Corona Percussion Regional Review

March 2, 2012
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by Alex Mendoza

2012 already looks to be one for the books, as WGI’s 35th anniversary kicked off in the West Coast with a legion of 24 finalist ensembles delivering the latest and greatest in the ranks of Indoor Percussion.

Set against the lovely backdrop of Corona, CA at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, the gym played host to a seemingly endless set of entertaining performances; some of which took full advantage of the new light and projection rule established before the start of the 2012 competitive season.

In others, though, it was clear the margin is extremely close, as Pulse Percussion was edged out by RCC by a mere .15 gap, while other surprises involved a tie between the PSO innovators South Hills and the charming and whimsical fancy of the performers of Great Oak High School.

It will be exciting to see how the programs develop within the next month before WGI returns for another dose of West Coast action for the Temecula Regional, but if this regional was any indication, the future is bright – pun wholly intended.

Percussion Scholastic A

“The Chain” – La Cañada HS
La Cañada Flintridge, CA
6th Place

The various mechanics of science have compelled scientists from the earliest reaches of human history.  Yet it is the tireless pursuit of unraveling and detailing the physical properties that govern our existence that have pushed us forward into daring new realms.  The performers of La Cañada tapped into this mystery and intrigue with their program, “The Chain”.  As the music evolved from its electronically inspired opening, one could imagine the music as how someone might interpret the sound of molecules in motion.  And with a formidable battery in tow, it’s clear the chemistry between the members is well on its way to developing into something more compelling in the near future.

“Dia De Los Muertos” – Thousand Oaks HS
Thousand Oaks, CA
5th Place

Vibrant colored backdrops and Mexican culture served as a primary source of inspiration for Thousand Oaks’ festive production, “Dia de los Muertos”.  Black uniforms lined with white trim and painted faces added to the show’s unique aesthetic, with lively acoustic guitar figures and Spanish-flavored melodies accompanying the various narrative segments detailing the most important characteristics of this treasured Mexican holiday.  Particular highlights included a riveting acoustic guitar duet rendition of “Ave Maria”, along with a graceful dancer that posed as a mourner paying tribute to their loved one.

“Chronos” – Valhalla HS
El Cajon, CA
4th Place

In Greek mythology, Chronos was the personification of Time and responsible for the birth of the universe.  In the case of the performers of Valhalla High School, however, the implementation of Chronos and his infamous time manipulating abilities served as an extremely effective vehicle in detailing the timeline of designing a winter percussion show through the use of a horizontal line stretching from one end of the tarp to the next – with words such as “Snare feature”, “Rewind” and “Something Unexpected” to guide the audience along the way.  The effects worked seamlessly as a lone performer walked in slow motion across this line, with the ensemble providing the necessary musical support as he made his way towards the “end” of the process.

“Down” – Temescal Canyon HS
Temescal Canyon, CA
3rd Place

“What comes up must come down.”  Such was the case with Temescal Canyon’s entertaining production, “Down”, which incorporated all things involving the word and its use in Pop Culture, as well as the physical nature of rising and falling in terms of the visual perspective.  Key moments involved the ensemble’s clever implementation of LMFAO’s dance hit, “Party Rock”, featuring shuffling drummers juggling beats and slick dance moves at the same time – all with impressive results.  But the ensemble’s appreciation of the deeper meaning of their production came to light near its waning moments, as the ensemble pushed towards a climatic finish, reminding the audience that “when life drags you down, keep your head up.”

“Scavenger” – Palisades Charter HS
Pacific Palisades, CA
2nd Place

The production values of Palisades Charter’s dark and primitive program, “Scavenger”, observed the bleaker side of nature, as the ensemble displayed a keen understanding of their “survival of the fittest” concept.  A pack of hyenas, led by one particularly vicious leader, opened the program by surrounding a corpse.  The music lent itself to building suspense before the pack tore into the corpse, with the music perfectly capturing the visceral nature of the act.  As the program pushed forward, a beautifully clothed female dancer – representing another animal in the wild - offered a sense of relief from the relentless percussion rhythms with a gorgeous ballad section, only to fall prey to another set of scavengers representing vultures.  The most impressive aspect, however, were the performers and their commitment to the aboriginal guise, as it enhanced the program tenfold.

