It's not universal by any means, but there are a number of high schools in the area that compete in winter drumline. As it happens, Irondale High School, the school of both the Benster and Fearless Maria, is one of those schools. Fearless Maria plays marimba for the Irondale drumline, which is in the middle of an outstanding season. So what does a drumline performance look like? Here's an example of an Irondale performance from back in 2009:
It's an odd mix of motion and music; not surprisingly, the schools that compete successfully in drumline tend to have strong music programs and often compete in marching band competitions as well. Irondale has been competing in drumline for nearly 30 years now and is usually one of the better teams in the state. They compete in the Minnesota Percussion Association, a circuit that goes beyond Minnesota and includes schools from South Dakota and western Wisconsin.
Every year, the schools that compete have to come up with a show theme and a new musical theme, which can be a pastiche of existing music, or original composition. At Irondale, they've done both over the years. Last year's show featured some music of recent vintage. This year, more of the music is original. Students who compete in drumline often stay with the music and join independent drumlines such as River City Rhythm or Minnesota Brass. As with most things, the longer you are into it, the more elaborate the shows become. RCR's show from last year had a silent movie theme and was tremendously entertaining:
The practice time involved in drumline is substantial. Maria's drumline practices at least twice a week and usually most of the day on a performance day. It's hardly unusual for Maria to spend north of 20 hours a week at it. We've been able to visit exotic ports of call such as Foley, Elk River and South Saint Paul this year, and we'll also be going to the state championships at St. Cloud State University later in the year, where Irondale has a good chance to win. We are also thinking of going to the national championships in Ohio, which take place in April.
Participating in high school activities is much more of an all-in proposition than it was when I was a student; ask a hockey parent about the level of commitment in time and treasure required to have a child play. I'm not particularly comfortable about it, because at times it seems more like work than fun, especially when you are leaving the high school in the shadow of 10 p.m. What I try to remember is that the experiences will pay off down the line, because you can't help but learn life skills that carry over into other areas -- teamwork, dedication to a goal, the value of continuous application, persistence, and most importantly answering the bell when you'd rather not. It's been a great experience for our family.