its second sentence down. The entire story, I kept thinking of the tap of a snare drum, and wanted that thought to be translated into my writing.
As Baglio hinted at, though, there’s more to indoor drumline in 2015. The drill has the drumline moving up ramps and choreography for neat effects. In “the pit,” which features stationary instruments such as the xylophone, there are kids working sound boards. There are enough sound effects during the show to make Yeezus himself say, “Hanh?” To be more accurate, director Andrew Wright says there are over 100 sound effects inserted throughout the six-minute show. This is a far cry from five to 10 years ago when technology was just getting added to shows, and critics would pose such questions as “Is this adding anything to the show?” and even “Is this music?”
I was astonished my Kanye West reference made it into print. I’m working on To Pimp A Butterfly references.
“We’re hardly ahead of the curve, though,” Wright said.
The sport has evolved much since Wright was a student at Southern.
Did the writer really just call this a sport? Well, the group does compete. It is part of Winter Guard International, more commonly known as WGI, which calls itself the “sport of the arts.” But you’ll read about WGI soon enough.
Anyway, back to the point about indoor drumline evolving: The sport element shines through as Southern’s drumline quickly moves across the floor while executing clean, complex music. The art can be heard when that music beautifully synchs up with the movements of the group. The art can be seen and heard with five huge, lighted pillars also synchronized to the music, and further seen in the group’s uniforms, which include helmets with black visors. The visors are incorporated into the choreography and add a sense of intimidation that Southern is about to beat its competitors through cold-hearted, technical execution.
This is quite a departure from the military exercise that is drumline’s history.
I personally thought back to some old DCI shows. My father will argue “it’s all been downhill since the 1975 Muchachos.”
“I’m all about bringing on whatever,” Baglio said. “I love it.”
Baglio has been with the program for five years — the group features eighth-graders in hopes of appealing to kids before they hit high school. In that time, Baglio has moved from the pit.
Within Baglio’s time with the group, it has perhaps changed more than Baglio’s role within it. He said Southern was featured in the scholastic novice class when he initially joined the group. For those unfamiliar with the world of indoor drumline, the keyword in that sentence is novice. While Southern was decent within that group, the program has vastly improved. In 2015, the group is far more advanced.
“Every single year, the shows have gotten more intense, more intense, more intense, and now this is the biggest production we have ever had,” Baglio said.
This is clear in the group’s numbers: It is 34 kids strong.
“Looking back, it’s like, ‘Oh my God,’” Baglio said. “You don’t realize that growth while you’re in it.”
As a captain, Baglio leads his group in exercise and is a featured soloist. In leading the group, he doesn’t feel he needs to be some crazy-vocal dude, like Simmons in “Whiplash.” He believes his fellow players are already talented and experienced to the point where he doesn’t need to constantly push them.
I just had to keep going with the Whiplash references. The film was decent. I was a huge fan of J.K. Simmons’ preformance. Yet, I personally perferred Birdman, Boyhood and the Grand Budapest Hotel over it in that order. I was ready to put money on Boyhood taking best picture, but then I saw Birdman.
“They know what they’re doing. I don’t have to babysit them,” Baglio said.
This growth is also clear in their results.
Over the weekend, the group competed in a regional competition out in Unionville, Pa., more than two hours west of here. From a field of more than 20 competitors, Southern Regional placed fifth in the preliminaries. Then in the finals, they moved up and finished third. They faced groups coming from anywhere from South Brunswick to the Poconos and everywhere in between.
However, Southern’s score over the weekend, 90.05, was also third highest in the nation, Wright believes.
These performances and high scores are crucial as the group prepares to do something it has not done in more than a decade: compete on an international level. On April 9, the group will be competing in WGI’s 2015 Percussion World Championships in Dayton, Ohio. While Southern will mostly be facing off against groups from across the nation, there be two international groups: one from Sweden and the other from Canada. This is the World Cup of indoor drumline, except it happens annually.
My sister is a color guard fanatic. The first time I heard “I can’t wait for Dayton,” the look on my face was one of bewilderment. Anywhere without a major city or ocean is not quite my speed. I followed this story with an indoor color guard piece.
The last time Southern went to the World Championships was when Wright was a senior in high school, in 2002. Baglio said the group typically has its big championship in Wildwood, the Tournament Indoor Association’s Atlantic Coast Championship. This is part of Tournament of Bands, the group in which the marching band competes.
With a much bigger stage and journey, costs were obviously a hurdle. Each member was responsible for doing some fundraising. This went toward uniforms, busing, hotel and props. The cost of the trip to Dayton is over $25,000. Wright was thankful toward the school’s administration, especially athletic director Chuck Donohue Jr., for making the gym available on Tuesday and Thursday nights. He also thanked Performing Arts Supervisor Richard Falletta. Wright provided the example of a drum head breaking on a Tuesday night and being replaced by Thursday at noon.
“If you know anything about how school districts work, that can take several weeks,” Wright joked.
Enough of that logistical talk — back to World Champions. When they get to Dayton, Baglio and Wright said numerous times, the goal is not to win World Championships. So what is the goal? Wright said he hopes that when the performance in Dayton has ended, the players have no regrets because they gave every ounce of effort they had in them.
For Baglio, the best part of indoor drumline is that moment immediately after performing in competition. Spectators are cheering. Sweat is dripping. Lights are flashing.
“You get so caught up in everything,” Baglio said.
Wright is hopeful that feeling will be taken to the next level come April 9.
“I think they’re set up to represent themselves great. Whatever that ends up scores-wise or round-wise … it’s out of our control once we get there,” Wright said. “Right now, it’s in our control, and it’s been in our control since we started rehearsing. That’s what we focus on: the process.”
“It’s way more competitive than anything we’ve ever done, so we really need to give 100 percent of what we got all the time,” Baglio said.
While that may sound clichéd, the point was driven home during Southern’s practice on March 19. The group ended the night by running through the show twice. After hours of practice, Wright told the group after the first run that the performance was impressively energetic. However, it was sloppy.
“If you back down just a little bit, someone is going to beat you automatically,” Baglio said.
I love that quote.
Wright says having to drive constantly is the toughest part of the activity. He explained the staff always expects performance-quality effort, even when the group is practicing a few bars in the 9/10 gym on a Thursday night. Wright hopes his players understand and apply that mentality to every other aspect of their lives.
“Anyone can get up there and drum, but to put in the amount of time and effort that’s needed in this activity … it’s not easy,” he said.
Applying this mentality may be easy for a high school senior, but keep in mind this group features eighth-graders. Wright did say the staff gives the younger members parts appropriate for their age, and despite the hard work required, the drumline does have a high retention rate for new, young members.
Baglio considers these demands to be what makes indoor drumline such a great activity. It keeps him active during the winter months and prepares for the outdoor season. He says the buy-in from the group as a whole has been tremendous through the years. He feels this is a product of the show getting more difficult year by year, adding it allows the group to improve as musicians.
While this pressure has always been present, it’s been heightened in 2015 due to the upcoming trip to World Championships. This pressure applies to the staff as well, Wright said; they have been preparing for a possible 2015 trip to Dayton for three years now. This year’s program alone has been tinkered with by the staff since July.
“That’s marching band season. Some of us are from different schools. We were meeting on the side to come up with ideas for this program,” Wright said. “If you’re going to go to World Championships — not that your goal necessarily is to win — but, knowing that we’re taking to the national stage, we wanted to make sure that we represented ourselves, the school, the area’s marching circuits and community well. I think we’re going to do that.”
Interested in seeing the group instead of just reading about it? A preview show will be held on March 31 at 7:30 p.m. in the 11/12 gym.