Irresistible Music

Guest Instructors Harvey Thompson, Ralph Nader visit Lincoln High School

5/2/2018 | TACOMA, Washington

Thunder rocked the Lincoln High School band room as the Lincoln Drumline did what it does best—make irresistible music.

Snare drums, tenor drums, bass drums and cymbals banged and boomed and crashed in a loud riveting rhythm.

To the untrained ear, it sounded impressive. Guest instructor Harvey Thompson was not satisfied.

“I want your face to shake when you hit that drum,” the burly Thompson said after waving the cadence to an end. “And do it until I say stop.”

With smiling determination—and shaking faces—the young musicians stepped up their attack. A full minute passed before Thompson called a halt.
“That’s a burnout (but) it builds chops, and it builds stamina,” he said as the drumline collectively wiggled tired arms and wrists. “If that was a minute, you ought to be shooting for 10.”

Thompson’s tough talk fell on reverent ears.

Lincoln’s drummers and other aspiring drummers know Thompson and his partner, Ralph Nader, as icons thanks to their entertaining YouTube videos and their Bring Your Own Style (BYOS) website.

The duo’s recent visit to Lincoln—funded by a generous local donation—provided a near out-of-body experience for the high schoolers.

“It seems surreal because I’ve been watching their videos for so long,” said senior Jermaine Hollins, a snare drummer and drumline captain. “It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’m lucky enough to be a part of.”

Nader and Thompson grew up together in Brooklyn, N.Y., played snare in the Hampton University (Nader) and North Carolina A&T State University (Thompson) marching bands and now travel the world performing and sharing their skills and unique styles.

Playing side by side, Nader and Thompson cover popular songs using the tight snare drumming, fancy stick-work and choreographed motions patented by the showy drumlines made famous at historically black colleges.

“We have been fans of Ralph and Harvey for  years,” said Peter Briggs, a Pied Piper in skinny jeans and T-shirt who teaches band, piano and drumline at Lincoln. “The students and I have been (wondering) what it would take to get them out here.”

The students can thank a generous Tacoma couple for the chance to meet and learn from their heroes. After watching the Lincoln Drumline perform at the Foss Waterway Seaport museum, Dan and Margaret Hannula spontaneously donated $1,500, which helped Briggs book Nader and Thompson.

“We were just blown away by how talented these young people are,” said Dan Hannula, son of Dick Hannula, the legendary Wilson High School swim coach who began his career at Lincoln. A conversation with Briggs after the performance added to their awe and inspired them to reach for their checkbook.

“He’s just such a charismatic person,” Hannula said of Briggs, “and we could tell he was making a difference in these young people’s lives.”

Nader and Thompson spent an afternoon coaching the Lincoln Drumline. The next day they performed and presented a clinic for the public. The Lincoln students and Briggs wowed them.

“You can tell (Briggs) is doing a good job,” Nader said. “They take it serious. You can tell by how fast they learn the stuff we give them.”

Briggs started the Lincoln Drumline a few months after coming to the school in 2008. The music program, stuck in a funk back then, needed a reboot. After meeting with students, Briggs decided a drumline class would fit with the school's new energy and academic turnaround efforts.

“The style and energy (of drumlines) is instantly engaging and entertaining,” Briggs said. “It’s high energy, and it’s a lot of fun. People see it and want to do it.”

Briggs, a trumpet player and not a drummer, uses the internet as his go-to drumming guide. He has developed a top-notch drumline program that has won numerous awards. The success of the Lincoln Drumline--the only high school drumline in the district--inspired Jason Lee Middle School to start one too.

“We talk about the relationship between hard work, getting better and having fun,” Briggs said. “Each feeds the other.”

The formula works, said Hollins, the drumline captain. “We grow and we get better and we’re drumming and we’re making people smile.”

Freshman snare Parker Butterfield put it this way: “There are times when we’re bouncing off the walls, but...we do work when we need to.”

Lincoln now has two drumline classes—varsity and junior varsity—that enroll a combined 50 students who must audition to join.

The drumline performs and competes around the area. It placed first in a recent competition at Sumner High School. The school hosts the annual Lincoln Drumline Invitational Festival. The drumline also performs as part of the school’s marching band, and its members double as the percussion section for the symphonic band.

Bass drummer Joseph Simpson has a simple reason for joining the drumline: “I love to put on a show,” the junior said.

Sophomore snare Troy Allen loves “going out and battling other drumlines.”

But there’s more to the Lincoln Drumline than drumming.

“It’s a brotherhood-sisterhood type thing,” Allen said. “We all depend on each other and trust each other to take care of our responsibilities.”

Butterfield said Briggs “teaches us how to be a better person through music. He has these words: intensity, integrity and impact. You can apply them to drumming ... and to your life as well.”

That’s music to Briggs’ ears.

“The culture that we have as a group is what has bred our success and continued growth,” he said. “My job is to use music to teach kids to think and be responsible. Music is a means, and I get to grow kids.”