While most students at Christopher Newport University pay tuition along with room and board, the students on the drumline now have to pay an extra $400 to do what they love.
Coming into the competitive winter season, the drumline was unsure of their status on campus and was not even sure if the organization would be allowed to compete. With universities around the nation having to cut back on certain programs, the color guard and indoor drumline were both cut from the CNU budget.
“Because of budget cuts, they had to look at the performing groups and the amount of money it costs to operate those programs,” assistant indoor instructor, John Kronstain, said. “The university didn’t see the return equaling the investment.”
The color guard could not recover from this hit and was disbanded.
“They were trying to get people from other universities to make a collaborative guard, but that fell through,” said sophomore drumline player Alex Liddell. “They just didn’t have enough support.”
While the color guard did not remain in tact, support was not an issue for the drumline.
“Drumline had a lot of alumni support,” Kronstain said. “Everyone wrote letters to the dean of the arts department, and there was a swarm of email and calls to both President Trible and the dean.”
Support from Alumni
Because of the support, the drumline was allowed to continue on campus but now operates as an independent club not associated with CNU and has had to change their name. Phoenix Blue Percussion is still comprised of mostly CNU students, but there have been some changes.
“We have people from around the area drumming with us now. Some are high school kids, some are just guys who like to drum,” said senior drumline member Brian Pinkston.
Another change has been trying to get all members together at one time to practice.
“Indoor drumline used to be a class, but now we have to try and build around the schedules,” said Kronstain.
“With the new kids, they have high school homework and can’t always be here, so that has been interesting,” added Pinkston.
Hanging by a Thread
When Pinkston first heard about the budget cuts, he said, “Everyone was pretty down about it, but then right off the get-go everyone stepped up and made it a positive thing.”
The team set up fundraising activities and sent emails looking for donations to try and raise money for the drumline. Pinkston remembers that at some points they were “hanging on by a thread, but it was always more positive than negative.”
Kronstain has seen the students start to take more initiative and, despite the uncertain times, has witnessed the team come together.
“Students see that it’s all on them,” he explained. “They see that little investment they made and get very excited.”
He added, “Student drive is what keeps it alive and going.”
Even though the team was cut from the CNU budget, the members hold no ill will toward the administration and are actually grateful for all CNU is able to offer.
“CNU lets us use their drums, rehearsal space, as well as competition tarps,” said Liddell.
The team currently practices in a band room in the back of the Ferguson Center for the Arts but hopes to get practice space in the Freeman Center. The gym more adequately represents the kind of space they will be competing on, but because of the independent status of the team, this is proving to be hard.
The school does let them use the practice space, as well as the most important thing of all: the instruments. All of the instruments used in the performances are owned by CNU, and if Phoenix Blue Percussion wants to buy new instruments, that money would have to come out of the members’ own pockets and not the CNU budget.
Another aspect is the competition tarp, which lies on the floor and helps tell a story as the drumline performs. Because of the limited budget of Phoenix Blue Percussion, they had to paint an existing tarp for this season instead of having a new one screen-printed for them.
Still, the team remains optimistic and credits CNU with helping them during this turbulent time.
“The university could very easily say we can’t use their stuff,” said Kronstain. “I don’t think the kids fully realize that.”
“A similar thing happened called Dominion Storm in the Virginia Beach area, and they were bad,” Pinkston said. “But now they are smokin’. There are even some CNU kids that commute down there to play on their line.”
Pinkston and the rest of the drumline hope that a similar thing can happen to Phoenix Blue Percussion. Because they are now incorporating other drummers from the Hampton Roads area, the team acts as a community drumline instead of representing the school.
“I see it growing into a community thing. Reverting back to CNU would be a step backwards, because now we have lots of different people from around the community having a role,” said Pinkston.
Pinkston also explained that he is happy that the club is competing but was planning on creating an indoor drumming club if a team could not be formed. The members of drumline love drumming first of all, and that passion can never be cut.
“There is a feeling everyone shares when you’re drumming together and you nail everything and everything clicks,” said Pinkston. “No one can tell if you’re outside of the drumline, but the feeling you get of doing the exact same thing as 20 other guys is such an awesome feeling.”