By Mike Pankonien
Video by Eric Park and Adam Borel
After working and practicing for three years, Kenzie Hitz finally got a chance to try out for the Coppell High School percussion program this May. You see, Hitz is an eighth grader this year who will be moving up into her freshmen year of high school next year.
Hitz has taken part in the Coppell Middle School East percussion program for three years, learning to play a variety of instruments such as xylophone, bass drum, snare drum, and marimba. And now all her hard work has finally paid off, at the yearly CHS percussion tryouts.
“Playing for the East [Middle School] band has been tough, but it’s definitely paid off here,” Hitz said. “I’m having to show how I compare with a bunch of other players so it’s really a show of how much work you’ve put into it.”
Hitz isn’t here on the May 4 by herself; along with her are a total of 25 other students, including some returning upperclassmen. Leading the tryouts are percussion director Alan Miller and assistant percussion director Mike Hodges.
Working in the main hall of the band hall, the students work on varying instruments while Hodges leads them in warm-ups and selected pieces that they are to perform. Miller slowly paces around the group listening to the ensemble as a whole and sometimes to one individual in particular.
“We got a packet with a bunch of different things the directors want to hear us play,” Hitz said. “They’re looking for who’s going to play best on what instrument, so they’ll have us switching up a lot.”
The group is split into three varying sections: snare line, bass line, tenor drums and pit section, with the pit section made up of xylophones and marimbas. While the students may have begun the tryouts on one instrument in particular, the group periodically switches around to different instruments to ensure the directors hear every student on each instrument. Occasionally a student will be directed to a new instrument or to switch with another student by the directors.
“These tryouts have really been going on for longer than what you’re seeing here,” senior Sarah Johnson said. “The directors have been hosting practices where they work through the music with the students trying out. That’s just as much a part of the tryouts.”
Tryouts aren’t just important for incoming freshmen; there were incoming sophomores and juniors attending as well. Sophomore A.J. Johnson has his own reasons for attending tryouts again this year.
“I played on the bass line last year,” Johnson said. “This year I’m hoping to impress the directors enough to move up on to the snare line.”
Although the main tryout started at 4 p.m. and ends at 6 p.m., the group spends all of that time constantly playing. By the end of the tryouts Miller has spoken to every student directly at least once. He is stern, and while he will correct a student lightly enough after the first mistake, making the same mistake a second time will cause some serious trouble. Here the students learn that there is a huge difference between middle school bands and high school bands; even the slightest mistake can easily result in unwanted attention.
The rhythms are difficult and not every student is cut out for each instrument. The xylophones and marimbas practice playing holding two sticks in each hand; snare players face off in showdown staring contests with Mr. Miller as the players drum off tens of notes a beat. The bass drums memorize and work around the same pattern, each player switching around the drums or beats or time.
“I’ve been working with these kids either at the individual middle schools or here at the High schools,” Miller said. “Now that I’m getting to look at all of them together, I’m really getting to see what I’ll be working with for next year.”
After delivering another angry harangue, Miller tosses his drum sticks behind him, turns his back on the student and calmly says, “OK, here we go. I lost my sticks; can you start them off Mr. Hodges?”