The Drum Line: A Musical History
By: Haanya Quadri
Every Wheaton North student knows when it’s game day: the infectious sense of excitement spreads throughout the Commons, but they can feel the (arguably) best part before they can even see it. The steady beat of the drums vibrates throughout the school and everyone peers around to catch a glimpse. The drumline performs in circles around the school, the students’ stoic expressions and steady cadence filling the entire student body with confidence.
Mark Sheridan, one of the student founders of the Wheaton North drumline (along with Glenn Gros, John Huston and Darrel Hadley), was kind enough to provide insight on how this unique tradition started.
The drumline was founded in the late ‘70s as a means of motivating football players, initiated by Coach Rexilius and Coach Turnbull. They were interested in implementing the chest pound effect of percussion to intimidate the opposing team during football games before they even saw the Falcons. “By design, the line was to be a cold, disciplined, singular machine for the sole purpose of striking fear into the opposing team,” Sheridan remarks. “At one point, if I am not mistaken, we even got images of the opposing team members which were projected onto the walls of the small gym and had the players smash large balls of modeling clay against the wall. That was short lived,” he wryly reminisces.
Sheridan and his peers were primarily involved in the logistics of forming a drumline separate from the existing marching band. Much of their contributions were simple yet brilliant musical techniques that make the drumline what it is today. For example, the decision to have the football players walk out after the drumline “allowed the sound to change from a haunting muffled pulse to a crisp, tight drum corps style thunder that simply let the opposing team know that they had already lost the game before the coin toss!” Even their song of choice, “Wipe Out” by the Surfaris, was “written to be simple and pulsing.”
Sheridan and the other founders demonstrated tremendous initiative in adjusting the uniforms to make them different from the marching band, eventually assembling a brand-new drum corps style uniform. They purchased Aussie style hats, while white taffeta shirts were sewn by a mother of one of the members; capes and sashes were also purchased to match the Aussie hats. Sheridan remembers, “we had almost no budget. We drove to the supply shop on the south side of Chicago in Darrel Hadley's open dune buggy in a snowstorm because he was the only one that had a license or car available!”
Sheridan and the drumline crew went to great lengths to make sure the drumline was successful in all aspects. When teachers were unavailable, they would teach freshmen to march at Northside Park so they didn’t lose to the competition. The drumline performed at home and away games, several parades, Wheaton College, and even at a wedding! By collaborating closely with each other, the members formed close bonds with each other. Sheridan recalls that “the line was tight knit. We hung mostly with other line members...We all used the line to look to our futures and it worked!”
Sheridan went on to march in all four years of college. He relates that “the preparation and discipline that I learned on the drum line translated into academic studies, flight training, music throughout college...The confidence that came from the drum line allows me to play and sit in with bands from Cancun to Montreal, something given my dyslexia in my early education would have been otherwise unimaginable.”