by Mallory Moad
“Roll your window down.” This instruction came from my friend, Jill Bedford, as we approached Clovis East High School. We were here, along with Jill’s daughter, Sarah Potter, to attend the San Joaquin Valley Color Guard & Percussion Review Classification Show. After spending most of 2015 attending parades, it was time to up my game. Since I’m crazy about marching bands, particularly drumlines, this seemed like the next logical step. What I stepped into was a different world.
I followed Jill’s directions and immediately got a sonic preview of things to come. The parking lot was filled with the percussion sections of almost 50 middle and high schools, warming up and practicing. The overlapping sounds of drums, cymbals, glockenspiels, and bells created a crazy collage for the ears.
According to the SJVCGPR website, the purpose of the event is “to create a performing environment for local color guard and percussion units.” Established in 1982, it has become one of California’s oldest competitive circuits for color guard, marching percussion, and concert percussion groups. Although color guard once identified by the politically incorrect ‘flag girls’ was part of this particular competition, I chose to focus on percussion this time.
I soon discovered that indoor percussion competition performances are unique and difficult to accurately describe, a strange hybrid of half-time show, interpretive dance, and experimental music. To the best of my ability, here’s how it works: Each group, varying in size from 15 to 60 members, has a limited amount of time in which to set up in the gymnasium. The large instruments such as xylophones, keyboards, and gongs (yes, gongs – I told you this was unique) are positioned along the front of the performance area, also known as the pit. Sometimes they’re joined by a full drum kit like you’d see in a rock band (my favorite had a sparkly, lime green finish) and electric guitars.
The music is atypical of what you’d normally associate with a marching band. Compositions and arrangements are original, the sound progressive and a little avant-garde, and augmented by recorded voiceovers and sound bytes. Meanwhile, behind the pit in the middle of the gym floor, choreographed activity – definitely NOT marching – is handled by the drum line, playing and dancing simultaneously or completely abandoning their drums to cut loose.
Programs in this event were short, running between 4 and 7 minutes. Each performance had a theme, and some told a story, kind of like the way a ballet uses music and movement to get the point across. Clovis East High School approached the horrors of war with the moving “A Lesson Never Learned.” Buchanan High School’s “Generation Next” took a humorous twist with participants taking selfies while performing with a smartphone in one hand and a drumstick in the other. Tulare Western High School got creative with identical black (and one red) umbrellas in “What Is Love,” a brief but charming piece that brought to mind classic romantic films.
These ensembles will continue to work on their programs as they progress through the competition season’s remaining events, fine-tuning, and perfecting in preparation for the Championship Finals on Saturday, April 2. And I will be returning to this strange world to see the results for myself, with all the windows rolled down!
My name is Mallory Moad and I can always find something fun to do around here.
For more information on the San Joaquin Valley Color Guard & Percussion Review, including participating schools, and rankings in past competitions, visit www.sjvcgpr.org.