Crash. Rat a tat tat. Thump thump. Click. Ding. These sounds fill Gentry Gym as members of Tyler Junior College’s Indoor Drumline rehearse their show “In A Flash.” They are practicing for the Winter Guard International World Championships that will be held in Dayton, Ohio on April 14-16.
According to Winter Guard International’s website, they are a premier organization that produces indoor color guard and percussion ensemble competitions. This organization was founded in 1977 and at last year’s World Championships, there were over 11,000 participants.
Director Tom McGowan decided to start an indoor drumline program at TJC in December 2006.
“We started the indoor program for three reasons,” said McGowan. “We did this to offer more educational opportunities to students and music majors. Secondly, the state of Texas has good players but there wasn’t really a successful indoor program. Indoor also helps bring up individual playing skills for those in the marching band and keeps them playing between marching seasons.”
Since the program’s formation, the indoor drumline has been outperforming four-year colleges such as Boston University and Penn State and in 2008, they were named the Winter Guard International Percussion Independent Open World Champions. Last year, the group was bumped up from the Independent Open class to the advanced Independent World class, the highest classification in Winter Guard competitions, where they were finalists.
The drumline also has sponsorships with Dynasty USA, Sabian Cymbals, Innovative Percussion and Evans Drumheads. According to McGowan, such sponsorships are a big deal.
“These sponsorships would be like if the football team got Nike shoes to wear,” he said.
Last spring, Dynasty USA chose the TJC indoor drumline to represent them at the Indoor Percussion Europe Championships, which were held in Crawley, UK. They were the only ensemble from the United States at the event.
However, such awards and accolades don’t come without lots of hard work and sacrifice. Auditions are typically held in November and they begin practicing during Christmas Break.
“We typically do a four-day drill camp and then spend three days learning the music,” said McGowan. “Then when school starts we typically have Friday night rehearsals from 7-11, Saturday rehearsals from 10-11 and Sunday rehearsals from 10-4.”
All of that time excludes traveling and competitions, but members say it’s worth it.
“I got into indoor because I wanted to challenge myself to a higher level of drumline,” said bass drummer Dave Matthews. “A drumline that takes performance to a new level and can look good doing it. It’s an experience not offered by many schools, so to have that opportunity, I am very thankful.”
Many of the members are from different schools throughout the state. They register for the class and commute every weekend for rehearsals.
“We have members from UT-Austin, UT-Arlington, Texas A&M Commerce, Stephen F. Austin University, Sam Houston State University, the University of North Texas and San Jacinto,” said McGowan.
Many people are behind the scenes working to prepare the drumline for their competitions throughout the spring semester.
Two people write the music each season for the drumline. Mark Reynolds, the vice president of Dynasty Drums, writes the music for the front ensemble, which includes xylophones, marimbas, keyboards, bass guitar and drum sets. Shane Gwaltney, percussion caption head for the Phantom Regiment, an elite drum and bugle corp that participates in Drum Corps International events, writes the music for the battery, which includes cymbals, snare drums, bass drums and tenors.
Karman Trotter is the assistant director and choreographer. She incorporates dance styles such as ballet to give the drumline smooth, graceful movements that transition into different shapes throughout the show. Richard Kearns is the battery coordinator. He coordinates all of the sections in the battery and also helps coordinate the music.
There are also several techs that hold sectionals and help work out music, movements and how to put them together seamlessly and effectively. The techs are Matt Pool-snare drum tech, Nick Beaudett-tenor tech, Rob Barcelo-bass tech, Savanah Schuring-cymbal tech and Andrew Lynge-pit tech.
McGowan credits the SSFAC committee for helping the drumline get needed equipment for this season. The drumline received $13,000 to update equipment.
“We are thankful for the support from the SSFAC committee,” said McGowan. “With the money we received, we were able to trade in our old, stressed drums that we were about to have to replace anyway and were able to get new drums. We were also able to get a new sound system.”
The drumline is already having a successful season. They have placed third in a regional competition in Chattanooga, Tenn. and have gotten higher scores this season than they did last season. This season’s show “In A Flash” consists of five segments and the concept is based on the thought that life can pass you by, so enjoy the moments while they last. Members of the drumline were initially a little nervous about picking this as a theme.
“We thought at first that it was a little deep. Some groups won’t touch that kind of material,” said McGowan. “But we were able to do it cleverly enough; everyone was able to get it. They bought into it and the judges wanted us to go deeper, which is unusual.”
The group is now looking toward the World Championships with anticipation.
“We put forth a lot of hard work,” said Matthews. “No matter what happens, in the end, the juice was worth the squeeze.”