AK: Drumline

(Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA - Anchorage)
(Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage)

Imagine you’re in middle school. You don’t love math or history or any other subject. But there’s this thing you look forward to everyday after school. It’s called drumline. And a teacher at Clark Middle School thinks it can help kids learn about music and teach them some other skills too.

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After the bells rings one fall afternoon, kids flood out of Clark Middle School. But about 30 of them stay behind in the multipurpose room, preparing to practice.

They set down their backpacks, chat with their friends and strap on their drum sets. Some heft mighty bass drums while others grab sets of shiny brass cymbals. The band director walks in and within seconds the students are transformed from talkative kids to attentive musicians.

“Up then down then up again after the next paragraph and before “leading the quad..,” the director says.

(Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA - Anchorage)
(Photo by Anne Hillman, KSKA – Anchorage)

Clark Middle School has the only drumline in Anchorage, though other schools are thinking of starting them. A drumline is the percussion section of a marching band, but at Clark they play alone. The program began last year, and students can’t wait to sign up.

During practice kids sit at tables until it’s their turn to play. The school doesn’t have enough of the four different types of percussion instruments for everyone. Even in the cavernous room, the sound is overwhelming.

Leading the quad drum section is a slight, soft spoken boy named Zaci Charles. He says he’s not really into any school subjects.

“Uh… I don’t like none. I don’t really like…none,” he said.

But Zaci loves drumline, “It’s just fun. You don’t have to – there’s really no rules, just make it sound good.”

He plays the quads, a set of four drums that, unlike the other drums, have various tones and pitches.

“It’s like more complex than the other drums and stuff like that. And I like it,” he said.

Zaci also likes teaching his fellow students how to play and keeping them in line. He may not like school, but he says he wants to go to college at North Carolina A&T because of their nationally known drumline.

His friend, 8th grader Vincent Miller, plans to join him. He’s not very excited about school either, but drumming is his passion. He’s the lead snare drummer.

Vincent says he picked it because it’s like hitting a table. Vincent and Zaci have written songs together and taught them to the rest of the drumline. Vincent also offers words of wisdom.

“Like say you’re doing a stick flip, the more you worry about it, the more chance you’re gonna drop it,” he said. “If you just breathe and do it without thinking about it, you have less of a chance of dropping it.”

Band Director Adrian Carroll says the drumline kids are motivated student leaders; he’s just there to give some guidance.

“There’s no students that work harder than the students involved in drumline and some of them – they just have such a passion and fire for music,” Carroll said.

Carroll says drumline teaches the students life skills, like decision making and confidence. He’s used drumming and marching bands to inspire students in Montana, Texas, and even Costa Rica. He says for students who don’t know much about music, he has them drum to the rhythm of words.

“If it’s a five, use hippopotamus or you use hamburger if they’re doing 16th notes. So you use little words like that,” Carroll said. “Things they can relate to, that they know. and they’re like ‘oh let me just beat the drum to this beat, this word’ and it tricks them into playing music without them realizing it.”

Drumline has inspired some students to join Carroll’s band class. He says that can lead to a little chaos. Drumline is about playing as loud as possible to be heard across a football field, though in Anchorage they’re more likely to be seen at ribbon cuttings and community events. Carroll often has to remind students that band class is comparatively sedate.

“They’re breaking out the drumline dynamics and playing forte, and I’m like “alright! We’re back into a concert setting so we need to bring the volume level, let’s bring that down to a one. My amp goes one to ten. Let’s turn it to an eleven after school,” Carroll said.

In the multipurpose room, he lets the kids make some noise, then teaches them to turn it into music.