Irondale junior Madline Marchiafava, who learned to play a percussion instrument just two years ago, now plays for a drumline that consistently faces world championship competition.
Irondale has one of the many high school drumlines in the state, and it has excelled on the national and world level. Ranked No. 2 nationally among drumlines in its class, Irondale’s résumé includes being the only Minnesota school to medal at the drumline world championships. The New Brighton school won a bronze medal in 2003. Last year, Irondale took seventh at the world championships.
Marching success doesn’t stop there for Irondale as the winter guard — the winter season color guard — has competed nationally and in world championships over the years.
Many other metro schools have plenty of success, too. Eagan, for instance, has won 15 drumline state titles and made the world championship finals three times. The Henry Sibley winter guard won a state title in 2014 and took runner-up last year.
Normally seen together in a high school marching band during the fall and summer months, color guards and drumlines around the metro keep performing and competing well into the winter months as separate entities. State competitions for both will commence with drumline preliminaries April 1 in Cokato, Minn.
Winter guard championships will be held the same day in Eden Prairie.
“A lot of our time at drumline is competitive,” said Maria Heuring, an Irondale junior who plays marimba. “When we’re at our competitions, we need to be ‘on’ all the time so that we can put forth our best product for the judges, the audience, and for ourselves. Similarly at rehearsals, we need to be persistent in order to keep improving our show.”
Drumlines perform with marching formations and choreography by a few actors and actresses. Using a variety of percussion instruments, musical genres can vary from heavy metal to classical. Winter guards have their own choreographed performances to recorded music.
Drumlines compete in the Minnesota Percussion Association while winter guards compete in the North Star Circuit of Color Guards. Contests take place at high schools around the metro and state on weekends. Similar to other high school activities, the ensembles compete in different classes based on skill level and difficulty.
Eden Prairie, competes in the scholastic world class, the highest class for high school drumlines. The class’ name refers to the difficulty of performances teams take on, said Scott Palmer, Eden Prairie’s drumline director.
“The line that defines world class is innovating the activity,” Palmer said. “We’re trying new things that have never been done.”
While some schools have their own programs, others have formed co-ops such as Grove Area Percussion of School District 279. Other ensembles come from independent music organizations such as Chops Percussion Indoor.
Drumlines and winter guards have opportunities for students of varying skill and experience levels. Irondale drumline director Paul Weber said only 10 of the Knights’ 45 drummers came to Irondale already playing percussion.
Among them was Marchiafava, who had been looking for another activity after quitting hockey in middle school. Friends encouraged her to try drumline. Her other musical experience had been in orchestra with the cello, which she still plays.
“Because it’s rhythmically entailed, it’s only helped me in the orchestra,” Marchiafava said.
Students in drumline log many hours, including summer practices, often outside when neighborhoods get serenaded.
“One time we were playing our bass drums in an area that was kind of close to some houses on the other side of the school, and some neighbors actually came out and were like, ‘Hey, could you be like a little more quiet,’” Marchiafava said. “We were like, ‘OK, cool.’ ”
On competition days, a percussionist’s day starts early and ends late after all of the loading, unloading, set up, take down and travel.
“Saturdays are pretty much always booked from 8 in the morning until 12 at night if it’s a show day,” said Marchiafava, who plays bass drum.
Drumline and winter guard members alike try to find ways to keep things fun even in the midst of competition and long hours.
“Whether it’s throwing around a Frisbee on breaks, playing music from our sound system and dancing, or our ‘hype-up’ huddles before our shows at the competitions, we always find ways to have some fun,” Heuring said.