“Follow Me” – Pacifica HS
Garden Grove, CA
1st Place

Even in a new competitive class, the 2011 PSO Champions proved that they intend to hold their own amidst their PSA peers with their program, “Follow Me”.  With deep shades of navy blue set against a beige tarp, the ensemble explored the various methods upon which we tend to follow one another in life.  Creative musical and visual cues had members following one another in curved drill patterns, or mimicking particular musical phrases after being played by a solo musician.  But the unexpected emotional shift that incorporated the haunting strains of Death Cab For Cutie’s “Follow You Into The Dark”, followed by a few lines from Charlie Chaplin’s powerful speech from the film, “The Great Dictator,” hinted towards something far more poignant in the near future.

Percussion Independent A

“Monster Within” – Cornerstone Percussion
San Diego, CA
3rd Place

Authors, directors and painters have spent the annals of history attempting to capture the various angles of man’s greatest battle: the battle with himself.  In the case of the performers of Cornerstone Percussion, however, they focused on the religious perspective of man’s inner conflict, attempting to contain the beast lurking within us all.  Deep blood-red uniforms coupled with jet-black added to the intensity of the program, as the ensemble showcased their enthralling talents with a demanding book that required the performers to exercise a consistent rate of high-energy delivery – and they did not falter.  Samples further detailed the descent into the darkness, citing the only way to keep the beast at bay was to embrace spirituality and find peace within.

“Anarchy” – Vegas Vanguard
Las Vegas, NV
2nd Place

The members of Vegas Vanguard tapped into their insurgent spirit, paying homage to revolutionary characters such as Guy Fawkes – adorned with the trademark mask to boot – in their politically charged program, “Anarchy”.  The ensemble masterfully utilized its relentless pacing, offering little breathing room as they assaulted the senses with a barrage of fierce rhythms and fiery messages from its Anonymous-esque narrator.  Other moments involved the battery using picket signs that resembled echoes of the “Occupy Wall St.” movement, as well as protesting the rule of the age-out limit within WGI.  And while the performers displayed command over their lofty musical and visual aspirations, given the relevance of the subject matter to our current place in history, it was that element alone that allowed the program to reaffirm the ideal of art imitating life.

“Slow Me Down” – Weber State Indoor Percussion
Ogden, UT
1st Place

The performers of Weber State made quite an opening statement, earning the 2012 PIA Regional Title in their first ever appearance in a WGI sanctioned event, with their program, “Slow Me Down”.  Incorporating the same music book that Chino Hills HS performed back in 2010, the swift melodies painted the overwhelming hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Exciting battery passages were handled with skillful precision, as the percussion members maneuvered through one akin to a high-speed chase set amidst a metropolitan labyrinth.  The members also had plenty of dance and funk to spare, boogying along to the Dr. Dre-influenced feel of their “slower is better” segment, transitioning into the show’s central message: “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t slow down once in awhile, you just might miss it.”

Percussion Scholastic Concert Open

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” – Murietta Mesa HS
Murietta, CA
1st Place

Fans of the classic Disney film, “Fantasia”, were treated to an astounding rendition of the timeless tune, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”.  It was nearly impossible to discount the images of Mickey Mouse adorned in the trademark blue sorcerer’s hat, guiding the suddenly animate brooms to the bouncy melodies heard throughout the piece.  Shock-and-awe moments were also in the ensemble’s favor, faultlessly shifting from pin-drop levels of silence, to energetic moments upon which a cacophony of sound was packed into consecutive quarter-note impacts.   16th note flourishes also provided another refreshing layer of velocity, as the swirling melodic figures propelled the program to its thrilling conclusion.

Percussion Scholastic Open

“Plugged In” – Los Alamitos HS
Los Alamitos, CA
3rd Place

Science Fiction’s explorations on the possibilities of virtual reality have long enticed authors, video game designers and filmmakers alike, and it would seem the performers of Los Alamitos have joined that particular roster.  Stationed on the left side of the tarp, the young female character placed a device reminiscent to the quirky invention made by The Riddler from “Batman Forever”.  As the show progressed, her thoughts and anxieties were represented by the ensemble, tackling a variety of genres with a contemporary interpretation on particular emotions such as hope and anger.  From an audio standpoint, the ensemble’s electronic palette resembled one familiar to the current mainstream pop landscape, influencing the female character to assimilate with the world within.

