Musical expression at heart of percussion ensemble

Photos by Daniel Vasta/The Herald
Northeast Dubois High School seniors Addison Kurtz, left, and Lisette Moya play the xylophone during a percussion ensemble practice at the school in Dubois on Wednesday.


DUBOIS — Even before Band Director David Fox arrived at the Northeast Dubois High School’s winter percussion ensemble practice after school on Wednesday, members had already hustled from their final class to the band room, tinkered with their instruments and dove into a synchronized performance of the group’s three-movement routine.

The Jeeps’ outfit is small compared to other groups that compete in the Indiana Percussion Association’s seasonal circuit. And while powerhouses across the state use the program as a way to highlight their strongest percussive players, Fox takes a different approach to the IPA contests.

Only three of the group’s members primarily play percussion instruments — like marimbas, drums and xylophones — in the school’s concert and marching bands. The rest step out of their comfort zone when they pick up their sticks and hammer out the six-minute stationary routine.

“In ways, I think this is an advantage for us,” Fox said. “It’s different, it’s new for them. The novelty of that helps push them. They’re good at reading music and they’re good musicians, it’s just a different medium. And that novelty really makes it exciting for them.”

Northeast Dubois’ marching band program has blossomed in the Indiana State School Music Association’s Scholastic Class in recent years. The Marching Jeeps have played well enough to qualify for three consecutive class finals appearances. Fox sees the winter percussion program as a way of further growing the players’ talents.

Northeast Dubois High School freshman Joshua Barnett, left, plays drums while senior Gabby Sander plays the vibraphone during a percussion ensemble practice at the school in Dubois on Wednesday.

On top of improving their listening skills, Fox said the kids are learning to become more expressive musicians — a skill that is often glossed over.

“It’s just kind of a lost element sometimes,” he said. “They get that stuff here. I really like that it transfers over so well into band class, marching band and all that stuff. It’s a part of the art that we don’t spend enough time on.”

After Wednesday’s practice wrapped up, freshman drum rack player Josh Barnett — who primarily plays trombone in other bands at the school — and sophomore pianist Dillon Cummins agreed that joining the percussion ensemble has helped them improve musically.

In the past month, the Northeast Dubois winter percussion group has netted mostly middle-of-the-pack finishes in Percussion Scholastic Concert A competitions. The group’s highest ranking to date was a third-place finish at the Franklin Community High School Invitational a few weeks ago. Bands are scored on their music, performance quality, artistry and more.

Top-ranked ensembles can advance to a finals competition later this month. But whether they make it or not, Fox wants the activity to have a lasting impact on his band members.

“I’m not too big into making those goals,” Fox said. “It’d be great to say the goal is to be a state finalist, but I just want them to perform expressively and be good musicians. However the points fall, however the judges see fit to rank us is gonna be their thing. But I want them to feel like they’ve grown musically. I’ll be a happy camper if they can do that.”

The Jeeps will perform at 1:09 p.m. Saturday at the Zionsville Community High School Invitational.

Northeast Dubois High School band director David Fox leads the students during a percussion ensemble practice at the school in Dubois on Wednesday.
Northeast Dubois High School junior Trenton Harrison, left, Dubois Middle School seventh-grader Dyson Nichols and senior Gabby Sander listen as band director David Fox gives directions during a percussion ensemble practice at the school in Dubois on Wednesday. 

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