By Jenny Lyons
Resilience: it is a quality that the marching arts activity breeds and fosters. Performers are taught to rise when they fall down; to pick up and carry on when they drop their equipment; to work harder, to get stronger, better, and faster when faced with something they cannot do, all for the sake of bettering their craft and progressing as performers, people, and as a part of the greater whole.
Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that when faced with tragedy, members of this community choose to rise above the hurt and to create something beautiful out of the darkness.
A little over a year ago, in the wee hours of June 12, 2016, the largest mass shootings in U.S. history struck Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida.When all was said and done, this hate crime robbed 49 people of their lives, wounded at least 58 others, and traumatized countless more. As an attack on a safe haven for the LGBTQ community, this tragedy hit hard and close to the heart of the winter guard community, affecting many of our own educators and performers in the aftermath.
With the performing arts community and beyond rocked by the event, many members of the WGI family were left grappling with heartbreak and fear. Among the many was Roman Montoya, longtime director of Black Gold Winter Guard.
â€œI cried for the entire day,â€ Roman says of the day after the tragedy.
He was not alone in his heartbreak. Though he did not lose anyone in the event, he mourned for the violent crime that had so shaken the community: â€œAs someone in the LGBTQ community, those are the places we go to feel safe with our people. For something like that to happen; it struck everyone to their core.â€
Months later, Romanâ€™s co-director at Black Gold, Chance Livar, happened upon a YouTube video of celebrities reading that names of those who were lost. At a loss thus far over how to react to the attack in a meaningful way, Montoya knew then that they had to pay homage to the victims within their 2017 winter guard program.
â€œThat was it,â€ he says pointedly. In that moment, he felt â€œthis is what we need to do.â€
The intent of the program, entitled â€œOne: We Are Here to Remember,â€ was clear. The performers were costumed in beautiful, understated white pieces with detailing reminiscent of an EKG machine. This pattern is echoed on the subtle rainbow hues of the silks, and boldly so on the tarp, where it is printed in the shape of a heart against the stark white of the floor. The soundtrack was a nuanced mix of â€œFix Youâ€ by Coldplay with the names of victims being read throughout. It was performed with the utmost taste and an expansive amount of heart. Especially within the walls of the Dayton Arena, the connection with the audience was palpable, as was the intense connection from performer to performer. To everyone who witnessed it, there was no doubt that this was a very special program, crafted with love and paying bright homage to those who were stolen by the shooting last summer. Beyond that, the program celebrated the beauty of these lives and trumpeted unity among those who remain.
The reception of Black Goldâ€™s tribute show has been overwhelmingly positive. â€œWeâ€™ve gotten so many Facebook messages from people who were there in Orlando, just thanking us for doing this and making sure those people are not forgottenâ€ Roman says, fighting back visible tears.
Overcome with emotion, he added, â€œWhen people do that, you know youâ€™re doing the right thing.â€
Beyond their beautiful work within the winter guard arena, Black Gold has taken the events of last year to heart and aims to take a stand for the sake of unity and compassion within the LGBTQ community. They have adjusted their mission statement, in which they promise to â€œprovid[e] a welcoming and supportive environment for performers regardless of gender, gender identity, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and performance ability,â€ and to â€œdedicate itself to serving the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Allies (LGBTA) community and its causes as well as other communities within Texas and the United States.â€ Aligning their actions with their shining mission statement, Black Gold has joined in partnership with the Oaklawn Band, a proud member of the LGBA.
Roman says the choice to set lofty cultural goals was clear: â€œWe wanted it to make so that we were actually making a change. This was a way to pay homage to that and to honor the words that we say.â€
On WGI Finals night, the Black Gold color guard was graced with the presence of a very important visitor after their performance. A survivor, and former performer of the WGI community, gathered with the membership after their passionate finals run. Huddled in the chilled Ohio air, away from the bright lights and the roar of the arena for this markedly intimate moment, the members listened with bated breath as he shared with them his experiences and his gratitude for the show. Listening with hands held tight, arms wrapped around one another, and tears shining freely on their faces, the love, respect, and gratitude the members had for this young, selfless, resilient man was striking.
â€œHeâ€™s very thankful,â€ Roman says of the survivor, who had wanted to speak with the guard all season, but struggled to overcome his emotions at earlier events.
â€œHe felt the courage to talk with them tonight,â€ Roman says, misty-eyed with the emotion of the night, â€œIt brought everything, the meaning of it all, back around.â€
About the Author: Jenny Lyons is a freelance writer and graduate of the Literary Journalism program at the University of California, Irvine. She is particularly enamored with nonfiction writing, archival research and reporting, as well as editing. She is a recent alumna of WGI, having performed with the Santa Clara Vanguard Winter Guard from 2013 to 2015. Jenny has also marched with several drum corps including Pacific Crest, The Academy, and the Santa Clara Vanguard. When she is not writing, Jenny can be found continuing her passion for color guard through teaching.