Cole Chalupka is just a regular guy from Carlisle, Ontario. Or so you might think, until you spend a few minutes chatting and you discover he has done some pretty exciting stuff inside the world of precision drumming, putting him at the age of 17 within the ranks of an elite group of physically and mentally disciplined musicians who compete in Drum Corps International.
Cole was in elementary school when he took his first drum lessons at Rising Star Performing Arts Academy in Waterdown. It turned out that spending hours practising alone in his basement wasn’t Cole’s cup of tea, so he eventually stopped.
However, Cole’s interest in drumming didn’t die and was soon rekindled. In grade 8 his class attended an information and orientation night at St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary School. All the school clubs were performing and displaying what they did, and Cole was most impressed when he heard the drumline.
The drumline leader and founder was Corey Pearce. As it happened, Pearce was on staff at St. Mary’s as an educational assistant. Pearce’s personal experience and instructional background with local drum corps (Ridge Raiders, Conqueror II, St. John’s Drum Corp, Hamilton Youth Performing Ensemble H.Y.P.E., Dutch Boy, Lake Erie Regiment, McMaster Marching Band) during the eighties and nineties had provided him with the perspective and capacity for leadership. Pearce is a signed artist with Pearl Drums, Dream Cymbals and Innovative Percussion. As a way to give back to the community, Pearce has dedicated himself to supporting and leading many drumlines in the region. His passionate interest in bringing the benefits of music to youth has led him to develop the drumline program at St. Mary’s.
Chalupka recalls that during music class Pearce had been there helping a student, so Cole approached him and asked to join the drumline. An instant yes was the reply. “Corey said to me, ‘You can mess up as much as you need to. I just want you to go and make friends.’”
By joining the St. Mary’s Drumline Cole found himself on a path of fun, friendship, and self-development. He had become part of a hard-working and supportive community of peers and friends who loved making music, and he thrived. Cole put in the hours of practice after classes and on weekends. “Gord Henderson and Craig Pearce were two significant instructors I learned a lot from.”
It takes effort to carry drums around while playing. Players are equipped with special harnesses to hold snare drums, quads, and bass drums. Cole had to heft the weight of his multi-toms and balance them while playing and marching in perfect alignment and timing with the rest of the group.
Unexpected challenges provided opportunities for new responsibilities and confidence boosting. It was Cole’s first performance, the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest parade. “My veteran partner Mark Derkach was supposed to march beside me for support, but he was needed to sub in on bass drum, and so I ended up marching on my own as a quad player,” Chalupka reminisces.
He continues, “My most challenging show was Thriller. I was in grade ten. The show was very exciting and it was the first year that we carried our drums and moved as part of the show instead of standing still.”
Cole steadily improved. By his senior year of high school he had become a student leader in the drumline. But it came as a big surprise when one day Pearce casually asked, “Why don’t you go and try out for DCI? Find a drum corps that you think looks cool and go audition for it.”
Chalupka says, “Before that we had been privileged to travel to the USA to see DCI championships and we had participated in a type of drumline battle. It was exciting to see what level of playing was happening, and we had been really motivated by it. But I had not seriously considered that I could do it myself.”
“When I first saw the big drum corps I thought this is a lot to watch. Eventually I really got into it. There was one group called the Bluecoats and there was a lot of hype about them that year. Their show was called Tilt, and I remember thinking Wow – I’ve got to do that!” Chalupka said.
Pearce’s challenge to Cole comes from a “can-do” and “why not?” perspective. “It’s not like those kids down in California or wherever have special arm muscles that makes them better drummers. It’s not like they’ve got special air or something. There’s no reason why our kids can’t aim to do the very same high-standards performance.”
After some consideration Cole chose 7th Regiment, based in Connecticut. He sent in his resume and applied for the spring camps which took place beginning in January. His preparation for his audition included some extra Skype lessons with one of the Florida-based drum instructors.
What was the drumline experience like for Cole? When asked about the importance and role of physical fitness and endurance training in drum corps, he explained, “As you move up it increases. PT was a part of our daily routine while I was in camp. Every morning there was about an hour of stretching, for injury prevention.”
“Next in our daily routine was basics. Visual training and technique was done as a whole. What happens is you have to mark time and keep an even beat when the metronome drops out.”
“There is a whole hierarchy of sound. When we’re first learning the show we first get trained listening only to the drum section. Next they add the front percussion, then the horns.”
“Following that we would practise as a drumline in sectionals. There were a number of things we would do in sectionals. It might be drills of various kinds, and a special activity called point drill, where you march to a place where the trainer points while drilling a particular rhythm study.”
Once the corps is on tour, the daily routine has additional challenges such as caring for uniforms, performance etiquette, exercising patience, dealing with heat and exhaustion, and sleeping on school gymnasium floors.
At the present Cole is studying Humanities at University of Toronto’s Erindale Campus. He’s keeping his options open by taking a fairly general selection of courses, some of which could lead into arts administration. It is exciting to imagine what the future may hold for Cole as he continues to pursue drumline activities and challenge himself in new ways.
This fall Cole is setting his sights higher than ever – he will be auditioning for a world-class drum corps, the Bluecoats.
Corey Pearce’s challenge – “You can do it. You should give it a try. Why not?” – opened up an exciting new chapter in Cole’s life, enriching him in so many ways. And the story isn’t over yet. It’s only just the beginning.
Watch and hear Cole Chalupka in action with 7th Regiment in Drumline Battle:
By Glen Brown
Previously published at HamiltonMusician.com. Used with permission.