“All In, All Out” – Great Oak HS
Temecula, CA
1st Place

Charismatic, quirky and whimsical are just a few of the words that fit Great Oak’s program, “All In, All Out”, but above all else, the program is forging its own path with its unique sense of style – combining elements of contemporary video concepts, Buster Keaton and a light French feel in a captivating manner.  Much credit is due to the young performers of the ensemble, who meet the task of nailing their idiosyncratic characteristics and channeling them through the music, as well as the visually enthralling opener, equipped with bowler hats and uniforms that look the same forwards and backwards.  But the most eye-popping moment came with the manipulation of shadow and light against a large white sheet, with the interaction between the silhouettes and the performers showing there is much promise with the incorporation of the new lighting and projection rule.  Rest assured, there is much anticipation to see the conclusion.

“Home” – South Hills HS
West Covina, CA
1st Place

South Hills has long been known to provide an impeccable sense of style and innovation since their WGI Regional debut in 2008.  Whether it has been pushing the bar in terms of sampling, or creating mesmerizing electronic soundscapes tinged with a surprisingly human touch, South Hills’ shows have always managed to connect in a deeply personal manner.  Yet with their program, “Home”, the ensemble takes this to another level by providing a familiar visual aesthetic everyone can connect with – television.  Televisions of the last two decades remain stacked on pillars in the front, with moving pictures featuring actual members of the ensemble and the distinct catalogue of the small, but poignant, moments that are part of their everyday lives at home.  And one cannot help but recall the idea of Audio-Visual coordination during a segment where words on the screen moved with the samples played, providing a toe-tapping groove that foreshadowed the progression into possibilities we have yet to experience.    


Percussion Independent Open

“Lost in the Sahara” – Pasadena City College
Pasadena, CA
4th Place

The performers of PCC provided a daring excursion to a forbidden desert landscape, as Middle-Eastern melodies immediately painted the portrait of a scorching landscape.  Samples with sounds reminiscent of distance sandstorms also composed the opening segment, as the battery traveled across the floor playing challenging rhythms – leading to impressive battery ensemble feature wrought with complex rhythms and movement.

“Infection” – Bakersfield College Drumline
Bakersfield, CA
3rd Place

The Bakersfield College Drumline established a sense of fear and panic with their viral-inspired program, “Infection”.  The lone sound of a heartbeat echoed in the midst of a deep space of silence.  Other notes resembling a familiar melody layered in one by one, until it became apparent the strains of Dr. Dre’s, “I Need a Doctor”, were a central thematic motif in the program.  A line resembling a heartbeat extended from one end of the tarp towards a honeycomb-esque pattern on the other, possibly reflecting the idea that one by one, society – or possibly even the world – was dealing with a global epidemic where a virus was claiming members of the ensemble.  This idea was also represented with a contrasting blood-red sash against their deep-blue uniforms, with the stirring violin melody of “Requiem for a Dream” representing the urgency and conflict to survive.  Eventually the virus overcame the ensemble, and the heartbeat tone emerged yet again – only to shift into the sound of a flat line.   

“Rhythm is Life” – Orange County Independent Percussion
Fountain Valley, CA
2nd Place

The sounds of jackhammers, trains, crows, and trolley bells opened the first moments of OCI’s program, “Rhythm is Life”.  With a healthy-sized ensemble, the group explored the incorporation of rhythm in the various facets of life outside of music, as well as the activity.  Samples detailed the assorted segments of the show, citing “rhythm is everywhere” and “rhythm is everything”, while taking radically diverse sounds and mashing them together in a cohesive fashion.  Other samples detailed how our mother’s heartbeat is the rhythm we first hear, as well as the rhythm of technology – which strictly relied on electronic samples to provide the intricate rhythmic framework, supported by the remarkable skill sets of the entire ensemble.

“Obsessed” – Pulse Percussion Open
Los Alamitos, CA
1st Place

After an electrifying finals performance, Pulse Percussion Open proved that they only thing they are obsessed with is proving that amidst the PIO contenders they are they ones to keep an eye upon.  And for good reason, as their program, “Obsessed”, showcased a deftly executed production that creatively detailed the pitfalls of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or the need to make sure everything is in its right place.  This was represented with a sound palette that could make one highly anxious, as well as the various physical ticks of the ensemble involved, such as the necessity to keep cleaning the same spot on their instruments, or the frustrating requirement to lock and relock doors again a particular amount of times before being able to move forward with their day.  But their remarkable rhythmic precision implied that their attention to detail is unrivaled, and persistent visual cues signaled to the core theme that everything remains as it should be: perfect – something this program is close to achieving in a short amount of time.


