Petal High School’s indoor percussion ensemble is preparing for what is sure to be an exciting and promising competition season in 2018.
Indoor percussion is an international competitive circuit featuring performances that embody elements of marching percussion, melodic instrumentation and theater. The international governing body of indoor percussion is the Winter Guard International Sport of the Arts (WGI) and is based out of Dayton, Ohio. Founded in 1977, indoor percussion has since become one of the fastest growing pageantry activities in the world.
Currently, WGI hosts championships across the United States, Asia, Africa and Canada. According to WGI, there were upwards of 36,000 regional participants, and more than 15,000 participants at the World Championships in 2017.
According to Petal High School’s indoor percussion director Tony Lymon, there are three classes within the scholastic division of WGI that exist as parameters for the participating ensembles’ overall skill sets- A Class, Open Class and World Class.
The A Class division features novice ensembles, and includes a significant percentage of the overall participants. Meanwhile, the Open Class division features more intermediate ensembles. The World Class division features the top elite ensembles, and consists of only a small percentage of participating groups.
Lymon explained that of the roughly 5,000 participating groups worldwide, there are only 22 high schools that compete at the world championships in the scholastic world division, and Petal High School is one of those schools.
Lymon added that this is perhaps more impressive when considering the nature of the schools that make up the World Class Division.
“The schools that are typically in this division are from places like Silicon Valley, California, or from some of the wealthiest areas of Indiana, Florida and Texas,” he said. “It’s an anomaly that we’re able to do what we can do with the amount of resources we don’t have.”
This season, the group’s show is called ‘Pandora,’ and is based on the classis Greek mythology story of ‘Pandora’s Box’. Lymon explained that the group is utilizing some interesting creative elements in addition to overall musicality and theatrics to convey the story line.
“Basically, the show opens up with the entire drum line inside of a 16 foot box. They represent the entities the box that should not be let out,” he said. “We join the scene in progress where Pandora’s curiosity is peaked by this box. You can see the entities entice her and then come flying out, causing her to immediately realize her mistake. Throughout the course of the plot, she gets the impression that she can control these entities. However, both she and the audience realize that the entities were only doing that to put her in the box in the end.”
Ultimately, a substantial part of the overall scoring system is how well the group conveys this story through the group’s musicality and theatrics.
The show features Lymon’s original musical arrangements in collaboration with John Mapes, a director from Chino Hills, California. Mapes’ and his ensemble are currently the international champions in the scholastic World Class division.
“The arrangements are based on electronic dance music artist Björk’s song called ‘Scatter Heart,’ Lymon said. “The arrangements are really creepy and indicative of a cinematic setting. We are essentially trying to creating this heightened theatrical experience that is as close to the point of cinema as possible.”
Lymon said the group is exploring new musical territory in this show that he believes will give them the upper hand in terms of creativity. He explained that they eliminated guitars and added more synthesizers- elements that are foreign to the percussion idiom.
“Over the course of four days, the judging panel will see upwards of 300 groups, so we really have to solidify some of your real estate and be unique and memorable,” he said.
While the excitement of a new season certainly has students and directors eager to start competing, it’s not just the performances that make indoor percussion special to all involved.
“For me, it’s a mission,” Lymon said. “The life I live today is afforded to me because of this kind of activity, in that I had a leader that made sure that I was going to be set up for success.”
Apart from the competition, creative elements and performances, Lymon said that he is most excited for the opportunity to see his students grow over the course of the season.
“It is truly amazing to watch a student go from sixth grade, to standing in front of 20,000 people with the utmost confidence,” he said. “These students will develop skills that help to make them employable and upstanding citizens of their own communities and, at the end of the day, will help them become something greater than they could ever conceive.”
In addition, percussionist and Petal alumna Juliana Martinez said that it was also the lifelong friendships she developed throughout her time in the ensemble that made indoor percussion special.
“As I stepped in to more of a leadership role, I realized more and more each day how close of a family we all were to each other,” she said.
Martinez was a member of Petal High School’s indoor percussion group for five years, first joining when she was in the eighth grade.
Students in indoor percussion spend a minimum of 24 hours each week rehearsing together. Often times, rehearsals can last upwards of twelve hours in one day.
“The students spend more waking hours with each other than they do with their families during this season,” Lymon said. “Because of that, the members of the group become family to each other.”
Lymon said that he believes the group this year is the best group to date at Petal High School in regards to talent, however talent and rankings are not representative of success in his opinion.
“It can be easy to attribute success to the numbers we’re given at competitions, when really that is only a small part of it,” he said. “The skills and values we gain throughout a season far outweigh any numbers or scores.”