LOTUS Marks the Return of Arkansas Independent Percussion

LOTUS Marks the Return of Arkansas Independent Percussion

By Kellie Finch

When referencing states with a large indoor marching arts presence, Arkansas is not typically mentioned in conversation. A more common choice may be Texas, California, or Ohio, where indoor marching hubs tend to reside.

To put things into perspective, Arkansas’ primary competitive circuit, known as the Arkansas Marching Arts Association (AMAA), was formed only five years ago. Furthermore, after the sole independent percussion ensemble, River Valley Independent (RVI), disbanded in the mid-2010s, the state did not have a single group competing in that class.

One former member of RVI noticed this void—and vowed to do something about it.

Alex Miller, a founding contributor and current president of the AMAA, got his first taste of indoor percussion over 13 years ago, through RVI. Reflecting fondly on that experience, Miller made a deal with himself: to return independent percussion to Arkansas.

“I had a plan that if the circuit reached year 5, I would create an independent group,” Miller said.

Five years later, the AMAA met its goal—and Miller met his.

Lotus Indoor Percussion was created.

Putting Down Roots

Creating a brand-new ensemble, especially in a state without a “big indoor scene,” as Miller called it, requires hard work, proper marketing, and hope. This is something Miller and his team were well aware of going into the audition process.

“In our first year, we weren’t sure what to expect,” Miller said. “AMAA has been growing fast, but we didn’t know how many people would be interested in an independent group. … We hoped to spread the word on social media and have our team contact directors in the state to let everyone know about us.”

Lotus is based in Benton, Arkansas, a suburb of the state’s capital, Little Rock. Benton’s central location is beneficial for recruiting new members across the state, but the ensemble’s audition process resulted in several out-of-state members as well.

“While most of our members are located in Arkansas, our center snare is actually from the Dallas, TX area,” Miller said. “I think he drives about 3-4 hours just to get into Arkansas and then carpools the rest of the way with some of our members in southern Arkansas. Every weekend!”

Lotus’s audition process was fairly typical, Miller said. Auditionees were given a packet of materials to prepare, but a large focus was placed on how well members could move. The November audition camps drew in a wide variety of ages, spanning from teenagers to those in their twenties.

“We pulled a lot from Southern Arkansas University (SAU) and Arkansas Tech,” Miller said. “But there is a ‘peppering’ of talented high school students that made the cut. It’s a good mix.”

Learning to Grow

Lotus flowers traditionally symbolize a period of transformation, even to be described as a rebirth. Lotus Indoor Percussion nods to its floral namesake by fostering a rebirth of its own: the Arkansas Independent Percussion scene.

The inaugural ensemble could not have selected a more fitting logo, its pink lotus signifying the endless possibilities for new growth, both within Lotus and expanding to the entire state.

“I think a goal amongst the ensemble this year is to prove that something like this can not only just exist, but also thrive in Arkansas,” Miller said.

Since Arkansas is less populated with indoor groups than other states, the education process tends to be lengthier, both for people within the community and those unfamiliar with it.

“Here in Arkansas, we have to teach everyone what this activity is and what it takes to succeed in it,” Miller said. “Thankfully, we’ve been lucky to have great programs in our state that educate and bring in talented players to join Lotus.”

Several of Arkansas’ high school band programs have helped shift the narrative as well, Miller said. The national recognition that these programs have gained has caused people to better appreciate what the small state can accomplish.

Miller noted that social media has also been a positive aid for the ensemble, giving the brand-new group more recognition than expected.

“We are still blown away at how quickly the hype has grown around this ensemble, all before playing a single note for the public,” Miller said. “Everyone I’ve spoken to wants us to succeed, and the support from the community has been fantastic!”

This season, Lotus plans to attend the Jackson, Mississippi WGI regional and tour through the AMAA circuit, Miller said. Next year, Dayton is the goal.

Beginning to Bloom

In only a short time, Miller and the Lotus team have proven that with hard work and a dream, anything is possible.

“For years, I kept saying to my friends, ‘I really hope someone starts an independent group again in Arkansas,’” Miller said. “I then realized I was the one who had to do it.”

Miller’s choice sparked an insightful life lesson for others in the music community and anyone else who chooses to take his advice.

“Don’t wait for someone else to take the lead, and don’t tell yourself that you’re not the one who can make it happen,” Miller said. “You might surprise yourself.”

About the Author:

Kellie Finch is an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pursuing her BA in Media and Journalism through the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. At UNC, she is a member of the Marching Tar Heels in the tenor saxophone section. She participated in WGI winds during all four years of high school playing the alto saxophone, where she discovered her love for music and the activity through her experiences and the people she met.