Nutley HS indoor percussion wins championship

NUTLEY, NJ — Nutley High School indoor percussion ended its season on a high note at the beginning of April, when performers took home the USBands Scholastic Marching A championship in the first normal season in a few years. A version of marching band, indoor percussion eliminates all wind instruments and centers around the drum line and mallet instruments in a show. NHS’ percussion program started in 2017, when marching band assistant staff member Julia Wehrer took on the project as director.

“I got so much from it when I did indoor in high school, so I brought it here,” Wehrer, who is a physician assistant student at Seton Hall University, said in a phone interview with the Nutley Journal on April 14. “It’s another season after marching band ends, and it gives students the chance to play a new instrument. I wanted them to have that chance.”

The program did well and won a few competitions in its early years, but then the COVID-19 pandemic came and shut down indoor percussion. The band stayed quiet for two years. As extracurricular activities had to adapt to be held outside as much as possible in an effort to slow the spread of the virus, indoor percussion was put on the backburner. It was hard to participate in an activity that was designed for the indoors when being indoors was not optimal.

A trip to Dayton, Ohio, in 2020 to the world championship competition was canceled, and last year NHS put together a showcase for friends and family only. But this year, they were back to performing more regularly.

“They were so ready for it, so it was heartbreaking,” Wehrer said about the 2020 show. “Finally, this year, we were able to do it again. They were so excited to be back.”

Titled “Royal Expectations,” NHS’ show this year was custom-made for the performers. It tells the story of a princess who is about to be married off; members of the ensemble play various suitors. It’s the first time that a show has been built specifically for the ensemble, instead of NHS buying music and adjusting to it. The music was arranged by front ensemble coordinator Nick Peters and battery coordinator Connor Horwath. Cymbal technician Shea Costello is also on the staff.

One of the reasons Wehrer and the staff decided to go that route was because of the number of performers they had on the roster. In 2017, indoor percussion started with 16 students, but this year they were the biggest they’ve ever been with 37.

“It was nice to tailor it,” Wehrer said. “This was made for us. When I said it was 18th-century themed, they were surprised, but they bought in. Once all the pieces came together, it really worked.”

NHS allows eighth-graders from John H. Walker Middle School to join marching band and indoor percussion, which contributed to the large number this year. The team has only five seniors this school year. Ethan Ramos, a snare drum player who was a marching band drum major, is one of them.

“We had so many new people, and to see them get that experience was great, especially since we did so well,” Ramos said in a phone interview with the Nutley Journal on April 15. “They really showed up in a way I never expected.”

There is more performance involved in indoor percussion than there is in marching band, so Ramos said there is an adjustment for students who participate in both to get used to more eyes being on them as individuals. Indoor percussion allowed eighth-graders to join before marching band did, so Ramos learned the opposite way.

“For percussion, there’s a level of acting that isn’t there in marching band,” he said. “In marching band we’re all wearing the same thing, we have hats, we’re not really showing expression on our faces. I did indoor and then marching band so for me it was easier. It can be difficult, but by the end of the season we were much better at it.”

Sophomore marimba player Delilah Roselli’s first year in indoor percussion was cut short by the pandemic, so the 2022 season is the first real one she’s experienced. In a phone interview with the Nutley Journal on April 15, she said it got her ready for the next marching band season.

“It’s smaller, so I can be closer to everyone in it,” Roselli said. “Indoor is about the performance and the show. Marching band is too, but it’s different. (For indoor) we’re wearing costumes, and it’s more about the story. In marching band we’re not judged as heavily on that.”

Wehrer expects the majority of indoor percussion performers to be younger for a few years, but she is still confident in the direction they’re heading.

“In a couple of years, they’ll be more experienced and we can adjust,” she said. “We always make it achievable for them. There’s always an adjustment, but I’ve never seen so much growth in one year.”

Ramos won’t be performing with Roselli and the rest of the percussionists next season, but he’s excited to see what they do in the future.

“I think the skill will steadily increase,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of room for growth, and I definitely see a future where Nutley is winning a lot.”