The sounds reverberate through the walls.
The University Band Center at NC A&T University buzzes as students warm up with their instruments. Brass notes flow through the rooms, and hints of woodwind exercises sneak in alongside them. The drums share no such subtlety.
Even after being out of town for the weekend, A&T’s Cold Steel Drumline continues to work. With Homecoming weekend approaching, the decades-old group refuses to let up.
For decades, these drummers turned Cold Steel into its own percussive spectacle. The drumline, which began as a portion of A&T’s marching band, formed into its own entity under the last twenty years.
Co-captain of the drumline Martyo Bethea sees Cold Steel as a legacy. Like many members of the drumline, he remembers admiring the now-graduated members of Cold Steel as a high-schooler. He mentions going so far as to learn and study some of the drumline’s cadences during his junior year at his Atlanta high school in preparation for his audition.
“It feels good to be one of these voices that people younger than me can look up to,” Bethea says.
Bryan Myles, a snare player in his third year of marching, shared the experience of looking up to the band as a high-schooler. He recalls studying videos of the drumline’s past performances during his junior and senior years in order to craft his own audition tape.
“I went from being a fan,” he says, “to be a part of what I was a fan of.”
Assistant Director of Bands Lamon Lawhorn finds the process of narrowing down candidates to continue the drumline difficult.
“We turn away a lot of talent,” he says.
Both Lawhorn and Director of Percussion Ron Rogers believe the rigorous process shapes the best team. Rogers mentions a boot camp for the drummers, consisting of daylong sessions where drummers practice running miles with their instruments strapped to them.
“If you make it through band camp,” Rogers says, “you can probably make it through anything.”
Rogers and Lawhorn attribute Cold Steel’s success to their training. The devotion to drumming has earned Cold Steel spots in multiple prestigious performance lineups, including several years of the Honda Battle of the Bands, an invitational showcase of marching bands from various HBCUs.
One such event stands out in both Lawhorn and Bethea’s minds: The 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade. For the occasion, 10 A&T students, including Bethea, traveled to California during winter break, where they joined students from seven other HBCUs from across the country to perform a collective set on the opening float. With Lawhorn himself composing the music, the parade became especially noteworthy.
“I graduated from an HBCU,” Lawhorn says, “so to be able to do something to celebrate these universities was a great, great honor.”
Even with the accolades, Rogers sees the main sign of Cold Steel’s legacy as their cadences. Learning these routines that keep the beat while marching serve as the final step for the initiation of new members to the drumline. Rogers insists that no matter what, the cadences remain a requirement.
“The one thing that links every Cold Steel member all together,” he says, “are the cadences.”
Rogers, a graduate of A&T himself, played in Cold Steel during his time at the university. Though the drumline has evolved during his time from drummer to director of percussion, Rogers revels in the fact the rhythms never change. He says Homecoming weekend brings back generations of Cold Steel members, who can all unite under the same beats.
“When these guys come back for Homecoming, the first thing they want to do is grab a drum and say, ‘Man, let’s run down the cadences.’” Rogers said. “And, boy, when we run those cadences down, the smile, the happiness on everyone’s faces, the feeling that you feel when you’re out there playing those cadences — that can’t be beat by anything.”