Over 25 years, the Jurupa Middle School Drumline has consistently placed in the top five of its junior percussion competition circuit and has won four championships (2000, 2001, 2019, & 2022). This year, the group placed second, just shy of another title.
When asked what makes this a championship program, drumline leader Jay Hakomaki answered, “The dedication of the kids.”
In fact, judges are often surprised to discover that the JMS Drumline is a middle school group. “I think that’s a testament to how well the kids carry themselves,” said Mr. Hakomaki, who also teaches band. “The middle school kids are kind of the forgotten group. They’re the group that everybody underestimates, and I love it when they do something amazing.”
To join drumline, the only prerequisite is that a student must also participate in band, as reading music is a large component of the program. Otherwise, anyone can try out, even if they do not already play a percussive instrument, like eighth-grader Sabrina Avalos, who plays the bass clarinet in band but the bass drum in drumline. “You get to make more noise and you actually get to move around and do choreography,” said Sabrina of the differences between drumline and band.
The theatrical component of drumline is often what kids find most thrilling and surprising. “They’re marching, they’re playing music, [and] they’re acting,” said Mr. Hakomaki. “I think it surprises some kids because they think it’s just hitting an instrument with a stick, and it’s a lot more than that.”
Each season, the JMS Drumline competes under a different theme. The latest was “9 to 5,” in which the students portrayed businesspeople working the grind until they abandon the rigidity of the workforce and let loose in a kind of dance party celebration. “In regular band, it’s just a bunch of different songs that a lot of people know, but drumline...makes a story,” shared Cesar Ramirez, eighth-grade xylophone player. “That’s why I like it.”
Drumline members are expected to practice at home and attend after-school rehearsals twice a week. Rehearsals begin in September while the competition season runs from March through April. Apart from mastering complex rhythms that put them at a more advanced level than their peers in band, JMS Drumline students learn a great deal about responsibility and teamwork.
In addition to showing up on time for every rehearsal, members are expected to prepare the space in the gym. By the time competition season arrives, students are laying out the performance mat, setting up their instruments, and performing warm-ups without being instructed. “I’m always pleasantly surprised by how good they get at stuff like that,” said Mr. Hakomaki. “I’ve learned that kids can do anything you throw at them, especially middle school kids.”
Though the JMS Drumline has a history of success, winning is not the primary goal for Mr. Hakomaki. “For me, the goal is to get as many kids as possible playing music...to get them to do something that they think is pretty cool,” he said, “and to get them to do stuff that I never imagined I could do in middle school.”