Banding Together: Brookhaven’s Panthers march to the beat of a different drumPublished 7:00am Sunday, November 17, 2013
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Clay Whittington believes that musical instruments should be made to last. To prove his point, the band director waves toward a wall of sousaphones (better known by some as tubas) hanging on Brookhaven High School’s band hall wall. He notes that the silver one – second from the left – was made in 1911. Panthers still make music on it today.
And while most of the band’s stock of school-owned equipment isn’t that old, it does help explain why, when funds became available last spring, Whittington was able to invest in state-of-the-art percussion pieces – five ErgoSonic Marching Bass Drums, to be exact.
Since no other high school in the state owns even one of these patent-pending instruments, the purchase has put quite a feather in the band’s cap, or rather, their plume.
Whittington’s assessment of the ErgoSonic, which is actually a new take on the traditional vertical bass drum, is quite simple: It plays more like a drum. The design change is easy to see – the shell is angled, which makes room for what enthusiasts hail as a more user-friendly horizontal playing surface – but the question can still be raised: why is that so important for the guys manning the mallets?
“Marching is a challenge with the old style. Side steps and other maneuvers are easier with the ErgoSonic. Bass drummers can now face forward like the rest of the line,” Whittington explains. “It’s a pretty big innovation in marching percussion, an area that has seen very few advances through the years. I wanted our students to have this experience. ”
Band Booster Jennifer Allen describes the drum corps as being “psyched” over the additions, an attitude that’s had a ripple effect on the rest of the band. “It’s incredibly impressive for our school to be leading the state in acquiring these new instruments,” she says.
The attention-getting drums are a fitting reward for band members who have been perfecting their half-time show since July. While other students were relishing the last days of summer break, these musicians were putting in 13-hour days at a two-week band camp where the physical demands, according to research reported by Reuters Health, are similar to those experienced by athletes who compete in sports like football.
Even so, 135 marchers showed up at King Field and stuck it out. Whittington says that enrollment number is the largest in school history, adding, “It’s approximately 18 percent of the student body, and as far as I know, that makes band the largest organization on campus.”
The band’s size may be a direct result of its ability to attract diverse participants. “One of the greatest things about this group of students is that we pull from so many groups,” Whittington shares. “We have students who are involved in athletics, drama, forensics. They come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, too, but everybody pulls together and it works.
“I think this diversity shows how important band can be in a community.”
Allen agrees. Her special-needs son is a member of the brass section, and being part of the band has given him a place to belong. “Band members at BHS run the gamut. It’s one of the few groups that is a true representation of the whole school.”
This culture of collaboration that both Allen and Whittington perceive may be band membership’s greatest benefit. “Being a part of the band teaches discipline, to be on time, how to work for a common goal, the need to put the group ahead of the individual, accountability. These are life lessons students keep when they leave the program,” Whittington says. “I stress that band members have to make right decisions because wrong ones will affect the whole group.”
A marching band’s necessary emphasis on blending in, rather than standing out, obviously runs counter-cultural. That, however, seems to be the appeal for many students. “You cannot be a selfish person and be in the band,” one trumpet player admits.
The five percussionists entrusted with the new bass drums at BHS may find it hard not to stand out these days, though. With a new look, a new stride, and a new standing in the state, it’s enough to make even the most humble Panther proud.
Local parade-goers will have an opportunity to spot the new ErgoSonic Marching Bass Drums for themselves when the band takes to the streets for Brookhaven’s annual Christmas event, slated for Thursday, Dec. 5.