Drumming to their own beat
After a one-year hiatus JFK band returns with new instructor and drum line
Its dark outside John F. Kennedy High School. A handful of cars dot the schools parking lot. Most are owned by teachers and administrators, but a few belong to students, including a handful who arrived before 7 a.m. to practice for their twice-weekly drum line session.
The program is new to JFK, as is the schools music teacher, Kalyn Hanna. The two were introduced to Kennedy a year after music was cut for the 2012-13 school year, a decision the administration wanted to reverse as quickly as possible.
Mount Angel School District had to sadly cut the band program due to budget shortfalls, but bringing it back was a top priority, said Kennedy Principal Debi Brazelton. We were able to do so this year at halftime and look forward to seeing it grow, as students have been excited about and dedicated to participating.
Six students in particular seniors Brent Lang, Dalton Susee and Alex Stokley, as well as sophomore Kyle Kinyon and freshmen Kaleb Kinyon and David Wright have spun off from the pep band to participate in drum line.
Their rhythmic beats echo down the halls of JFK most Wednesday and Friday mornings before the student body arrives. Practice starts slow, with each student playing the same cadence. Their beats begin softly but escalate higher, then lower, before the students break rhythm and each erupts into his own part. The sound is chaotic at times, but blends together to form the familiar marching band sound one might hear at halftime of a college football game.
A lot of people assume that we just play at performances, but there are hours of work beforehand that we do to prepare that many people dont see, said Hanna. Being a musician isnt something you can become overnight; it takes hours of hard work and dedication.
Lang and Kyle stand at the quads a quartet of small drums while Kaleb Kinyon and Wright remain seated in front of a pair of bass drums. Hanna leads the group on the snare drum, the instruments that Susee and Stokley would normally be playing.
The two seniors have yet to arrive at practice, but that doesnt slow things down. The drum line is used to playing without the two on a regular basis, as both members split time between drums and basketball.
Susee and Stokley typically play with the drum line during the varsity girls basketball home games, but they have to leave after the third quarter to get dressed to play for the boys team. The drum line will need to be accustomed to playing without them, as well as Lang, when all three graduate this spring.
Hanna says as much to her students during practice, encouraging them to find fresh faces who would be interested in participating.
We could potentially have a much larger drum line, but we cant if we dont get enough people, she tells the group.
Ideally, the drum line could support two to three players on the quads and snare, four bass drum players and one cymbal player to open up more variety to what they play each week at football and basketball games. If the group fails to recruit new members this summer, theyll still be able to play.
We could theoretically have a three-person drum line, but we wont be very mighty, she said.
Hanna has received positive feedback from students, parents and fans of the drum line program, but as of yet, that support has not translated into additional students.
The commitment it takes to arrive at school early for practice and play late at night during games isnt lost on Hanna. She understands that there will always be a barrier to entry as long as drum line remains a volunteer-only program that works its practice schedule around school hours.
She would like drum line offered as an elective, a pitch shes working on for the coming school year.
I think the drum line students would greatly benefit from it since wed have so much more time to work on technique and ultimately get more complicated cadences, she said. The drummers I currently have work so hard on a regular basis and dont receive a grade to honor their hard work.
Whether or not the class is offered next fall remains to be seen, but either way the drum line will continue to play. As long as there are students putting in the time and effort, Hanna will help them learn.
Additionally, Hanna receives support from Justin Kinyon, father to Kaleb and Kyle, and encouragement from the schools administrators, who appreciate her dedication to rebuilding the music program in her first year.
Kalyn...brings tremendous energy and a genuine desire to grow the program, said Brazelton.
The drum line will play throughout the year, both to entertain crowds during halftime and as an audible reminder that the program exists. This summer, Hanna will offer drum camp as a training session and an opportunity for new players to participate before football season.
Regardless of how many students shell have on the drum line next fall, Hanna is excited to see the initial enthusiasm for the program and is hoping that she can work with the school to see it grow.
Although our budget is tight, the district helps out as much as they can and we usually make do, she said. We are much better off than a lot of other small schools and Im thankful for the help and support Ive gotten from the administration.