Sunday, May 27, 2012

Feeling The Beat With Hamilton Area Drumlines

Just when I was getting my head wrapped around the idea of two secondary school drumlines in the area -- Burlington's M. M. Robinson Percussion and Hamiltons' St. Mary's Crusaders -- being in existence, yesterday's Ontario Drumline Finals at St. Michael's College School blew my mind.

Totally. Blew. My. Mind.

Why? Because of the energy, the showmanship, and the obvious
musical commitment of their young musicians and their dedicated directors.

The recently organized Ontario Drumline Association has proven today that it has got the ability and the people power to put drumlines onto the map of music education and community music-making across the province. After a few years of grass-roots efforts made up of local workshops and clinics, engagement of a variety of drum corps alumni, many of whom are now teaching in schools, coupled with some strategic sponsorship by Yamaha and music stores, the ODA has proven that it is ready to  "enter the stage for competition."

Not that drumlines are JUST about competition... (of course not. They're about good citizenship, community building, values, work ethics, social skills, etc.) But without competitions or shows? ...aaah it wouldn't be nearly as much fun, now would it?

Hamilton had two groups competing in yesterday's finals, and they know what it means to compete while also putting on a great show.

I'll rave, boast and brag for a couple of minutes and you'll get the idea.

Showmanship? No problem. First we have the MM Robinson Percussion group, directed by Carolyn French and Andrew Thies, accompanied by a five-man electrical band, three vibraphones, two marimbas and xylophone. Thirty members in total. With a unique stage setting created by unfolding a performance floor mat in the White Stripes colours, this marching percussion ensemble commanded my attention.

MM Robinson Percussion
Their repertoire "Under Great Northern Lights - A Tribute to the White Stripes" was a unique composition arranged specially for the group, which made sure that each section was featured. With the flexibility of movement that the marching category provides, each section presented itself at centre front in alignment with each other and with the music. Dynamic control was excellent, and visual appeal was constant, especially with the rock band up front!

Moving onto the St. Mary's Crusaders, directed by Corey Pearce, comprised of 23 members. In its second year of existence, the ensemble has taken the concept of showmanship and run with it. There were so many visual and sonic surprises that I didn't want to turn away for a second.

St. Mary's Crusaders
Risers brought the bass drums out of the background effectively. Banners provided visual framing and backdrop. Tonal colours were explored using rim shots, voice, body sounds, cowbells, boomwhackers, tambourines, bouncing balls, and electronic drums providing crisp high ends like supersonics rim shots.

Visual surprises were entertaining and showed the Crusaders had a confidence exceeding their brief history. Things like backflips after solos, face paint, blindfolds and elastic straps on the bass drum mallets all worked effectively, without being cheesy. The entire group was animated and gave their bodies up to the groove and the energy, which made sense with their informal and fun approach.  And there is no doubt about the "fun" that they were having!

The Crusaders Snare Drum Line
Cadre Warms Up
Pearce tells me that his group is made up of students who took to the program decisively when shown just how much fun and great entertainment can come out of good, hard work. I look forward to seeing what this group will do when it chooses to present itself in a more formal and rudimental style. No doubt their leader is capable of either approach.

The seven member "senior expert" group Cadre, performing for exhibition only, drew a standing ovation with their nearly flawless rudimental execution of "New Day For You." I was impressed by the fact that the audience, comprised of parents and fellow percussionists who probably are seeing a precision drum competition for the second or third time, are already aware of what is "good" in the world of drumline.

Now having completed the "audience education" part of its agenda, and also having recruited and convinced its team of teacher/leaders, satisfied the equipment providers that there is a market, and having sold hundreds of students on the great idea of drumline, the Ontario Drumline Association is posed to move decisively forward into the future, well-dressed and moving with precision.

I know next year will be amazing. More amazing.

This review will be published in Greater Hamilton Musician Magazine on June 15, 2012 as part of a feature on precision drumming. Subscriptions are free when requested. There is a form on this Music Biz Bits blog at the top. Please take a second to share this article with your friends. - Glen Brown

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