Everybody loves a parade and marching bands are the highlight of any parade. Forest Park now hosts rehearsals for a talented crew of kids called MPA (Music Performing Arts) Drumline. They practice at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Monday nights and they will march in Chicago’s Thanksgiving Parade. The group continues to grow in size and reputation. Besides performing in parades, Drumline has entertained audiences at De Paul and U.I.C. basketball games.
Of course, to say that they rehearse inside St. Paul’s would be a misstatement. After assembling in the alley next to the church, Director Wendell Maclin shouts an order: “Let’s get bold with it. Let’s take it to the street.”
So, on a quiet Fall evening, the band begins thundering down Brown Avenue. Rather than being upset by the commotion, neighbors and bystanders form a cheering audience. James Makaris, who has lived on Randolph for 44 years said, “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It’s beautiful, beautiful.”
Maclin started Drumline a year ago in Bellwood. It soon expanded to Forest Park and Oak Park. There are about ten Forest Park kids drumming, bearing rifles and waving flags. Maclin said the program has simply “mushroomed.”
“We teach discipline and structure,” Maclin said, “And we teach them how to read music.”
The students range in age from 8 to 14 and pay $125 per month to participate. As part of their training, they memorize Scripture passages and recite them in unison, allowing listeners to hear a Psalm about making a joyful noise accompanied by the crashing of cymbals. The band doesn’t have uniforms, so they get by with white-t-shirts and jeans. Maclin would gladly welcome a sponsor to underwrite the $2,000 needed for uniforms.
He also networks to find more venues for the band to perform. That’s how they landed in the Thanksgiving parade, which will be televised to half the country. The Drumline members have to assemble downtown at 4:00 a.m. that day. Maclin is planning a “turkey tailgate” feast before the band steps off.
As Maclin barks orders, the band plays with amazing precision. Maclin receives valuable help from parents during practices: in particular, a woman known as “Mrs. Wesley’s Mom.” Speaking of her son, Wesley, she said, “He loves it. He plays keyboard and would like to be a band director some day.”
Up front, the cymbal players perform carefully choreographed routines. Students waving red, white and blue flags and others bearing white wooden rifles follow them. It’s an impressive spectacle and the players are obviously delighted by this buoyant brand of music.
You can’t beat dancing in the streets under a Forest Park streetlight, but Maclin hopes to find an indoor practice facility during the coming cold weather. St. Paul’s has already been a gracious host, he said. Drumline will be performing there with other young musicians and dancers at a special service on November 20th.
Maclin said that major college basketball teams from as far away as Arkansas are interested in having Drumline perform. But learning to bang a drum is not program’s only emphasis. “They’re playing music but they also have to keep their grades up,” he said. At a recent pizza party, the students received book bags and school supplies.
For those interested in joining Drumline, or helping to sponsor the program, Maclin can be reached at (708) 307-5592. And, though it’s a long way off, Drumline is already interested in marching in Forest Park’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.