The beat of life: Alan Sears' drumline legacy
By: Addie Robinson, Print Reporter
A chattering audience squeezed into an already-packed high school gym, searching for the seat with the best view. The line for concessions had parents hustling to get their hotdog and Coke before the excitement began. High schoolers entered the court and the crowd erupted, but this was no ordinary basketball game or cheerleading competition. This was Indoor Drumline.
Indoor Drumline is often referred to as the “Sport of the Arts” due to its athletic nature, as well as its artistic roots. Groups, mostly associated with high schools, create a marching-band-esque show using only percussion instruments, that all have unique themes with props, costumes and their marching tarp or ‘floor’, to protect and decorate the gym floors.
One of the first groups to compete was Sprayberry High School. As they entered the performance area, they unfolded their floor, set up their equipment, and got into their first position as they prepared to start the show.
“Presenting their 2023 program, ‘Who’s Watching,’ under the direction of Alan Sears, Georgia Indoor Percussion Association is proud to present Sprayberry High School,” said the announcer as they began their show. This show at Forsyth Central High School was the first in a circuit called Georgia Indoor Percussion Association (GIPA).
“The concept is basically about being paranoid that someone is watching you all the time,” said designer and arranger of their show, Alan Sears. “In the show, we make it more impressionistic. Our colors are purple to portray nighttime, and our floor is like the hardwood floor of a house. When we get to the end, our window props move to the front, and the members look through them to reveal that it’s the audience that has been watching the whole time.”
Sears is one of the largest names in the Georgia percussion industry. His resume is packed to the brim with one ensemble after another as either director, arranger, composer, instructor or consultant. Still, before all of that success in the world of Indoor Percussion, he got his start in the outdoor percussion world with Georgia Southern’s Southern Pride Marching Band.
“When I was 5 years old I wanted to play baseball, but my mom played violin for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra,” said Sears. “She said I could play baseball if I started taking piano lessons. I tell people all the time that she obviously knew what was best because I am not a professional baseball player.”
Sears studied at Georgia Southern between 1993 and 1999 where he studied music performance, music composition, and music education. During his time, he composed much of Southern Pride’s drumline music, applying what he learned in the classroom to something that he loved.
“A couple of cadences, a couple stands-tunes, the kick-off with the bass drum was my idea,” said Sears.
“The things that Alan wrote forever ago, we’re still using today with minimal adjustments,” said current Southern Pride percussion instructor, Sergio Arreguin. “It’s become part of the Southern Pride Drumline sound and vibe.”
After moving to the metro Atlanta area, Sears now serves as the percussion instructor and arranger for the Kennesaw State Marching Owls.
“College band and indoor drumline are beyond drastically different,” said Michael Gugliotta, a Kennesaw State University student playing snare in the Marching Owl band and indoor drumline.
“The KSU drumline is a super fun and friendly line,” said Gugliotta. “It’s not that we don’t take it seriously, but we make sure we're all having fun. This is one of the goofiest drum lines I’ve had the pleasure of being a part of."
“KSU is different because we have so many kids auditioning,” said Sears. “We can take about 35-40 drumline kids a year. It's highly competitive because we have most of the time about 100 kids auditioning.”
Sprayberry High School was the highest-scoring ensemble in their division at the Forsyth Central GIPA show with a score of 76.
“It's going really well. It's the 3rd year of us doing indoor, the first year was the COVID year so we only did it for about 8-9 weeks but now we're for real doing it,” Sears said looking back on Sprayberry’s season.
What makes Sears’ arranging unique, is the range of how he writes. Sears writes and arranges simultaneously for ensembles of vastly different ranges of ability.
He gives high school students a challenge within their skill level. The Marching Owls music prioritizes being loud and exciting, rather than technical or challenging. At the highest ability level is his work for Atlanta’s independent indoor drumline.
“I really look at what we're trying to accomplish,” said Sears. “For KSU, we're in a good spot geographically, being near Atlanta, so a lot of them are already pretty decent players… We do multiple shows a year so I can’t write it super hard because they have a limited time to learn it before a performance."
"For Atlanta Quest, the talent is unlimited," said Sears. "We’re really focused on artistry at that point."
When it comes to designers in the marching arts industry, a large emphasis is put on a designer’s style. Sears, on the other hand, says he does not write in a certain style but instead focuses on creating pieces of art that vary from program to program.
“I know I sound like a hippie when I say this, but it’s kind of like painting,” said Sears. “You don’t want to make the same painting twice… I try to make every concept wildly different.”
Although graduating over twenty years ago, Sears still has strong ties to his alma mater. Most recently, he came out to the Georgia Southern versus Appalachian State football game, hanging tight around the drumline and celebrating the double-overtime win with the students who are playing his music.
At his own indoor drumline rehearsals, he can often be seen in his Southern Pride shorts, or in a ballcap with GATA embroidered across it.
“I try to go down to GSU as much as I can and support,” said Sears. “It was a huge impact on my life and I try to give back as much as possible.”