Q&A with Cleveland Browns drumline member Will Talaba
He teaches at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, conducting the school’s Symphonic Winds, Reserve Jazz Project and the Pep Band. He also teaches at Avon High School, serving as assistant marching band director, as well as the school’s indoor drumline program coordinator and director.
But it is on Sundays when the Cleveland Browns play at home that is most interesting (at least for our purposes), as Will can be found on the sidelines at First Energy Stadium as a member of the Cleveland Browns Drumline. The drumline has five bass drums, five tenors and 10 snares (Will plays snare.)
Will graciously agreed to sit down for a virtual Q&A about the experience.
Q: How did you get involved with the Browns drumline?
Will: One of my percussion friends notified me of the online audition in early July. I was intrigued, especially since I have been attending Browns games for years. I worked up the audition material and submitted an online video and was accepted to the final round, which took place at First Energy Stadium.
When I arrived I did not really know what to expect. I had seen other NFL drumlins, but there wasn’t any official information about what we would be doing. After parking my vehicle in the players’ parking lot under the stadium, I signed in and was taken to a locker room. There were a bunch of drummers, to my amazement, many of whom I had worked with or known from teaching marching percussion around Cleveland for about 10 years. Also, two of my former students from Firestone High School in Akron were there to audition! How amazing would that be to be in a drumline with some of my former students!
The audition was run by Rob Ferguson (Percussion Caption Head of the Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps and Director of the Matrix Indoor Percussion ensemble in Akron). Rob and I have known each other since my days at Firestone, back in 2006. There were about 30 guys and one girl there for the audition. Some of the people that auditioned for the line were from as far away as Detroit! By the end of the group audition process a few were cut, but everyone was on the instrument they would play be the end of the three-hour session.
Q: How much preparation time did you have before the season started?
Will: We had three rehearsals before the season started at First Energy Stadium, and each lasted about three hours. We were all sent groves via Dropbox and were expected to have everything under our hands (memorized and rhythmically correct) before the rehearsal. Since we are getting paid for this gig, we are expected to perform like professional musicals. We were also instructed that we need to be like ‘cheer leaders’ – happy, upbeat and excited to ‘drum up’ some excitement for the Cleveland Browns!
Since the first game we now only meet on game days. As professionals, we are expected to keep things fresh individually and be very adaptable to any situation arises.
Q: What do you wear for the game?
Will: We were issued official Browns paraphernalia for the season. We have Nike shoes, brown sweat pants, an orange Browns T-shirt, a Browns zip-up top, and a Cleveland Browns hat. Our drums are also decked out with a custom Cleveland Browns logo wrap. You can’t miss us!
Q: What is a typical game day like?
Will: We arrive at least four hours before the game begins. We have permits to park in the lots just north of the stadium. We go through heavy security (everything is checked) and we have a locker room that houses our drums. There is breakfast waiting for us with plenty of water, since we are doing a very physical activity. We all warm up on practice pads and take our drum stands out to our designated location on the northeast end of the field. Then we suit up and head out to the parking lots to get everyone excited for the game. We split in to two groups and have escorts with us as we travel through the Muni Lot and also the area around West 6th Street.
Before we go back into the stadium, everyone meets up on the southwest side of the stadium and we play for the people as they enter the stadium. Once we are finished outside the stadium we go back into our locker room and relax. There is lunch waiting for us with more water!
About 30 minutes prior to kick off, we suit up and head over to the field. We perform a pregame sequence on the field and then we make a tunnel for the player introductions. After the introductions, we line up on the 20 yard line for the national anthem.
During the game we have our drums on stands and we play at least one time a quarter. One of the drummers is on a headset and can hear the game day coordinators call out what will happen in between plays. There is a set list of what will happen when. From official NFL videos, to songs, fun giveaways and games, everything is coordinated up in the press box.
When it is our turn to play, they tell us how long and we call one of our grooves out and go. There are microphones in front of us so we are piped through the entire stadium – it’s loud! Usually they also coordinate the on-field camera operators to be in front of us to catch the action. We never can let our guard down as we are performing from the beginning of the game to the end!
After the game is over, we store our equipment in the locker room and clean the place up. We take pride in being very professional as we are a very visible image for the Cleveland Browns organization.
Q: Do you have a set playlist, or do you go with the moment?
Will: We have about nine cadences that we play on a regular basis. They all have names, but I will not go into that. We don’t have a set sequence of tunes, but there are a few designated leaders who call out the cadences, tap it off and then we play. We keep it simple and play what feels right for that moment. Inside the stadium we must play for the allotted time period and can’t step on any toes. So we must have precision with how long we play.
Q: How has the reception been from the team and the fans?
Will: Everyone really loves us. At first we were always asked ‘what high school do you go to?’ and we would cheerfully answer that we’re with the Cleveland Browns.
We have a following now on Facebook and there are people that follow us around as we play outside the stadium. One of our biggest fans is Captain Cleveland, who sits very close to us inside the stadium. He loves to hear us play!
Eventually, the master plan is to have the drumline rally the people outside the stadium and bring everyone in a parade to the game. It’s going to take time to make this vision a reality, but the more we get out there and play the more people will recognize us.
Q: The drumline sometimes performs in the Muni Lot before games. How has that been?
Will: One word – CRAZY! I have never experienced anything like the Muni Lot! My first game with the drumline I was almost drenched in a beverage of choice. People are everywhere, the food smells amazing, and we have been offered almost anything you can imagine while we are playing. (Of course we are not allowed to accept any of it.) For the most part people are nice. They want to play our drums or just dance up close to us! We get them to shake their bodies!
Q: Does the drumline perform anywhere else, or just on game days?
Will: As of right now the drumline is exclusive to game day events. As we move forward, we will be expected to go to outside events, such as parties, parades and rallies. There are talks about getting the members of the Cleveland Browns Drumline to double as the Canton Charge Drumline. (The Charge is the NBA Developmental League team of the Cleveland Cavaliers.)
Q: How did you first become interested in performing as a drumline member?
Will: I always thought it would be cool for the Cleveland Browns to have a drumline or marching band. I am really excited to have this opportunity. It is great to be able to be a part of something so special. Being a part of the game day experience and helping to brighten someone else’s day by just playing my drums is what it’s all about!
Q: What makes for a good drumline?
Will: A good drumline must be able to play together – we call it playing clean. The cleaner you are the clearer the rhythms sound. Technique is also a big factor. If everyone is playing with the same correct technique, then we will be more likely to play clean rhythms.
Sound quality in each instrument is also a big factor, and everyone needs to be playing in the correct areas of the drum head for a consistent sound. Reading the music is very important. Each one of us on the drumline can read music proficiently and apply those rhythms in context as an ensemble.
Finally, we all must be able to use our ears to match our sound and balance each voice of the battery – this makes it more interesting for the listener. There are many different styles of drumlins, and each has its own unique techniques and visual applications. For the Cleveland Browns Drumline, we play in a corps style, similar to a drum and bugle corps.
Q: Overall, how has the experience been?
Will: My experience with the Cleveland Browns has been amazing. If I am in town next year and I can fit it into my schedule, I will definitely try out again!
Thanks again to Will for taking the time to talk to us. The drumline will be back in action this Sunday when the Browns host the Pittsburgh Steelers. You can also follow the Browns Drumline by visiting their Facebook page and get a preview of their skills on YouTube.