How do you transform a six-time world championship concert class percussion program into an indoor marching drum line? Halftime Magazine speaks to Daniel Fyffe, director of band programs at Franklin Central High School in Indiana.
The Franklin Central High School Percussion Symphony dominated WGI Sport of the Arts’ scholastic world concert class, taking home the championship six out of the seven years they competed. In 2005, director Daniel Fyffe saw the opportunity to challenge his students on another level and transitioned the concert ensemble into an indoor marching drum line.
Halftime: Can you tell me about the history of the program?
Fyffe: I came to Franklin Central in 1991 as an assistant band director. Before that I worked as a drum line instructor. I wanted to get the drum line at Franklin Central running.
A statewide percussion association for indoor drum line began in 1997, and we went in doing concert class. We placed third the first time out; there were only seven groups in three classes.
In ’98 we revamped our program and took a new approach. The first show we went to in the state, the judges told us we needed to go to WGI, and that year we won worlds in concert class. We won world class at WGI six out of seven years, 1998 to 2004. Somewhere during that time, I went from being the assistant band director to being the head band director.
In 2004 we switched to marching. Now we’ve done marching for three years, going into our fourth with a new staff. We medaled in WGI open class twice, were a WGI finalist in open class three times, state finalist all three years, and open class state champions of Indiana in our first year marching.
Halftime: Why did you decide to change the program?
Fyffe: Being that we had won six times, it was time for some new challenges. I surprised the kids and the parents; they were in a state of shock for a while.
Also we did get new facilities. When we first considered percussion, we felt the gym time would not be available; the color guard was always struggling to find gym time. Our new band room was the same size as a gym floor, so the winter guard and drum line were able to practice in the band room.
Halftime: What kind of challenges did you overcome during the transition?
Fyffe: One of the main challenges was trying to motivate and sell it to the parents. Sometimes you know what’s best for the kids and the program, but other people don’t, and people are slow to change. Most of the kids bought into it, but there were a few who didn’t right away, and some parents who never did buy into it. You’d think that after six world championships, there’d be a level of trust there, but there wasn’t.
For the concert group, we had no staff bills because I was doing all of it. So hiring new staff was another challenge.
For concert class we would just buy a uniform out of a tux catalog, and we never did anything with a tarp either. Now we’re at a point where we have a digitally engraved tarp. Before, we never needed props. Some years we don’t use them, but some years we’ve had pretty big props. We were also just starting to use wireless systems, and now that we’re marching, we do much more with that.
Halftime: How does the drum line view competition?
Fyffe: I think we’re really competitive, but we’re more competitive with ourselves and what we can achieve. We don’t necessarily aim to beat anyone; there’s no rivalry. Sometimes you get into it with one or two groups over the years, but we’re more curious about other groups and where they’re from. You’re not really competing against each other; you’re more competing for the same thing and trying to have an excellent performance. I think every kid knows the score, but as far as competitiveness, there’s not us versus a rival group. I don’t even care about that; we’re trying to get the best score and put the best show out on the floor.
Halftime: Can you tell me about the band’s recent performance with country music singer Keith Urban on his recent tour?
Fyffe: A member of Keith Urban’s crew contacted me a month before the concert and said that they were recruiting a local drum line for each tour stop and that we had been recommended. We’ve been very successful and have a great reputation and were fortunate that they called us to do it. The kids were ecstatic; it was almost dream-like. I think we did a good job of preparing the kids. We got to watch the concert, perform and then watched the rest of the concert. [The band played with Urban for his songs “Days Go By” and “I Told You So”].
For performing this, we had to be very visual. We had to get the kids to relax and get into it and look natural. We did a couple of TV spots and performed it for our own band and the middle school. I asked the students to stand up and scream, so the drum line could get used to it.
Halftime: How do you motivate the students?
Fyffe: I think given the history and success of the program, they’re buying into it. Early on when I first came to Franklin Central, the drum line had a reputation of being bad drummers. They messed around and didn’t take care of the equipment, but once they started getting attention and had someone dedicated to working with them, we improved their technique and started getting awards. They started to see that hard work really pays off. They enjoy the experience, and they enjoy performing at a high level, and they enjoy the hard work because they can see the improvement.
Halftime: Do you have any advice for other drum lines looking to get into indoor marching percussion?
Fyffe: In general it’s definitely worth it. You’ve got to take it slow of course, and investigate. If you’re not sure, you can take your kids to a performance or see a video. It’s worth the money to have a well-written show, written by someone very familiar with the acoustics, timing and effect of indoor. It’s 80 percent music, but you need to get the basic visual concepts in place.
A big thing that a lot of people do is overwrite. You’ve got to feature different segments; don’t overwrite the book or it will sound too boomy. Whatever voice you want to be heard needs to be obvious, so the judge can tell who’s being featured. The group needs to be really clear-sounding, especially the snare line. Technique-wise the judges will look everywhere. They need to make sure that every kid looks professional and is playing with good technique.
About the Author
Elizabeth Geli is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is currently a junior majoring in print journalism at the University of Southern California. She began playing flute 11 years ago in her hometown of Placentia, Calif. Now she plays in the USC Trojan Marching Band and has supported the teams at back-to-back-to-back Rose Bowls, the NCAA basketball tournament and as many other games as possible.