Why I joined N.A.R.D.

One of my favorite pastimes as a high school freshman was rifling through the filing cabinets in the bandroom. Countless treasures were there for a young percussionist in the days before the Internet. Something that caught my eye and changed my drumming life was finding a copy of The Thirteen Essential Rudiments and The Thirteen Rudiments to Complete the Standard 26 American Drum Rudiments. After discovering these pages, I had to learn what this N.A.R.D. was and how they were in charge of deciding what counted as a rudiment. Internet searching was out of the question, at least in my small corner of the world, at this time in the early 1990s. Despite my lack of available information, I discovered that N.A.R.D. was defunct and had been for years.

My years in high school did not include learning many hybrid rudiments. I had no instructor with DCI experience, and the occasional help from my band director’s friend never included much more than shoveling a few basic exercises and a traditional drum solo into our heads and hands during band camp. It is from this fellow that I discovered that the Percussive Arts Society revised the list of rudiments in the 1980s after the demise of N.A.R.D. However, my primary instruction came from sources thoroughly in the world of N.A.R.D.

I studied intensely from the same texts as drummers from the years prior to and after WWII. My band director required evaluation from the Haskell Harr books, which resulted in a sound foundation in the rudiments. I soaked up the solos of John S. Pratt. I bought Wilcoxin’s All American Drummer to use solely as a sight-reading practice book during my sophomore year in high school in preparation for All-State snare drum auditions. During my years in high school, Alabama clung to the separate percussion audition format for All-State and District Honor Bands—snare drum, timpani, and keyboard percussion were all separate. My high school band director and others of the old guard liked this format as it supposedly halted the spread of jacks-of-all-trades, masters of none. I certainly enjoyed it because I was able to focus my energies on the instrument I liked best, the snare dum.

Initially, I worked solely on the breakdowns of the long roll, nine-stroke roll, flam accent, Lesson 25, the single drag, and the flam paradiddle, the required rudiments for Alabama All-State auditions at the time. All of this made the sight-reading from the Wilcoxin book roll right along and led to my personal drive to breakdown all the Standard 26. I made it my goal to earn perfect scores on my breakdowns, which I did at several regional auditions in earning spots as an All-State snare drummer three times.

Indeed, the breakdowns posed a unique challenge in that they allowed me the opportunity to truly master rudiments in a way that performing them in a solo or exercise did not. I appreciated the skill and control it took to develop the muscle control to make the breakdowns smooth and consistent in and out of my top speeds. I was fortunate to have acquired a cassette copy of the Arsenault LP recording of the breakdowns. His machine-like consistency appealed greatly to me and served as a guidepost to which I as a young snare drummer measured my progress. While I could not see what he was doing, I heard it loud and clear. I cannot say whether I would have won any contests for all my breakdowns, but I did well on those that counted at the times of evaluation. Because of the breakdowns’ focus on building mastery of the individual rudiments, my work on the breakdowns in turn helped my playing of the audition music, especially when audition pieces were selected from The New Pratt Book, a practice I believe since discontinued along with the separate auditions for snare drum in Alabama. Additionally, whenever any sight reading pieces had any rudimental content (a rarity), those portions posed no difficulty whatsoever.

Soon, I finished the Wilcoxin book, all notes in the Haskell Harr books had been played multiple times, and the pages of my Pratt books were well-marked with known trouble spots. I had since picked up John Wooten’s Rudimental Reference Book, several of Marty Hurley’s Phantom audition solos, and searched to the best of my ability to find more rudimental literature right at the time I discovered that this wonderful thing called the Internet provided some relief. The primary early sites I remember were Cool Drummings and Drumcorps, Etc. (Gridit’s page). These are burned into my memory, and I doubt I will forget them. I discovered them sometime around 1996–97 during my senior year of high school. Yet, despite the appeal of the modern material, I longed to acquire a copy of The Drummer’s and Fifer’s Guide and other traditional materials, which I eventually did as my experience in snare drumming turned from student to teacher. This time period also coincided with my finding Rick’s site at the early part of this century.

In early 2009, after getting Mark Beecher’s DVD “The Art of Ancient Rudimental Drumming” and the PAS Historical Drummer’s Heritage Concert DVD (filmed in 2002), I discovered that Mark Beecher had spearheaded the resurrection of N.A.R.D. I readied myself for audition as quickly as I could, and Mark was more than gracious enough to accept a video audition, as no active members were in my area to adjudicate me. While I do not live in a region of the country that allows easy access to traditional drumming and attendance of N.A.R.D. events, I will hopefully be able to attend events in the future. Membership in N.A.R.D. ties us all to a rudimental heritage common to all marching percussion in the United States. My enjoyment of rudimental snare drumming, the opportunity for connection to the past, and the possibility to aid the continuation of rudimental drumming led my decision to jump on board the new N.A.R.D. without hesitation.

I recognize that my background and entrance into rudimental drumming certainly had an influence on my interest—although I came of drumming age in the mid-1990s, the texts and style to which I was exposed were those of the mid-twentieth century; the DCI I first experienced was from audio and video from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s; I was largely self-taught through the Harr method books widely seen as outdated in this time. Nevertheless, while I immersed myself in the modern trends, I kept coming back to the more traditional style. The appeal of traditional rudimental drumming is that of a truly unique style and technique—one that needs preservation through entities like N.A.R.D., music like that of John Pratt, and exercises like rudimental breakdowns.