Walter Chidozie Anyanwu
Students have tried to start a VCU drumline for years, but their efforts never came to fruition because of a lack of proper leadership, enthusiasm and resources — that changed in 2017.
Larry Cauley — who worked with drumlines at the University of Virginia and started one with the Philadelphia Eagles — along with a group of students, decided to take another shot at starting a drumline. By September of last year, they assembled a baseline troupe of two cymbals, six snares, three tenors and six bass players.
A year after assembling, the drumline is trying to expand its band of percussionists and solidify its position on campus as a bonafide musical ensemble.
All the band members have some level of prior experience with percussive instruments. Some of them have even played their instruments for more than a decade, including sophomore Mack Shank, drumline’s captain.
“I started playing drums when I was 4 on a drumset, and I fell in love with the instrument,” Shank said. “My dad played drums all the time so it was in my blood I guess … it’s a really good stress reliever and it’s really good for little kids with a lot of energy.”
For two years, Shank honed his skills by participating competitively in what he described as a “military-style” summer-long program with a highly regimented drumline.
His time in high school inspired him to take steps toward establishing a drumline at VCU.
“It was a big thing for me,” Shank said. “We got some drums, got some people and started from the ground up. We played a bunch of gigs, that’s kind of how we got on our feet.”
VCU’s pep band, The Peppas, has been around much longer, is well established and recognized and is an important part of the athletics tradition and culture at VCU.
“It’s not necessarily a competition,” Shank said of the dynamic between drumline and The Peppas.
“I wouldn’t actually say we’re any different from them because a lot of the people in drumline play with The Peppas in the games, too,” said Samuel Lewis, a junior at VCU and one of the clarinet players. “We’re more of a supporting group for them. We work hand in hand with them, and I feel like we’ve built a good relationship [with] them now.”
The drumline has already collaborated with The Peppas, playing at the last year’s Christmas parade and at the opening of the Institute of Contemporary Art at VCU earlier this year.
As the drumline goes on, the group looks to carve out a niche for itself and establish new traditions at VCU. Shank compared the group to the 2002 film “Drumline.”
“It’s really that style of playing [from ‘Drumline’] because that’s what appeals to VCU kids,” Shank said. “We don’t want to go and be too serious about it. We want to have fun and we want to put on a show for people.”
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