Steward’s First Ever Drumline to Perform at SpartaFest

Ninth-grade Harrison Gelber’s passion for percussion led him to form a student drumline at Steward.

This year’s student band performance at SpartaFest on Saturday, October 14 will be a little different from years past: it will mark the community debut of Steward’s first ever drumline. 

Led by instrumental music teacher John McAlister, the participating students have spent months learning new musical techniques and rhythms to put on a stellar performance for the Steward community. But none of it would’ve been possible without ninth-grade student Harrison Gelber.

Harrison has always had a passion for percussion—he has played drums each year at Steward’s talent nights since fourth grade, participated in Steward’s summer drum camps, and even played drum set for Steward’s Pep Band as a fifth-grade student. He officially joined Steward’s instrumental music program in the seventh grade. By the time he was in eighth grade, Harrison was not only the first Steward Middle School student to earn a seat in Middle School District Band, but he was also the first chair on both snare drum and timpani.

Last year, Harrison’s private percussion instructor invited him to participate in Midlothian High School’s indoor drum line ensemble that competes all around the state against other high school groups.

“Marching percussion was unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and I just loved getting to learn and practice it,” Harrison said. “I knew I wanted to bring it to Steward somehow.”

After several chats with Mr. McAlister and Head of School Dan Frank, Harrison set out to acquire marching drums for Steward. By the end of May 2017, Harrison had acquired three marching snare drums, two marching sets of tenors, and a marching bass drum at no cost to the school.

When the drums arrived, Mr. McAlister and Harrison realized that their newly acquired green drums had to be changed to represent Steward’s blue and gold school colors, so they found some precut wraps for marching percussion instruments called drum slips. In order to attach the drum slips to these particular drums, they would have to take all of the drum heads and hardware off the drum. Harrison and his family took the tedious project on, and now, Steward is the proud owner of shiny, navy blue drums.

Once the drums were in good shape, Harrison and Mr. McAlister came in over the summer to order all of the marching mallets, drum stands, hardware for the drums to attach to stands and harnesses, and new drum heads so they would be ready for the school year to begin. The drum line could now be a reality at Steward.

This fall, Mr. McAlister and Harrison were able to get some enthusiastic student percussionists involved in the activity. They learned some of the basic fundamentals of corps style marching percussion and got a few cadences ready for the events of SpartaFest. Beyond the fall, the goal for the year is to learn more fundamentals and cadences, do more performances, and reflect consistent, high quality musicianship.

“Marching percussion is a completely different style from concert percussion in terms of the rhythm as well as the physical feel of the drum, so it was a challenge for sure,” Mr. McAlister said. “I am thrilled with how far they’ve come and I can’t wait to grow the drumline and take on more challenging music.”

The drum line officially made their debut at Steward’s pep rally on Friday, October 13. Be sure to come out and see them perform at SpartaFest on Saturday, October 14 as they provide accompaniment for the Homecoming Court Parade at 10:30 a.m. on Field 2!





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