MOORHEAD, Minn. — Kenyon Williams is excited to kick off a new music program at Minnesota State University Moorhead, even if COVID-19 has led to a change of pace.

Williams had planned on MSUM’s new Dragon Drumline making its first public appearance on the field at a Dragon football game. Instead, with fall games canceled, the group will make its debut this Friday, Sept. 18, at a parking lot bingo fundraiser for Churches United for the Homeless in the Moorhead Center Mall parking lot.

The change of venue is just a small bump in the road, and Williams hasn't missed a beat.

“We’re excited to have a chance to play, even in these crazy times,” the MSUM percussion professor says.

Dragon Drumline members practice at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum
Dragon Drumline members practice at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum

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Williams had seen drum lines emerging as a trend over the years, not only in colleges and high schools, but even community groups.

“It’s become its own unique art form,” he says.

So in the fall of 2019 he started making plans for a Dragon drum line, the first at the school. He applied for and received a Dille Grant for about $22,000 to start the project. A Dille Grant, named after the school’s late president, Roland Dille, comes from a separate endowment, meaning that while the school has recently announced it would cut nine programs and nearly 50 employees, the grant was still supported.

Dragon Drumline members practice on campus during a recent evening session at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum
Dragon Drumline members practice on campus during a recent evening session at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum

With the money, Williams purchased the necessary instruments and uniforms.

The program is a one-credit class, available only in the fall to complement and not to compete with pep band in the spring.

He views the drum line as something like an outreach program since it will mostly perform at public events such as Dragon football games, parades and other outdoor events.

“It’s too loud for inside. It would be deafening in a gym,” he says.

Kenyon Williams gives direction to the Dragon Drumline on campus at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum
Kenyon Williams gives direction to the Dragon Drumline on campus at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum

It’s also a bit of outreach even on campus. While a majority of the 11 participating students are from the music department, others come from a variety of programs, such as computer science, engineering, physics and film production.

One member of the troupe is a junior in high school. The group rehearses only on Tuesday nights and plays only Saturday afternoons to accommodate high school student members.

Dragon Drumline members practice at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum
Dragon Drumline members practice at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum

Ryan Bredeson, a senior in music education, started playing in drum lines in high school in Bloomington, Minn.

“There’s almost a family feel in drum line, keeping time, keeping the beat going whether it’s cheering on a football team or marching in a parade. It’s great to come together for a common goal,” he says.

He says the interaction between a band and the fans during a sporting event is a special relationship.

Kenyon Williams watches Dragon Drumline members practice at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson/The Forum
Kenyon Williams watches Dragon Drumline members practice at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson/The Forum

“Student sections and drum lines get along great,” he says. “Students get real rowdy when there are drums around, I’ve found.”

While Bredeson and his fellow drummers were hoping to play in front of cheering fans, they look forward to just getting out and playing to a crowd.

Williams is looking for other potential gigs, including a proposed Saturday in October where the drum line could play at Moorhead’s Eventide on Eighth, then march north to play a short set at the Dairy Queen on Main Avenue.

“If you’ve ever been in a marching band, you know that these kids are just happy to play.”

Kenyon Williams watches Dragon Drumline members practice at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson/The Forum
Kenyon Williams watches Dragon Drumline members practice at Minnesota State University Moorhead. David Samson/The Forum