Coming and Going

Coming and Going

By Alex Mendoza

“Coming and going – it is just such a simple, matter-of-fact statement.  Everything we experience in life are just snapshots of moments,”

Ian Grom
Front Ensemble Coordinator/Arranger

The snapshot motif functions on a literal and aesthetic level during the afternoon hours of April 20, as the University of Dayton Arena rests against the breathtaking backdrop of a crystal blue sky. 

The windy, picturesque scenery provides an ideal scenario for my walk throughout “The Lot”, briefly observing each ensemble in hopes of procuring an interview for a potential story, or to simply enjoy the rhythmically charged atmosphere delivered by the energy of the performers.

The stroll leads me halfway across the parking lot before I spot the familiar band of individuals clothed in metallic shades of copper, silver and blue.  Compared to years past, the idea for this particular story is already in place, but it requires observations from varying distances.  Some close, others from afar. 

I imagine the combination of the two as a wide scope that presents me with the opportunity to appreciate the gravity of the moments to manifest in the next two days.  Moments that are strikingly familiar to the snapshots Ian discusses in the promotional video detailing the conceptual elements of Pulse Percussion’s 2012 PIW Bronze Medal program, “Coming and Going”.

“Groups, ensembles come and go; judges come and go; performers, staff members – everything does, and it’s really kind of trippy when you think about it,”

John Mapes

Program Coordinator, Battery Arranger, Visual Designer

For brothers Stephan and Spencer Garcia, the preceding quote rings with heart-warming clarity.  Both are members of Pulse Percussion – Stephan on his fourth and final year with the front ensemble, while Spencer approaches the final moments of his first season as a snare player.

“Before I joined drumline, I was big on sports,” Spencer informs. “I was gonna’ go into baseball, but I was always used to seeing my brother do this.  Without a doubt, it was a tough decision, but the drumline activity was something that had always caught my eye, so I went ahead and started playing drums instead, and I’ve been enjoying every moment ever since.”

Spencer’s interaction with the snare line indicates the strength of the unity the players have created over the last few months.  Their goal in refining the microelements of their musicality and rhythmic precision presents the opportunity to connect in a manner most people will never have the opportunity to experience. 

And if the scenario sounds a bit cliché, consider the massive crowd watching the ensemble’s lot performance that windy afternoon, coupled alongside the amount of YouTube videos, as ideal study tools in understanding how this attention to detail pays off in the season’s most critical moments.

“It’s been a bit intimidating to drum with guys like this right from the start,” Spencer reflects.  “There’s such a high level of expectation, but we’re supportive of each other, too.  We’re a family and there’s something about performing on that floor with everyone else that I never got in sports.  It’s something you really can’t explain, unless you’re there experiencing it for yourself.”

Nearby, I spot his brother, Stephan, speaking with other members of the front ensemble before returning his attention to the marimba. His relaxed demeanor remains present, even as he practices challenging segments of the musically nuanced compositions during the brief sectional.  He shifts the balance of his feet with his peers, looking towards the center with intense focus and immediate satisfaction all at once.

“Before I joined Pulse, I was involved with the Black Knights and the Sacramento Freelancers.  Both of which, unfortunately, ended up folding, so I auditioned in 2009 and was happy when they offered me a spot.  Plus, the music is incredible, the people are great, and having my brother along has been special, too, since this is my age-out year with the ensemble, and it is his first year with the snare line.  I’m thankful it worked out that way.”

“We don’t see each other as much as you’d think, though,” Spencer adds.  “Because we’re both in different sections – me with the snares and him in the front ensemble – we’re either doing drill, or music, or both – while they are off learning music and then joining us for the last half for ensemble.  So the time we do get together is generally on the floor, or during these rehearsals.”

The last few run-throughs of the show generate feverish response, with the tasteful percussive textures blend perfectly with the contemporary assortment of electronic and acoustic timbres.  All the while, the fleeting glimpses of Spencer and Stephan are exactly as one might expect – filled with an undeniable sense of accomplishment, pride and triumph, and everyone else in the ensemble is right alongside them for the ride.

“We don’t act any different than we would if we were back at home,” Stephan comments.  Spencer flashes a curious glance, suggesting Stephan’s honesty is questionable.  Stephan smiles, letting out a brief gasp of air before bursting into laughter.  Considering the fact this moment occurs minutes after their astonishing prelims performance, I’m surprised, as is Spencer, as most people tend with physical exhaustion due to the UD’s punishing ascent back up the infamous ramp.

“Well, that’s not entirely true.  He’s much weirder than I thought he was at first,” Spencer adds.  “But it is cool that we get to do this together, and it’s a bit sad it’s his last time.  I still have a few years ahead of me, and I love this a lot, so I can’t really imagine how it might feel for him to have to leave this family.”

Stephan regains his composure, “What happened in there was a great performance, and I’ve had made memories with the ensemble that are going to stay with me long after.  But with this being my last season, and watching my brother play at such a high level, it makes it all worth it.  You couldn’t ask for a better ending, really.”

The brothers gather closely for another snapshot, a physical one from my cell phone camera, and smile for that transitory gasp of time. Satisfied, I thank them for their time and eagerly anticipate the next day when I witness their breathtaking final performance.  They effortlessly secure the approval of the crowd, capturing third place – another season come and gone.

Yet, with 2013 on the horizon, Spencer plans to continue his performance duties with the Pulse Percussion snare line, while Stephan returns to the Pulse Percussion organization as a front ensemble instructor for their second unit P.O.W., who will also remain as competitors in the Percussion Independent World division after receiving a promotion last season.

Such growth and change within each ensemble, along with their unique set of individual life stories, reaffirms the power of teamwork embedded within the framework of the activity, and how it resembles the cyclic nature of life itself – that even though the elements and people involved will change with the passing of time, the mission remains intact. 

An ideal that people can identify with, especially for the players endure the challenge in attempting to be the best in the world at something, establishing bonds between friends, as well as family.  As such, Stephan and Spencer’s story is merely one part of a greater whole, with pieces that come and go. 

Just like the clouds floating by…