Tuesday evening was one of the last practices for the winter percussion team Impact but its coaches weren’t letting them off easy.
“How do we have four days left and we still have no beat?” said coach Chase Waller as the drumline rehearsed in a downtown Kennewick plaza while the sun began to dip lower in the sky.
For two winters now the 20 or so high school students and recent graduates have rehearsed at the plaza, filling the chilly nights with the thumping of bass drums, the ringing of marimbas and the snapping of the snares.
And their work paid off when they placed first in their division at a recent contest in Vancouver, the group’s first competition.
But there’s still work to do. The group performs at 5:30 p.m. March 31 in the downtown flag plaza before an open house at the Music and Arts Center of Boys & Girls Clubs of Benton and Franklin Counties. Then they head to Salem, Ore., this weekend for a regional competition.
But the students said they’re just glad for the opportunity to refine their skills and express their love of music.
“It’s just dedication,” said Erin Morales, a Kennewick High sophomore, who’s been with the group from the start.
Winter percussion groups have a drumline of bass, snare and tenor drummers, as well as players on rack instruments, such as marimba and keyboard.
Josh Peterson, director of the MAC center, started the percussion group last year. He described it as marching band minus the brass and woodwind sections and the color guard. There’s a drumline made up of bass, snare and tenor drummers who largely perform the group’s choreography but there are also students on instruments such as marimba and keyboard. There’s even a bass guitarist.
Also unlike marching bands and drum corps, winter percussion groups typically perform indoors, in gymnasiums, putting down tarps to protect the hardwood floors.
The MAC doesn’t have that kind of free space. So Impact has been marching around, sometimes in the dark under the streetlights and in the cold of winter.
“We have handwarmers and everyone’s bundled up and sometimes it rains,” Peterson said.
Peterson grew up in the San Francisco Bay area where winter percussion groups were often available at high schools, filling the gap between marching band season in the fall and drum corps in the summer. The relatively small size of Tri-City high schools, however, makes it difficult to get enough percussionists at a single school.
Impact’s members hail from Kennewick, Pasco and Hanford high schools, with a few recent high school graduates as well. Most have participated in marching band and drum corps but not all are drummers. Erin said there are members who primarily play the piano or violin.
I wanted to experience another part of music. It’s totally different from marching with a brass instrument.
Ryan Wheeler, Pasco High senior
Ryan Wheeler, a senior at Pasco High, plays the marimba and other rack instruments for Impact but has otherwise played trumpet in marching band or drum corps.
“I wanted to experience another part of music,” he said. “It’s totally different from marching with a brass instrument.”
Peterson and the other coaches have spread the word about the program through their work with marching bands at area high schools. It’s also how they cobble together equipment to use, borrowing drums and other pieces not in use. And members also do fundraisers and paid performances to buy gear.
“It’s definitely helped me become a better musician,” Ryan said.
And the teens are also setting an example for the younger students who visit the center for after-school arts and music programs.
“It’s created a new energy around here,” Peterson said.
While this season is nearly over, the program isn’t going away. Peterson wants to take Impact to more competitions next year and eventually work the group up to the world championships in Ohio each year.
Music & Arts Center Open House
When: Thursday March 31
Where: 20 N. Benton St., Kennewick
What: Student performances beginning at 5:30 p.m. in downtown plaza. Facility open house is 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.