Members of Thomas Jefferson's drumline being heard loud and clear

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 10:31 p.m.

It's a chilly Friday night under the bright stadium lights, and the Thomas Jefferson High School Jaguars and West Mifflin Titans are ready for a showdown.

More than the football teams are about to compete in this hyped-up, all-out South Hills rivalry.

During the third quarter of the game, held in October and hosted at Thomas Jefferson this year, members of both school's drumlines gather on the sidelines for a “Revolutionary War” style battle.

Standing face-to-face they fire their weapons – a cadence, or tune, at the other.

“We stand there – no emotion and take whatever they give,” said Thomas Jefferson High School senior and drum line captain Mike Capolupo, 18, who plays the quads. “Then we fire back.”

The winner is determined by student reaction, Capolupo said.

Extra attention has been given this year to the drumline section of Thomas Jefferson High School's marching band, consisting of roughly 18 students playing the cymbals, base drums, snares and quads.

A drumline class was added to the high school curriculum, which has given members of the drum line more time in-school to learn their music, they said.

Students also are showing added initiative by holding extra practices on their own at least twice a week during marching band season and performing at supplementary events, such as the girls' powder-puff game. They also have used technology to track, share and preserve some of their work, creating a YouTube video of the “drumline battle” against West Mifflin, and videotaping all of their cadences – or performance routines – in hopes of passing along what they have learned to future generations of the Thomas Jefferson band.

“That's really the thing that sets them apart. They're willing to take that extra step,” said percussion and drumline instructor Dan Hrvatin, also a teacher at Pleasant Hills Middle School.

As a newbie in the Thomas Jefferson drumline, there were many things that Capolupo said he and others wanted to know, such as how to perform a certain cadence. Students, though, had to learn on their own, or reference a video created in 2005, to get the techniques, he said.

Instead, Capolupo said he wanted to find a way to hand down lessons and techniques that members of the drumline already had captured.

“I don't want the things I've done for the drumline – for future generations – to dissolve,” said Capolupo, whose cousin, Giuseppe, a Thomas Jefferson graduate and former member of the drumline, inspired the 18-year-old to get involved in the band. “I don't want to be the year that was forgotten. I want to be the year that everybody refers to.”

So, this year's student leaders decided to film their performances in an attempt to leave a legacy of their work and teach next year's drumline techniques and strategies.

Members of the Thomas Jefferson drumline gathered on the high school stage in December to perform and video tape all 27 cadences, or all of this year's performances.

Thomas Jefferson High School's marching band director, James Mirabella, has plans to make a recording of all of the other sections performances this year, as well, high school senior and band President Carmen LoPresti said.

Creating a YouTube video of the “drum battle” between the Thomas Jefferson and West Mifflin drumlines also helps promote school spirit, students said.

All members of the band rally behind the drumline and show support for their school during the planned “drum battles,” that occurred this year between Uniontown, West Mifflin and at all band festivals, LoPresti said.

“The band likes to stand behind the drumline – we're like, ‘Don't mess with them,'” LoPresti said. “People don't realize how intense drumline really is.”

Recordings, both audio and video, help incoming freshman learn the music and timing for marching band season, LoPresti and Capolupo agreed.

Student leaders in the high school drum line organized extra practices this year and created the videos in an effort to improve their section of the band. They want to be the best, they said.

“We want our section to sound clean,” Capolupo said.

Having students take on a leadership role in school activities teaches them valuable lessons, Hrvatin said.

“We want them to solve these problems on their own,” Hrvatin said. “The challenge that I put on them is that it's their drum line. I put a lot of emphasis on student leadership.”

The students have answered Hrvatin's challenge.

“Not only do they want the drumline to look good, but they want to make sure that things are in place for future generations,” he said.

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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