Dover High drumline rolling to Japan

DOVER — An unforgettable cultural experience awaits 13 members of the Dover High School Rolling Thunder drumline as they have their drums, sticks and cymbals packed and are all set to travel east today — Far East.

Dover High band director Garrett George said he and the school’s drumline, as well as five chaperones — including two principals, two teachers and one adviser — are embarking on a trip to the 41st All Japan Senior High School Cultural Festival in Miyagi Prefecture.

Garrett George, Dover High School’s band director, will be taking the Rolling Thunder drumline to a festval in Japan tonight. (Delaware State News/Mike Finnney)

They will depart for their 13-hour flight to Japan at around 5 this evening.

“I’m looking forward to experiencing a new culture and getting that opportunity to study and really sightsee mixed with another culture,” said Chris Gleasner, a senior captain of the drumline.

“I take huge pride in being a part of Rolling Thunder. This was my dream coming up from middle school and now that I’m a senior captain for it, it’s really an honor.”

Terri Sharpe, associate principal at Dover High, outlined the drum-line’s journey to the festival in Miyagi Prefecture to the Capital School District Board of Education last October.

The school board proceeded to unanimously vote in favor of the 10-day trip.

High school students representing every prefecture in Japan will attend the festival and multiple foreign countries will also have representatives participating.

“Dover High School is the only Delaware high school going to this event, which is going to be huge,” Ms. Sharpe said. “They are anticipating 150,000 people at this event.

“Of that, 20,000 are going to be student participants, 4,000 will be teachers and there will be 126,000 spectators. And all of these students who will be there will be representing 3,000 schools.”

The general opening ceremony and parade will be held on the first day of the All Japan Senior High School Cultural Festival.

Dover’s Rolling Thunder will participate in the opening ceremony parade and will also have a five-minute spotlight performance.

That is what Mr. George and his percussionists have been focused on the past couple of months. Typically, a number for the drumline lasts from 10 to 15 minutes.

So they will have to consolidate their best stick work and dance steps for the spotlight.

“We’re really excited. That’s what this rehearsal is for,” Mr. George said in the school’s band room on Thursday. “They’re rehearsing for our five-minute spot in Japan, so we’re kind of combining everything that we know and the best bits of everything.”

That is not an easy chore, according to senior captain Gleasner.

“It’s hard picking certain things to put in to fit the time, because we have a lot of stuff to play and we want to really showcase our talent,” he said.

The four days following the opening ceremony of the festival will feature presentations and exhibitions in 19 different categories as well as special co-sponsored categories from the hosting prefecture.

Some categories hold their own contests and provide students with opportunities to hear comments and participate in cultural exchange events.

“I’m looking forward to meeting the people there and learning about the culture,” said junior Seth Gladu. “This is a big thing. It took us by surprise last year when we found out that we were going to Japan.”

Since they found out, they have had to participate in many fundraisers since each person making the trip will cost around $1,000. The Japanese Government is actually covering most of the expenses.

The bass drummers provide the boom during a sizzling hot practice session last Thursday. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

The 13 of the 19 members of Rolling Thunder that are traveling to Japan went through an application process before a committee went through a selection process, They looked at things such as academics, attendance and behavior.

“It will be unfortunate for some, and I wish that we could take everybody,” Mr. George said.

He added that those who were selected to participate in the trip worked very hard.

“They worked really hard to fundraise,” said Mr. George. “They were out at Walmart playing at the store for donations, they volunteered for the Firefly Music Festival and they did a couple of other things to get all the money we needed.

“They worked really hard and we’re very thankful for the community rallying behind us.”

The Rolling Thunder drumline members have also been immersed in learning about Japanese culture over the past year.

The cymbal percussionists prepare to twirl their cymbals with the Rolling Thunder drumline. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

Members of the drumline said they owe a lot of credit to the school’s Japanese Club, which has fostered a sister-school relationship with Kakuda High School, which is located within the Miyagi Prefecture, over the past 10 years.

Delaware and Miyagi have been sister states since 1997.

Miki Smith, a Dover resident who was born in Tokyo, organizes an exchange program with schools in Delaware and schools in Miyagi. She played a vital role in getting Dover High invited to the cultural event.

“I’m very excited about it because the kids usually don’t get this kind of opportunity,” Ms. Smith said. “They’re going to get the chance to perform in front of an audience of thousands that’s an international program. It should be an incredible experience for them.”

The Rolling Thunder percussionists will also take with them to Japan the spirit of Lenny Knight, the creator of the Dover High drumline, who died on March 14.

“With his passing a few months ago, obviously he’s in our hearts,” percussionist Gleasner said. “He started this drumline and to be able to go to Japan it’s going to be memorable, especially knowing how he taught many of us to perform.”

It was Mr. Knight who created the spectacle that is Rolling Thunder.

“We have a lot of pride, there’s a lot of legacy within the Rolling Thunder drumline, and it’s a lot of fun,” junior Gladu said. “It’s great to be a part of it.”

Mr. George noted that Rolling Thunder has also captured the attention of thousands of people at NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway, Philadelphia 76ers basketball games and many community events throughout the area.

So he doesn’t think performing in Japan will overwhelm his group.

“The size of the event won’t be a problem for them,” George said. “They’re prepared and they work really hard. It’s the location of the event that’s incredible.”

 

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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