CNE percussionists feel the beat at international convention
By Dick Maloney
Clermont Northeastern High School musicians love to perform, and they’re not afraid of a little competition. They were able to experience both in November in Indianapolis.
For the second consecutive year, CNE sent a group to the Percussive Arts Society International Convention in the Indiana capital, where the school’s drumline went against similar groups from across the country. They didn’t win, but band director Chris Moore said the experience was invaluable for the 41 members who attended.
“It gives them that competitive aspect of something you can go to. It’s neat for them to see another drumline. Something to prepare,” he said.
Drumlines are the percussion section of a band – snare drums, bass drums, cymbals etc … Moore conducted auditions to select who would represent the school at the convention. Thirty musicians competed and 11 others accompanied. This being their second trip to the event, Moore was better able to prepare his drumline.
“Last year I found out about this drumline battle, and we have a pretty good drumline, so I said, ‘Oh, let’s go check it out,’” Moore said. He was teaching a musical arranging class at the time and Moore asked a former student to help write some pieces for the group to perform.
“That was last year. This year, we started integrating things early in the marching season, in our full marching band show when the percussion would do a drum break, it was part of the material that we were going to play later, so we were partly trying to prep them ahead of time,” Moore said.
The competition is in a single-elimination, bracket-style format, with all bands in the same field – rather high school, college or community. Indiana University, for example, was one the participating drumlines. Another drumline, from Texas, has performed at the largest haunted house in Texas and was two-time defending champion, but lost to IU in the first round.
CNE had a first-round “bye” before competing against the Free Players Drum Corps from New York. Free Players is made up of special needs students.
“They had the crowd on their side. They had a lot of parents there. It’s a really neat group, I guess they’ve been together for about 10 years working,” Moore said,
Crowd reaction was one of three criteria by which groups were judged. Technical ability and showmanship were the others.
“I’m not a percussion player, I’m a trumpet player, so the showmanship part is like the easiest part for me to envision. Sometimes our kids are passive about it and sometimes it’s the technique that’s lacking, so when you’re going against like Indiana University, their technical ability is amazing, so if we were going against them, you’d have to rely on showmanship or the crowd reaction to win,” Moore said.
Each head-to-head battle is about 15 minutes long, in a kind of “dueling banjos” setup. The first group, determined by coin toss, will play for a few minutes, then give way to the second, and back-and-forth one more time.
While his team did not advance (there was no consolation bracket), Moore said they received positive reviews from event organizers.
The convention included a large exhibit hall and several clinics musicians could attend. Carlos Santana’s wife, Cindy Blackman, was among the featured guests in 2018.
“The cool thing is our kids kind of turned around quickly. Last year when we lost they felt bad and then they kind of picked themselves up and we went to some of the expos and saw all the different things going on. This year, I knew that was there regardless of what happened,” Moore said.
“A lot of the work we’ve done in the school with restorative practices and doing circles and relationship building really paid off on that day and when we came back. We had a circle just to talk it out real quick, kids responded pretty well. They acted like I expected them to act. To the best of their abilities.”
Members also prepared a handbook for future competitions.
“Drummers almost stand still, in our band the kids dance, so that’s not really any uniform thing for the drums, so we came up with terminology, it’s almost like a handbook, the drum movement terminology, so we have that moving forward, which is a cool thing that we kind of developed,” Moore said.