The Beat – Where’s the Beef?

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In the last few years there has been a fair amount of discussion on drum forums about whether or not today’s drum corps, marching bands and indoor percussion sections are playing anything difficult in relation to what was being played 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. With all these discussions happening I thought it would be appropriate to talk about for this first column of "Where’s the beef?"

First of all, even though I can’t say this for sure – seeing that I wasn’t alive in the 40’s, I suspect that the guys from that era were looking at me playing in the late 60’s and early 70’s and saying "Where’s the beef?" Even though we played 250 plus flams in the first half of Berlioz’ "March to the Scaffold" in 1974, I promise you that because we had a bell and xylophone player on the field, appropriate "musical tacits" were being adhered to for over-all musical integrity. I can just hear the old timers, and I use that term with affection, on the sidelines shaking their heads in disgust and saying that we weren’t playing anything in comparison to their days.

As time went on, the "tick system" for documenting mistakes was eliminated by Drum Corps International judging and you could hear the disdain all throughout the land of rudimental drumming. Thoughts were that it would ruin technique, uniformity and that we would never hear a "clean" drum line again in our beloved activity. It just couldn’t happen in a subjective "build up" system where drummers were rewarded for excellence rather than penalized for their mistakes. Things moved-on and we all co-existed together as the new system was developed and sure enough – overall percussion playing seemed to continue to improve.

Equipment began to change the complexion of rudimental drumming as we moved into the 80’s and 90’s. Carriers instead of slings, match grip instead of traditional, the use of concert techniques in rudimental drumming – as well as the use of incredible musical attributes such as sforzandos, accelerandos, ritardandos, crecendos, decrecendos and the ever wonderful bass drum cadenzas! All the while it seemed that technique was still present in the majority of the drum lines, uniformity had not suffered and in many cases the technique was becoming more refined, more precise – with better teaching methods implemented.

Instead of members "picking off" parts or learning to read by "rote", everyone was a schooled musician – it seemed like as they came from band programs all over the USA and Canada to play. No longer were the performing masses kids off the street looking for something to do but serious high school and college musicians looking to embellish their musical resume by signing on with a drum corps and developing "monster chops." No longer were the drum lines marching back and forth up and down the 50 yard line but were actually moving in space and time all over the field, while trying to play incredibly sensitive, difficult passages. As the 90’s wore on, it seemed to some that we were letting things "slack off", lines didn’t seem to be as clean, they didn’t play the difficult parts and appeared somewhat non-uniform looking in general.

In the 2000s came the explosion of "indoor drum line" competitions all over the country. Now with 186 groups competing in Dayton, OH every April for the WGI Indoor Drum Line Championship there is a huge influx of new rudimental drummers. Everywhere I go these days I see hundreds of new students, drum lines and percussion ensembles. And this is what I have watched and I have learned from my travels…

There is "Lots of Beef!" The kids today play more notes at faster tempos with more simultaneous responsibility – such as thought process, musicianship and movement than ever before. With the current rudiments and all of the new hybrid rudiments available to them they play more, faster and with greater musicianship than at any time in the history of rudimental drumming. Yet there are still literally thousands more rudimental drummers than we have ever seen – not only in the United States but Canada, Japan, Europe, Indonesia and South Africa.

Yes, today in South Africa there are 17 new drum and bugle corps playing our style of drumming along with a unique style of their own!

To see the growth of rudimental percussion and the depths of excellence that is happening today verses when we were young all you have to do is go to the DCI and WGI websites. Go to the drum forums, such as our own or surf around to all the websites of the DCI, DCA, WGI, DCE, DCJ websites or even just do a search on YOUTUBE and you will be amazed at what is being done by the current generation of fantastic and wonderful rudimental drummers.

If you don’t believe me go to this link and check it out for yourself.

Here is a young man named Jay Goff. One of our clinician/ artists Shane Gwaltney discovered Jay this past summer at a snare camp for the Memphis Sound. Needless to say Shane was so impressed that he contacted us immediately. My point here is that this young man is 10 years old and he is living proof that "THERE IS BEEF! today in our young rudimental drummers and I salute them all.

Publisher’s Note: "The Beat" is a regular column that explores the world of drumming and percussion arts – written and hosted by Allan Murray. Allan played in the London Midlanders, Toronto Optimists Drum and Bugle corps before moving to California to play snare drum in the Anaheim Kingsmen. He has studied music at the University of South Florida, taught and/or arranged for such Drum and Bugle corps as the 1975 Oakland Crusaders, 1976-77 Seneca Optimists, 1978 Spirit of Atlanta, 1982-86 Suncoast Sound, 1989-91 and 1998-99 Boston Crusaders, the 1999-2001 Pioneer, the 1994 Magic of Orlando and the undefeated 1994 Empire Statesmen. Internationally He has taught clinics in Canada, United States, Japan, South Africa and Indonesia. Allan was a music arranger and Director of Distribution Operations for Columbia Pictures Music Publications now Warner Bros. Music Publications in Miami, Florida for 10 years. He has been involved in some form of the marching music activity for 46 years. On April 1, 1998 he joined DEG Music Products, Inc. as their new Dynasty USA product line manager responsible for all sales, marketing, research and design of marching brass, bugles and percussion. On August 10, 2002 he was promoted to Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Dynasty USA. Questions may be sent to Allan, which he may include in future editors of The Beat at AskAllan [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com?subject=Question%20from%20The%20Beat%20on%20DCP .

Posted by on Monday, November 6th, 2006. Filed under The Beat.