What set apart last year’s WGI World Class winners, and what’s in store for their programs this year? With less than one month left until the 2008 WGI World Championships in Dayton, Ohio, the top guard and percussion programs are gunning for a repeat.
For two exciting weekends every April, the best winter guard and indoor percussion ensembles gather in Dayton, Ohio, to showcase their talent and compete in the WGI World Championships. Groups are divided into Scholastic (school-affi liated) and Independent A, Open and World Class. As we look forward to the upcoming 2008 championships, to be held April 10 to 12 for color guard and April 17 to 19 for percussion, we take a look back at the 2007 World Class gold medalists.
First taking the floor for winter competition in 1984, Pride of Cincinnati has become a powerhouse of excellence and innovation. Medaling every year since 2001, the group earned the gold medal in Independent World Class competition three times in the past seven years.
Its 2007 gold medal show, “What’s Left?,” was filled with flawless execution and unexpected bits of surprise, from a flag feature performed entirely with the left arm to the weapons line performing blindfolded with the collars of their costumes pulled up over their faces. On first glance these feats stood alone as amazing and impressive. Digging deeper, the show took on a whole new level of emotion and meaning with each breathtaking skill connecting to a stronger overriding message of determination and triumph.
The program was inspired by the story of a WWI-era concert pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who after losing his right arm, refused to give up his passion. He sought out composers to write piano pieces for performance with only the left hand and challenged himself to overcome his obvious limitations.
Pride director Charles Gumbert sums up the message of the show saying, “Life brings restrictions your way unexpectedly, and an individual must rise to the occasion to overcome. So a lot of our show was not only about just using one hand, but when you get put in a situation where life limits you, what other options are there?”
Set to a piece written for Wittgenstein by composer Benjamin Britten, Pride’s program posed an intellectual challenge for the winter guard community to continue to explore unexpected avenues, overcome perceived limitations and discover new ways to thrill audiences.
Performing for Mia
As a result of their hard work, select performers from the Pride of Cincinnati— along with five other Independent World Class groups—had the unique opportunity to perform for world-renowned choreographer Mia Michaels this September at WGI’s Spinfest!!. “That was one of the highlights of our organization.” shares Gumbert. “As we were walking on the stage, one of the members said to me that they were more nervous performing in front of her than they were at WGI!”
Nathan Jennings, the ensemble’s longest-running veteran member in his seventh season, was one of those lucky performers. “Spinning for Mia Michaels was amazing,” he says. “She is so inspirational. She uses her passion for dance as a platform that others can compare their own passions to. I took so much from the time I spent with her.”
Family, Friends, Love
This year’s show, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” features a cast of 26 performers between the ages of 18 and 26. “It’s a lot different, a lot more emotional,” Jennings says. “It’s related to how Pride’s organization is. The organization is about family, friends, love and being able to be one another’s ‘Bridge’ over the troubled times in life. Being a member of the Pride family, you carry the knowledge, love and true sense of ‘Pride’ with you for the rest of your life. You feel the joy, strength, angst, love and most of all compassion for one another, and hopefully that is how the audience will feel.”
Fans can enjoy what promise to be heartfelt and emotional performances at the Nashville, Dayton and Indianapolis WGI Regionals and WGI World Championships in Dayton, Ohio.
RCC Winter Drum Line
The Riverside Community College Winter Drum Line transported audience members back to their childhoods with its 2007 Independent World Class championship show, “Momento, A Collection of First Time Memories.”
A geometric floor design in primary colors set the stage for images of fun and play, including a rope-jumping cymbal section, bouncy balls, childhood tunes and even a first kiss. All of these visuals, combined with RCC’s world-class music and marching, never failed to impress. Entering WGI Finals in second place by .45, they came from behind to capture the gold with a final score of 96.95!
RCC director Gary Locke credits the success of the program both to world-class musicians and a staff of world-renowned designers, arrangers and teachers including percussion arranger and designer Sean Vega. “Sean Vega is a master at ‘setting the tone’ of each rehearsal,” Locke says. “He and I see eye to eye on everything, and we stress the three most important things in life—not just percussion—which are commitment, discipline and follow-through. What employer wouldn’t want that from his workers? We are teaching a lot more than notes … we’re teaching people, and we are preaching integrity.”
The 2008 captain Matt Regua, a chemical engineering major, agrees that he will take so much more than percussion skills from his RCC experience. “RCC is an extremely advanced ensemble,” Regua says. “We don’t try to be world class in just our performance. We try to be world class in everything we do—in how we load our truck, how we present ourselves in public, how we treat each other, how we treat our staff and how we treat our fans. We try to be efficient in all aspects of the activity. It’s taught me how to be efficient outside of RCC, in school, and in how I organize my schedule, my priorities, my schoolwork and my life.”
The staff includes Jim Wunderlich and Mike Jackson—who both led Mission Viejo High School to a Scholastic gold medal in 2007—and drill designer Paul Locke along with a team of outstanding technicians.
The final, and perhaps most memorable, touch to its 2007 show was the addition of 8-year-old Nicolas Jackson for the Southern California Percussion Alliance (SCPA) and WGI championships performances. The son of Mike Jackson and cymbal line instructor Jenny Jackson, Nicolas marched out to center court at the end of the show, playing a short solo as a voiceover asked, “Do you remember the first time?”
“He still has the drum and carrier and frequently wears it around the house drumming his part,” shares Mike Jackson. “His medal hangs on the edge of his bed. My wife and I were the proudest parents in the world that night for sure.”
The 2008 RCC Winter Drum Line— with its show, “City of Lights”—is bigger than ever with 40 performers. “RCC will once again be very entertaining as they present scenes from the streets of Paris in the 1920s, including street performers of every kind: mimes, jugglers, pick pockets and more,” Locke says. “With the largest ensemble in their history, RCC will have power when they need it as well as high-energy movement, a great pit, experienced battery and plenty of humor and fun for all!”
Catch these world-class entertainers this season at the Rancho Cucamonga and San Diego Regionals, local SCPA shows and defending their title in Dayton at the 2008 WGI World Championships.
James Logan Winter Guard
In 2007, James Logan High School made history earning its 10th consecutive gold medal in WGI Scholastic World Class Competition. Edging out Avon High School by only two-tenths of a point, Logan captured first place in both General Effect captions with its program, “Warriors of Qin.”
Led by director Mark Metzger, the 2007 guard brought this Chinese-inspired program to life with a dramatic soundtrack, powerhouse rifle line, and the cutting-edge look and choreography the world has come to expect from this fierce competitor.
Located in the San Francisco Bay Area, James Logan serves more than 4,000 students from Union City, Calif. This world-renowned winter guard started in 1993 and made WGI finals on its first attempt in 1994.
Just like many other high-level programs, a network of middle school “feeder programs” supports James Logan’s winter guard. But most interestingly there, the feeder programs actually started first, with the establishment of a winter guard at Alvarado Middle School in 1991. Now feeder color guards exist at all of the district’s middle and elementary schools, resulting in upwards of 75 color guard performers in the high school marching band.
“We have a show each year called the ‘Night of Flags, Dance and Drums’ that features our percussion and color guard program progression from elementary school through high school,” shares Pam Young, band booster president.
Also, high school students can take color guard class during the school day where they receive PE credit in addition to their extracurricular rehearsals.
On to China
From a Chinese-inspired show to an actual trip to China, James Logan Band and Color Guards have been invited to participate in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Two hundred Logan students will join what is planned to be a 2,008-member Olympic orchestra composed of both instrumentalists and color guard performers. They will have the opportunity to perform for the athletes in the Olympic Village, a parade near Tiananmen Square and possibly in the opening and pre-opening ceremonies.
This once-in-a-lifetime trip is not without its costs. Each participant must pay more than $4,600 to attend. The booster program has been working with families to raise funds. The high cost of the China trip also meant some difficult decisions for the winter program. James Logan has decided to take a year off from the WGI World Championships competition due to the expense of travel. However, fans will still have the opportunity to see this crowd favorite at several California Color Guard Circuit (CCGC) competitions as well as the WGI Union City Regional and West Power Regional.
“The show is a personal tribute and exploration of range and new styles for the color guard,” Metzger says.
The 2007 WGI gold medal for the Percussion Scholastic World Class went to the Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School Percussion Ensemble. This consistently outstanding group has been a finalist in WGI competition every year since 1996 and a medalist five times in the past 9 years.
Mike Jackson and Jim Wunderlich have been the Mission Viejo percussion caption heads since 1989. Wunderlich is the front ensemble arranger for the Drum Corps International World Champion Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps, and Jackson is now a member of the WGI Board of Directors. Both also serve as part of the staff for the Independent World Class gold medalist, Riverside Community College Winter Drum Line.
Mission Viejo’s 2007 program, “Indivisible,” was a collection of original arrangements of familiar patriotic tunes including variations on the “Star-Spangled Banner,” excerpts from the film “Glory” and even the “Pledge of Allegiance.” The show closed with a military-style “Presentation of the Colors.”
When asked where the idea for a patriotic show originated, Jackson explains, “I’m definitely a patriot. Different things inspire me from year to year. Whatever touches me the most within the last 12 months is the direction I try to steer the program.”
Still, there is risk associated with traditional patriotic music. “Can we pull this off and have it not be cheesy?” Jackson had wondered. “I think that was the challenge of it.”
The group met and exceeded that challenge with a show that touched the audience and took the program all the way to the top. Alex Shahmiri, a senior and the 2008 pit section leader, remembers how it felt performing what became a very powerful show: “Once, after a show, someone from another school came up to me and said they started crying while they watched the show because they really felt what we were performing,” Shahmiri says. “I thought it was amazing that, from us playing, we could have that effect on someone. Even people in the ensemble—we’d get goose bumps because we’d just feel the emotion. We could all relate to it in some way.”
Jackson feels the same way: “There’s those special years where you have that one particular show that seems to touch people, and there’s that special moment,” he says. “It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s great. It’s like 2 + 2 = 5, and that was definitely last year for us.”
A Complete Departure
In addition to world-class percussion education, Shahmiri says that he really values the friendships and sense of family he has experienced during his four years as a member. “The camaraderie between everyone—I don’t think I’ll ever experience that once I graduate,” he says. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing to be in an organization like this where everyone is there for the other person.”
So what’s in store for 2008? Jackson promises “a complete departure from where we’ve been the last few years.” Shahmiri adds: “This year I think people should expect to really have to think. It’s definitely going to be a good show, and it’s different.”
Fans can look for Mission Viejo this year at local SCPA shows, the WGI Temecula Regional and of course at World Championships in Dayton, Ohio.
Photo courtesy of WGI Sport of the Arts.