Percussion Scholastic Concert World

“There Will Come Soft Rains” – Rowland HS
Rowland Heights, CA
2nd Place

With a title such as “There Will Come Soft Rains”, Rowland’s performers proved that the calm only arrives after the storm.  Considering that this is only their second year in Percussion Scholastic Concert World, the group has considerably upped the ante with a program that highlights their ability to tackle nuanced phrases and 16th note passages with practically little, to no effort at all.  At times the music painted the idyllic scene of a lone cabin in the midst of a gorgeous winter scene, the surroundings lined with mounds upon mounds of snow drifting from the heavens above.  During others, however, an ominous low tone provided a stark contrast to the dexterous 16th note phrases the marimba section played, effectively creating the harsh imaginings of a merciless storm barraging the world below.   The ensemble clearly possesses the training to push the bar even further, as implied by the ensemble’s skillful grace on their respective instruments, and will surely deliver on the eponymous element of their alluring program.

“The Bringer of Joy” – Woodbridge HS
Irvine, CA
1st Place

The inherent bliss from viewing the insanely gifted performers of Woodbridge comes from the energy that manifests inside the gym – originating from players that are not equipped with drums, performing the trademark set of battery percussion movements we’ve come to familiarize ourselves with across the years, but rather standing in place and turning their instruments into extensions of the performers’ artistic sensibilities.  In turn what the ensemble has created this year is one of the most riveting concert programs in recent memory, effortlessly navigating the emotional spectrum their go-for-broke production requires.  Hearing the boisterous renditions of Gustav Holst’s classic melody from “Jupiter, the Bringer of Joy” is something of a marvel, especially as the legion of six marimba players (yes, that’s right: SIX) rapidly executes nearly impossible passages that would challenge even the most seasoned college music majors, coupled alongside intricate percussion accompaniment and soaring vibraphone melodies.  All the while one has to recall the fact that these are high school students, but their demeanor, execution and presence imply otherwise.  Dayton has no idea what is in store, but without a doubt they will deliver joy to all those fortunate to hear – and bear witness – to what these students have to offer: musicians at the top of their game.


Percussion Scholastic World

“Before I Sleep” – Rowland HS
Rowland Heights, CA
3rd Place

The soothing pallet of pearl-white hues intermingled with light blue and red tones provided the ideal setting for Rowland’s intellectually and emotionally stimulating program, “Before I Sleep”.  Drawing from various sources of Asian culture and musical inspiration, the lines from the classic Robert Frost poem implied the necessity of following through and accomplishing life’s particular goals before they go to sleep, which could be personified as death, or the end of one’s path.  A sequence of brown poles were placed in the upper left corner, resembling a forest upon which the members constantly viewed as their goal, or dream if you will, and the yearning for this completion was further amplified by the irrefutable emotion of “Nessum Dorma”, as the dramatic tenor melody provided a constant thematic motif.  Hushed whispers discussing “what dreams may come” closed off the program, foreshadowing the remaining moments that lie on the horizon.

“Brief Eternity” – Arcadia HS
Arcadia, CA
2nd Place

The 2011 PSW Champions changed the game entirely with their physical prowess and relentless percussive abilities with last year’s program, “Rise”.  As such, most people assuming that the ensemble would hopefully employ the same in-your-face opening were treated to an entirely different side of the ensemble altogether, whom remained eerily still as a lone female choir voice opened the program – singing the words dealing with the show’s title.  What followed was the closest comparison to chamber music that a marching percussion ensemble could ever receive, as specific sections paired a lone female marimba player to the controlled intensity of the battery’s intricate and musically nuanced phrases.  As the show progressed, its thematic core touched on the brief moments upon which certain people, or events, are in the spotlight.  And while these challenging segments ended as quickly as they began, it was the memories of these aspects that lived on in our hearts and minds, much like particular features of the activity itself, and the legacy we tend to leave behind as instructors and performers; some of which were jarring with their display of individual talent, as noted by a solo tenor player who juggled his complex feature with a deluge of crossovers and notes upon notes, and the ephemeral presentation of talent only pointed towards the latter end of the season, where these performers will shock and awe yet again.

