Pause on a drummer’s beat


Ray Nelson II, a jazz band student at Florida A&M, reflected on spending between 45 minutes to two hours a day in a garage with no air conditioning, accumulating sweat and blood from blisters behind a drum set practicing.

He uses self-made speed exercises with a metronome to practice his timing.

“I’m usually in a closed environment where it’s just me and the drums and the music,” Nelson said.

The 19-year-old sophomore is one of many students who are members of one of the seven ensemble groups affected by the suspension of the Marching “100” after the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion a year ago.

“I understand what happened, and it wasn’t right at all,” Nelson said. “However, many students who had nothing to do with it are and have been affected, which isn’t fair.”

Nelson comes from a family of musicians. His father, grandfather and many other family members have been part of the music program.

“I grew up around FAMU and the Marching ‘100,’” Nelson said.

He has been playing the snare drum since he was eight. Nelson said the opportunity to become part of the Marching “100” is something that he has been waiting for since he could remember.

“I always wanted to march in the ‘100’ and continue a legacy,” Nelson said.

But the long awaited dream that became a reality has come to a screeching halt as he and many musicians on campus have been prohibited from rehearsing together and forced to practice on their own schedules.

As a jazz band student, Nelson said, that presents a major problem, considering the amount of time bands need to practice together tediously to ensure complete synchronization.

Two messages left with the FAMU Office of Media Relations staff seeking comment and information were not returned.

“It’s unfair for the kids that were doing the right thing,” said Ray Nelson Sr., Nelson II’s father, who played trumpet and French horn for the Marching “100” in the 1980s. “They stopped not only the jazz band but chorus as well.”

Nelson II’s mother, Terrion Nelson, former Miss FAMU in 1987, a vocal music degree holder and an elementary school music teacher for 24 years, expressed how disheartening it is for someone like her son to not be playing music.

He received an opportunity to attend a camp hosted in his hometown for the renowned music division of the Juilliard School, a performing arts institution with a six percent acceptance rate, last summer.

Nelson turned down the chance to audition to become part of the Marching “100,” which is known for its historical performances at presidential inaugurations, NFL Super Bowls and in other countries.

“I received my scholarship during homecoming my senior year in high school in front of the entire band, band staff and alumni,” Nelson said. “It was a great experience. Literally, a dream come true.”

Usually, the music department is busy year-round practicing and preparing for performances.

Now, Nelson finds himself using the time he once spent on the rehearsal field with his fellow band mates being used for more individual practice and working on techniques to help better equip himself for upcoming auditions for the Berklee College of Music in Boston and music schools in New York.

Although the decision to transfer is unclear, he plans to help identify his capabilities as a musician and help get his name out.

“We’re being punished not only for something that we may not have done but it is also affecting our progress as musicians,” Nelson said. “I feel as if we should return.”