The Sunday Football-Related Music Post: You Too Can Play Heinz Field

via steeline.com

The following notice caught my eye last Tuesday:

The Steeline, the drumline that performs at Steelers home games and special events, will be holding open auditions for new members.

Now this sounds pretty fine! Who doesn’t like to bang on things and get into Heinz Field on gameday for free? I’m sure many of you out there have paid vast sums to get into the game and then banged on whatever you could find—the back of the seat in front of you, your empty beer can, nearby Ravens fans…

Wouldn’t it be better to harness that aggression into a worthy channel?

Well, like all such things that seem like they are too good to be true, getting to play with the Steeline isn’t as easy as you might think:

Those who audition should have prior experience playing in drumlines and must be 18 years old or over.   For more information and to download audition music, visit Pittsburgh Steeline or email PGHSteeline@gmail.com.

Hang on, this is starting to sound like work! Prior experience? Download the audition music? Another beautiful dream shot to pieces.

But while we’re on the subject, where did the Steeline come from anyhow? It’s an interesting story of enterprise, grit, and want-to, and I know about it courtesy of the music critic for the Post-Gazette, Elizabeth Bloom

I was scheduled last month for a phone interview with Ms. Bloom, who was proposing to write an article about the end of my tenure of The Pittsburgh Camerata. I did a bit of internet searching for previous articles she had written, as I had never spoken with her before and wanted to get a feel for what sorts of things might interest her to know. The very first article that popped up in my Google search was her December 2015 article on the Steeline.

I wondered at the time whether this was one of those “give this article to the music critic, she’s got nothing better to do” sort of things, but I discovered during the course of my interview that Ms. Bloom in fact is a keen sports fan. I haven’t gotten as far as assuring myself that she is rooting for the correct teams (I’m hoping to ascertain this in a follow-up luncheon,) but I was happy to know the club of female classical musicians in Pittsburgh who love the Steelers is not confined to me and Ann Martindale-Williams, principal cellist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and ardent waver of the Terrible Towel.

So what did Ms. Bloom have to say? Obviously, you can read the whole article, awesomely titled The Immaculate Percussion: The Pittsburgh Steeline beats to the Steelers’ own drum.  Here’s the gist of it:

Founded in 2012, the Steeline has quickly become a staple of Steelers entertainment on the North Shore and in Heinz Field. The group is made up of 25 percussionists who can express their passion for the Steelers more rhythmically than most, and its presence speaks to the growing affiliation between drum lines and professional sports franchises.

Quarterbacked by director Vince Wallace, the Steeline began busking outside of the stadium three years ago. The Steelers invited the drummers — who play snare drums, quads, bass drums, boom drums and crash cymbals — to appear as guests at two games that season. By the next year, they were the team’s official drum line, performing in a stadium rotunda during preseason, regular season and postseason home games. Since last year, the paid, independent group has resided in a cordoned-off area on the field.

There’s a video about the drumline in the article, mostly narrated by drummer Beckie Unitas. Yes, that Unitas. (She is his grandniece.) I tried to embed it here but the code didn’t work, so you’ll have to see it on the PG site. But don’t despair—YouTube came to the rescue with various videos, including this one of them playing “Uptown Funk:”

The PG article also functions as an info-novel in miniature, giving the pre-renaissance background for percussion ensembles and so on. I’m not talking about the Pittsburgh Renaissance of the 60s and 70s, but the old-school one, back when the Turks roamed free. Not the Turks who are in charge of roster cuts, but the real ones, who were the Ottoman Empire. It’s all so confusing sometimes… The article is definitely worth a click, so check it out.

And finally, here’s a video of a true rarity—a Battle of the Bands between the Steeline and the Skol Line (the Minnesota Vikings’ drum line.) Both groups were present for the Hall of Fame game last summer, and they staged an impromptu face-off in the parking lot before the game. Frankly, it’s a lot more interesting and professional than the game itself was. Enjoy! (And please don’t make me say which group was better, because you won’t like the answer…*)

 

*To be fair, although I can’t find a founding date for the Skol Line, they have had a Twitter account since 2009, meaning they have at least a three-year head start on the Steeline. And of course Minnesota is the heartland of all “choral” enterprises (in both the usual and the larger sense), so there’s that going for them as well…

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