Okay. I confess. I was a drummer in a small-town high school marching band — and I loved it! I worked my way up from cymbals to bass drum to snare drum, finally able to play the solo cadences that kept the band marching together during breaks between songs on our hikes across the football field or along the parade route. Of course, we drummers kept the beat when the rest of the band was playing, too.

You might be thinking that anyone who could walk and chew gum at the same time could play the cymbals or bass drum in a marching band — and you might be right. I was always amazed at one of our bass drummers who walked (not “marched”) through every football game half-time show, practice formation, and parade. He was never in step with the rest of the band, even when he was (mostly) on the beat of the music. I have no idea how he managed to do that; it was a feat I couldn’t master since I needed to stay in rhythm for everything to remain coordinated. I wondered why the band leader didn’t sideline him, but it was probably because our ‘bench depth’ wasn’t that great.

Even if it might be relatively easy to stick solidly on the down-beats when playing cymbals or bass drum, playing snare drum is much tougher work — although, as Drumline most definitely points out, being any part of a serious drum corps is no piece of cake. If you were under the impression that playing in a collegiate marching band was for those who were not athletic or couldn’t make the football, basketball, or volleyball teams, you’ll be in for a huge surprise as you watch the rigorous training these musicians must endure.

My heart went out to these folks. I feel their pain — and I didn’t even have the fancy gear. I spent one entire summer with a snare drum strung from a canvas strap, like something out of George Washington’s fife and drum era, mashing my thigh black-and-blue, drumsticks making calluses on my hands, while I practiced playing and marching for miles and miles every day.

But Drumline is not a documentary, even if it uses a real occasion — a yearly “battle of the bands” contest — as one of its focal points. There’s a story of sorts: the movie follows a gifted street drummer whose challenge becomes growing up and growing into the top spot in a university marching band. He learns to deal with his past, with the competition for the slot he thinks he owns, and with the grueling work — ultimately, the creative opportunity — of making the most of his talent.

Although the plot is no great shakes, you’ll find enough comedy in this film to keep you smiling. But it’s the infectious music, the dynamic rhythm, and the incredible football-field displays of coordinated musicians that will hold you to the end. You may even find yourself cheering out loud.

Cast: Nick Cannon, Orlando Jones, Zoë Saldana, Leonard Roberts, GQ,
J. Anthony Brown, Jason Weaver, Earl Poitier III
Director: Charles Stone III
Theatrical release: December 2002; available on DVD

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos