In honor of WGI Percussion finals this upcoming week, I've decided to look back and do a bit of analysis on my favorite moments in PIW of the past 5 years. I marched in PIO finals in Dayton in 2011 and 2012, so I may be a bit biased towards those years but can you blame me? We all know seeing these groups in person is totally, completely, more appealing than scouring YouTube and Twitter for show clips. Feeling them trumps hearing them every time.
After deciding on my top 5 and looking the list over, it truly was nothing but a sheer coincidence that it went chronologically most to least recent. I debated switching 2, 3, and 4 around a bit but defaulted with the higher scoring groups to round it out. And as stated before previously I saw 1 and 2 live at UD Arena. Even though most of my marching was done with a snare drum strapped on, it's been interesting to see how I've tended to slide a little more on the front ensemble side as I've been writing and teaching more. That's reflected below where it otherwise may not be.
5. Cadets Winter Percussion 2015 - DECONSTRUCTED
Three years ago, this group didn't even exist. Obviously the Cadets aren't newbies to the marching activity, but this has been the first time we've seen a group score so high right out of the gate in almost 10 years. We've really only seen a couple groups make historic jumps in the past and those ensembles have been consistently in the top 4 ever since. Rhythm X took bronze in '04, their second season in PIW. Even Pulse hung around 10th in PIW in the mid 2000's before jumping to 4th in '09 and winning it all in '10. Over the past 7 years, X and Pulse have a combined 5 championships and medaled another 3 times each while competing alongside the indoor percussion staples of MCM and RCC. What does that say for Cadets Winter? Who knows, but if history has any meaning in these early beginnings of WGI, don't be surprised if Cadets medal this year and possibly win it all within the next few. They have the pedigree. Winning PIO in your inaugural year and placing 6th in PIW the very next is pretty insane. They've technically risen quicker than X within a much thicker pool of groups and development of the activity.
4. Orange County Independent 2014 - THE WORLD IN YOU
This is another new and upcoming ensemble. Made the jump to PIW after 2 years in PIO and receiving the silver in '13. I'm just a huge fan of their writing. With so many lines trying to ram notes and show off chops, it's refreshing to see a group like this where the focus is obviously on the musicality without force feeding the audience an onslaught of ink. They still have those moments, especially in the front ensemble, but the phrasing player to player and as an ensemble is on point. Everything looks, sounds, and feels like it should be where it is. I know that's something I try to work on as a writer. Warmth.
3. Matrix Percussion 2013 - COVERED
How can you not love this show?! They cover Skrillex, top 3 basses are women and kill it, dancers get painted, tenors get a bucket poured over them at the end, emotional presence is undeniable, and not to mention they broke into the top 4 that year. First time since '08 anyone besides X, RCC, MCM, and Pulse have done so. The writing is similar to OC Independent above; very easy to listen to and warms over the audience.
2. RCC 2012 - THE GIFT
RCC has been a staple and envelope pusher in the activity ever since WGI Percussion began. I remember first seeing them in '07 with the Kids at Play show. Their show in '12 couldn't be a bigger contrast to that. A championship year for them and at no surprise. They hold true to consistent ensembles they've put on the floor over the years. Challenging book all around and when it's oxyclean, they're hella tough to beat. Not afraid to load up on notes and stretch boundaries on rhythm structures.
1. Music City Mystique 2011 - MANTRA
This was my first in person experience with PIW and will always be one of my all time favorite shows. MCM's individual performance commitment is without a doubt at the top. Even away from the floor, even walking to sub sectionals they were in that mode. Watching the dude playing the big drum do tai chi on his own, the snare line walk around with a skull staff, the front ensemble incense, tenors all shaving their heads and the calm, entranced mood the whole ensemble was in hours before they performed had an impact. They all knew this show religiously. Dogmatic confidence. I could go on and on. The book across the board is downright ridiculous. Unique in a lot of different ways. Front ensemble refuses to let you out of the show concept. Lots of battery and auxiliary play. Lots of alternating herta figures and singles look like nothing to these guys. Woods are constantly moving and making knowingly tough motives look simple. Mystique always has an incredible pit, but this year especially they were on another level. Established quality of sound and unquestioned rhythms. It really does blow my mind how the writers put down the ink they did and thought, "yeah we can clean that." Watch the whole thing. A lot.
This may seem partially misleading. As I'm ranting and raving about the book demand (and you'll see more of what I'm talking about below with the marimbas) one of the more impressive things I notice in this show is the unison at the end of this tenor break. The 9 person snare line is spread out across the floor. Maybe it's just the area I live and teach in, but recognizing how time and sound work is unfortunately often overlooked so something like this may not seem as it is. Take a look at the picture below.
Middle of the ballad. Marimbas showcase their technique and interval control. Both hands are in octaves with the left double verticals and right laterals. As if those strokes at those intervals aren't tough enough, the range of this lick causes the performers to physically lower their whole body just to reach the bottom of the left hand arpeggios. The right hand virtually remains stationary considering their covering less than half of the intervallic ground than the left hand. Chops and clarity.
Boom. My favorite moments and shows from the past 5 years. Hopefully I'll be putting up more posts similar to this. A little more in depth analysis to what's actually going on, at least more so than I've seen personally. Have suggestions? Disagree with this list? Think I missed something? Let me know in the comments. Happy WGI Finals week. Best wishes to all the groups performing. It's an exciting time for the activity with the influx of ensembles and competition. We can only hope the growth, expansion and popularity continues. These groups deserve and need more publicity and exposure than they actually get.
"Percussion is the most adaptable family of instruments. The biggest challenge is to project percussion in a lyrical way."