Drum roll, please: The University of Missouri plans to unveil the world’s largest marching band bass drum this fall, replacing its six-foot-tall monster Big MO, a fan favorite. But shopping around for a drum maker—a search that ultimately led them to music alum Neil Boumpani ’78, MA ’80—was no picnic.
“They contacted all of the big companies,” said Boumpani, a Barnesville, GA, college professor and owner of Boumpani Music Company. “They contacted Ludwig, and they contacted DW … but nobody wanted to touch it. So they called me, and I don’t say no to anything right away.”
Boumpani’s nine-foot-tall, four-foot-wide creation, which he built in collaboration with a handful of open-minded manufacturers, will weigh more than a quarter-ton. The boomer will trump both University of Texas and Purdue University’s giant drums, “Big Bertha” and “Monster,” according to The Columbia Missourian, topping the dean’s list of marching band artillery pieces.
“Every bit of this drum is going to be made in this country, which was one of the things I was insisting on from the get-go,” Boumpani added.
The hardest part, he said, was making the shell, which had to be crafted from fiberglass rather than wood. An Alabama manufacturer built it from scratch. Meanwhile, another company pledged to build an eight-foot drum head, while a member of the community band Boumpani directs enlisted his metal shop to fashion dozens of lugs.
As of press time, Boumpani projected that the drum could debut by the end of October. He’ll be glad to see it finished; it’s only one of his recent projects.
What started as a hobby about six years ago—rebuilding drums—ultimately evolved into a more serious focus on custom-building. Additionally, Boumpani’s umbrella company tackles musical composition and arranging, and more recently, film scoring. “As things change … the economy changes, technology changes, you have to adapt for it,” he said, speaking about one of his latest assignments, an electronic-music score for a horror movie to be released next year.
Boumpani has been composing for over 30 years and traces some of his formative influence to Trenton State College professor Tony DeNicola, who passed away in 2006.
“Tony was my instructor, my mentor, and a friend, probably one of the most influential people in my life,” he said. “And he was that for all the students.”
Boumpani composed a Jazz Band piece in honor of DeNicola, which the Alumni Band played at Reunion this past May. DeNicola encouraged Boumpani to study orchestration in the first place. A main part of the composition, Boumpani said, was drawn from something he wrote when he was a student.
“I took that melody I wrote way back in college and I cleaned it up,” Boumpani said. “And I re-orchestrated it, and I re-titled it, and I dedicated it to him.”
Much of Boumpani’s work is indebted, he said, to the wise words of his former professor: “You wanna do something, and you can’t break into those people that are doing it, make your own thing.” Sometimes, that thing is the project that everyone else thinks is too big and too bold to be possible.