By Eleni Batsios
“Guys, we should just do a David Bowie show.”
These words from Drew Brown, director at Beavercreek High School, launched the winter drumline into their second-place PSA 2023 show, “Reach for the Stardust.”
Brown wanted the 2023 season to be memorable for the audience and participants alike. “Our 2022 show was pretty serious,” Brown explained. His goal was to make a show that was the antithesis of the previous season. “Something fun and uplifting, something that will stick with the audience and be fun to perform.”
“Ground Control to Major Tom”
The floor was calm before the hints of “Space Oddity” crept in. When picking music for this show, Brown stated it had never been more straightforward.
“Bowie has such an extensive discography, and all of his songs are hits,” Brown said. “We had a lot of options for finding songs that could easily translate in our show.”
The intro tethered the audience back down from their flowy trip to space as the music fades away, leaving room for iconic snaps and the bass line of “Under Pressure.” This was the jam session of the show, where the audience was encouraged to clap and sing along with the vocals.
A full battery moment signified the end of the movement, and a riff from the piano transitioned the audience to someplace hopeful with a soulful, inspiring rendition of “Heroes.” Bowie’s words rang out: “I, I will be king.”
“The source material was so fun for this show,” Brown explained. “It’s flamboyant, easy to obtain, and guarantees fun for the students and audience. It challenged us to think about how loud we can be musically while being nuanced visually. We never wanted to be dull.”
The audience watched this movement come together. Sparse instrumentals from the front ensemble supported a visual ensemble soloist while the battery members were in pods spread across the floor in an intimate drums-off moment. More front ensemble parts joined in as the soloist donned their space helmet. The piece climaxed to a full ensemble moment and seamlessly transitioned into the closer.
The growth of this piece encapsulates the season for the staff and students at BHS. The season started with a simple idea: a fun, memorable David Bowie show. As the piece builds momentum, so does the season: the music comes together, the props are built, and the members can watch videos of themselves in full make-up and uniform marching at WGI Finals. “We wanted to do something that felt scaled up but was still attainable for high schoolers,” Brown explained.
“That Was Hazy Cosmic Jive”
The show closed with its final Bowie song, “Starman,” and reached its peak as members ran across the floor holding banners. The rainbow props of Bowie’s iconic lighting bolt face were centered in the middle of the floor, and lights flashed behind them.
Brown values every staff member and designer who had a hand in “Reach for the Stardust.”
“None of this would have been possible without them,” Brown stated. “They’re incredible people, and I am so happy to have shared this season with them. Sharing that second-place win with all of them was very important.”
Brown credits Andrew Markworth for arranging and writing the music in their 2023 production. Ryan Ellis wrote the drill, and Molly Favret handled the uniform and set design.
The inspiration for the uniform and set design obviously came from Bowie himself, as well as the beloved Ziggy Stardust Tour. The pinstripe unitard and iconic shoulder flaps were styled after Bowie’s outfits worn on tour. The uniform was only complete with Bowie’s discernible lighting bolt. “I think they’ll remember the hassle of the make-up process,” Brown laughed.
Brown quickly discovered his love for the show: “The first time we did the lights behind the props and the T-pole banners at the Dayton regional, I realized this was the coolest show I had ever been a part of. It was just sick.”
“We Can Be Heroes, Forever and Ever”
Every student and staff member at BHS drumline felt like a hero the night of PSA finals, standing proudly with medals around their necks. “To know that there are kids in the drumline that went through tough times means the world to me that I can put that medal around their neck. They fought for that success.”
Brown hopes that his students walk away from BHS Drumline with more than a sense of how to perform in a winter drumline. “I hope they learn how to be very persistent and have a lot of perseverance. I hope they know that when something feels like an uphill climb, they can get past that.”
When asked for advice he might have for other drumline instructors who are looking to build a great program like BHS drumline, Brown laughed and said: “Don’t forget to fundraise!” He continued, “No, but seriously, the most important lesson you can learn is to stay humble. It’s about the kids, not you, and the sooner you can let any ego go, the more successful your students will be.”
About the Author:
Eleni Batsios is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Flint with a B.A. in Communications. She started her music career on piano, and then moved on to march in WGI Percussion for seven years, from PSA to PSW. She has played a variety of instruments in the front ensemble from synth to marimba. She loves teaching pit at the high school level and introducing students to the marching arts.