“Predictable” – Chino Hills HS
Chino Hills, CA
1st Place

There are exceptional moments upon which one can witness the talent of an ensemble of young musicians, and cannot help but think anything how grateful they are to witness such work at hand.  Such is the case with the highly passionate and proficient performers of the Chino Hills Percussion Ensemble.  In other hands the show’s risky premise could easily falter, but much credit is due to the team of Mapes and Grom, who are able to draw out the energy from their students to perform a show that requires a bit of the quirky, the silly and a torrential downpour of challenging music to boot.  But not once did the ensemble display any signs of struggle or fatigue, as songs that normally could be viewed as gimmicky, or even hammy, were handled with such finesse and precision that it did not really matter what the show’s primary focus was.  The music speaks for itself, taking extremes to the next level as a viral video craze, a former politician’s hilarious sound bytes and an insane dubstep-tinged bass feature are but a slight morsel of what Chino Hills’ show has to offer.  It would be a crime to detail the surprises any further, but this is one of those extraordinary performances where you simply have to experience it first hand to get the full effect, proving their show is anything but what their title insinuates; and for the rest of us in the percussion realm, that bodes extremely well for all who view the hilarious and mesmerizing production.


Percussion Independent World

“Coming and Going” – Pulse Percussion
Los Alamitos, CA
2nd Place

The performers of Pulse Percussion are set on delivering an unrivaled emotional experience that few drum line shows have ever attempted.  Set against the magnificent framework of a beach sunset, the ensemble brought forth meticulous force and achingly beautiful music that dealt with the departure of people that come and go in our lives.  Represented through the thematic motif of beach waves that gently lap upon the sand, narrative samples discussed that “the pictures of life come and go.  None of it stays, just like the clouds floating by.”  During the production’s middle section, a female character adorned in white and blue made her way across the floor, with the wave samples prominently making their statement as she signaled people in and our of her path, much like the people traveling in and our of our lives; or even more, reflecting upon the memories of the people who have come and gone, only to be reminded: “When it comes, don't push it away. Let it come, let it stay.  When it goes, you don't grieve...oh, it's gone...”, reflecting the thought process we tend to adopt when life deals us with our expected joys and sorrows.  But it was the concluding portion that paid homage to the activity, citing “if you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you’re going” – drawing upon classic drumline cadences and warm ups such as “Electric Wheelchair,” “Ditty”, and “Double Beat”.  And compared to most programs whom can develop an connection because of the immediate familiar to particular concepts already established by other forms of art across history, Pulse’s desire to touch on the more sensible aspects of the emotional spectrum offer a considerable challenge that the ensemble clearly understands to wonderful effect, and still manages to pay tribute to the life-changing attributes of this activity in the process.

“The Gift” – Riverside Community College
Riverside, CA
1st Place

The tagline for the poster of Oliver Stone’s tragic war epic, “Platoon”, read, “The first casualty of war is innocence.”  Such is the case with RCC’s visceral production, “The Gift” – a searing portrait of the harrowing effects of war and the toll it takes upon those whom participate.  The fragmented grey design of the tarp, speckled with props reminiscent to the jutting pieces of steel lining the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, offer a contemporary interpretation on the spirit of war, opposed to focusing on a singular war itself.  The essence of conflict and the turmoil it brings was foreshadowed by a female voice talking about the Great War and how people fought the enemies of freedom in lands far away.  The sheer commitment to the performance from the ensemble was impossible to deny, as faces contorted with pain and rage brought new life to a normally tried-and-true concept.  Think one part ‘Full Metal Jacket” meets “The Thin Red Line”, as the commanding and innovative use of space was used to a startling degree.  Fans of the “Gears of War” franchise will enjoy the flash bomb segment, where various sound bytes and from the franchise itself, added to the sense of urgency as the battery performed a series of movements before re-entering with an eye-popping sequence of accent patterns.  But on a deeper level, the title implies how these troops sacrifice the gift of their own humanity in order to defend the gift of freedom, regardless of race, color, creed or whatever side you are fighting – war invariably affects us the same.  There are no strangers or discrimination to its destructive consequences, making RCC’s production all the more pertinent and artistically relevant.

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