QHS all-girl bass drum line 'made a name' for itself

Five bass drum players march with the Marching Blue Devils in the Dogwood Parade on Saturday, May. 4, 2019. The base drums line is made up of Kayla McElroy, Caitlyn Todd, Ally Hayden, Audra Tweedell and Katie Taylor. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: May. 6, 2019 10:00 am

QUINCY -- They call themselves the Bass Babies.

As the bass drum line in the Quincy High School marching band, Kayla McElroy, Caitlyn Todd, Ally Hayden, Audra Tweedell and Katie Taylor stand out not only for the consistent beat they provide to the music but because of their gender.

"We've made a name for ourselves," said McElroy, a senior.

Other musicians take note of the all-female group assigned to the heaviest drums in the drum line.

"At every competition we've been, whenever we're walking to the field, we hear at least one person on a different band say ‘oh my gosh, it's all girls,'" Hayden, a sophomore, said.

"Percussion has traditionally been a male-dominated world just because of the sheer size of the instruments and the strength it needs not just to pick them up but to carry them for three or four miles in a parade," QPS Director of Music Kathi Dooley said.

"We've had females always interspersed in tenor drums, snare drums, but to have five girls commit to each other to carry the heaviest instruments, the bass drums ... is a really unusual thing to have."

The five drums range in weight from roughly 10 to 20 pounds, the girls say, not including the uncomfortable carriers which can leave bruises.

It's hot, sweaty and exhausting work to hold and balance the weight, but in a marching band season that runs from June to October and sporadic drum line performances throughout the school year, "after a while, you totally get used to it," McElroy said.

"When you haven't worn it in a while, it's really a shock to the system," Hayden said. "At this point, we know the music pretty well, but we have to really focus on keeping in line with each other. Our drums are different sizes."

Beyond the physical demands of the drums, musically it's very complicated to play five bass drums with each person playing a different part. "We each have our own little solos," Hayden said.

"They work together well," Dooley said. "With one song, ‘Scorpion,' when they all hit their parts exactly as they're supposed to, judges and even directors who have heard it a million times go ‘wow, what was that.' It's called the kitchen of the band. They make the beat, keep the beat, hold the band together."

Having five girls playing the bass drums "just kind of happened" when assignments were made after blind auditions for the 2017-18 school year, McElroy said.

Then "we made sure we stuck together for another year," Taylor said.

It's a close relationship, a sisterhood they say, honed in part by a shared love of percussion and being the only girls in the 13-member drum line.

"It creates like this big huge family that you get to hang out with, not only us but the entire drum line. We're so close with everyone," Taylor said.

"It's really cool to be part of something bigger," Tweedell said.

Most of the girls have been percussionists since fourth or fifth grade, with Todd switching from clarinet as a seventh-grader, and all were inspired by seeing the QHS drum line perform.

"They had this part that just made them seem like they were having more fun than the rest of the band," Taylor said.

Now the girls are providing inspiration to other students.

"We do our own thing, but we make it look really fun so other people are really inclined to do it," McElroy said.

"We're all having a blast ourselves," Hayden said.

With McElroy and Taylor graduating, the drum line will have a different dynamic next school year, but the girls wouldn't mind seeing another all-girl group within the drum line.

"You always want there to be more girls to feel like they can be on drum line. I want that to happen," Taylor said. "If there happens to be an all-girl bass line, it would be really cool."