Instant Recap: WGI Percussion Open Class Finals

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SCHOLASTIC A

Trumbull HS (9:00 AM) — Power 

This was my second time seeing this show; let me just say, it’s pretty unique to say the least. Trumbull has a very Wizard of Oz-esque design, with what looks like a large, silver power source in the middle that lights up. The uniforms feature about as much bright color as you could ask for, with clothing colored in largely pink and yellow and each member wearing a bright green spiky wig. Musically, this show was a lot of fun, featuring the likes of Kanye West and Ariana Grande; the members did a great job performing such unique music. 

Belleville East (9:10 AM) — A Thousand Paper Cranes

Belleville East has a pretty cool setup; suspended maybe ten feet above its floor are strings of paper cranes, connected by strings in diagonals across the floor. This show had a lot of cool musical moments, and really ranged quickly but fluidly between different levels of emotion and dynamics, which gave it a real flowing feel. The drill in Belleville East's final movement really impressed me; there were a couple of moments of pretty difficult drill that were executed quite well, before an expressive fade-out ending.

Choctawhatchee (9:20 AM) — Blind

This group has a really pretty visual design; its floor is mostly purple, fading to white in two corners, with soft white designs that emulate braille around the floor. Seven white backdrops, each one a bit taller than the one to its right, line the back left portion of the floor and serve as doors for the snare drummers to enter through in their opening feature. Most of this show is played with blindfolds — which I'd have to assume are see-through given the intricacy of some of the drill moves, but still make for a cool effect — on each member of the ensemble. The blindfolds come off midway through the show, leading to a pretty upbeat performance of "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel, the show's closer. 

Victor J. Andrew (9:30 AM) — And I Lost You

I really like the way Victor J. Andrew put together its visual package; most of the floor is either black or white — darker on the right, lighter on the left, where the front ensemble is positioned — and pastel-color streaks come down on the floor from backdrop props in the back right corner. This show's concept is really emotional and that's portrayed through a lot of flowing passages of music; most of the show is set to "Hurts Like Hell" by Fleurie. The ending was probably the most memorable pat of the show, to me; it's a quieter ending, but it was really portrayed really well visually.

Central Lafourche (9:40 AM) — Into the Deep

Central Lafourche's backdrops emulate the inside of a submarine, with portholes lining the back wall and pipes lining the corners and sides. In a pretty cool visual effect, after a narration opens the show, telling characters to "man your battle stations," we see the "ship" take its dive into the ocean, as the portholes are covered with blue material to simulate fully submerging in the water. As it tells a kind of story, this show takes plenty of acting, which is executed well. Musically speaking, I really enjoyed the closing movement; it was pretty upbeat and energetic, and featured a really tight snare feature. 

Irondale (9:50 AM) — The Innocent Warriors

First off, Irondale's got a really visually sound ensemble. I was very impressed with some of the drill movements this group performed; intricate, clean, good technique. Irondale also had some of the cooler backdrops I've seen, with black shelves filled with lit — I'm assuming electrically lit — candles lining the entire back sideline. This production also featured a live motivational speaker, one of its performers. The show's closing impact — which featured the chorus of John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change" and a colorfully array of lights within the candles — was probably the show's most memorable moment, to me.

Plymouth Canton Community (10:00 AM) — Everything in its Right Place

Plymouth Canton has a pretty unique look to its floor; it kind of looks like a blueprint; there's even a spot on the floor that sets in large white letters "Front Ensemble," as if to say that's the "right place" for the front ensemble to be positioned. There are other spots on the floor with text that denotes where things will take place, such as "Prop" and "Body Block." Between those visual cues and the high-energy, chaotic opening, this show really grabs your attention from the get-go. As you'd expect, things don't start the show where they "belong," according to the floor, but end up in their right place when all's said and done. This show was one of the more visually-focused, thematically, that I've seen, so that was pretty cool. 

Arcadia (10:20 AM) — Line of Sight

As you might expect, Arcadia's show is largely predicated on its visual program, with the use of straight and curved metal line props adding a lot of the production's general effect. Early on, the props are utilized for spacing and each member stands behind one; later on, the curved iterations of the props are placed on the harnesses of the tenor drummers and remain their for a significant portion of the show, used as a visual effect but also added to the music for a unique sound layer within the battery arrangements. Arcadia's front ensemble really impressed me with a full, mature sound.

Fountain Valley (10:30 AM) — Stark Raven Mad

Black uniforms, a wood-floor print on its tarp, an array of darkened windows, a door and a living room scene make for an intriguing, eerie visual setup for Fountain Valley's darker show. You get the Edgar Allen Poe motif early and often from this show; words from "The Raven" are often echoed hauntingly from the speakers. One main character portrays the role of the man in Poe's story, while the rest of the performers — based on their uniforms and overall actions — portray iterations of the raven that haunts the main character's mind. Aside from design, Fountain Valley's musical effort was really impressive; especially from a battery perspective, I was pretty captivated by the ensemble's ability to play with a strong and clean sound all through plenty of movement and body. 

Plainfield (10:40 AM) — Kung Fu

Plainfield really sets up its "Dojo" of sorts well from a visual perspective, with backdrops that emulate the kind of walls you'd see in Chinese architecture — white backgrounds with black, symmetric paneling. The show itself is a lot of fun; it opened with one of the most impressive bass features I've heard in Open Class this year, very isolated with plenty of up-tempo single splits. As you'd have to expect, the show also features "Kung Fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas, which adds to the already energetic nature of the production. Plainfield also does a great job integrating its props into the show.

Fair Lawn (10:50 AM) — Secrets of the Deep

Fair LAwn's show is kind of like a search for Atlantis; it opens in an ocean scene, with large marble pillars lining the back sideline, positioned in front of sea-floor images on backdrops. The show opens with a really cool add-on snare feature, quite the attention-grabber in my opinion. The deep-sea vibe is augmented considerably with some pretty cool integrations of electronic and sound effects into the music. A couple minutes into the show, an explorer enters the scene, seeming to have found the underwater city, before being attacked and locked away by the battery members. Between the story that unfolds surrounding this character and the high level of performance quality from this group, Fair Lawn's show was pretty memorable to say the least.

Los Alamitos (11:00 AM) — Mutiny on Dark Waters

I've gotten to see this show three times now, and each time I've really, really enjoyed it. I'm quite impressed with how well Los Alamitos sells the pirate motif, not just in the design — there's plenty of visual cues that scream "pirates," like treasure chests, Jolly Roger flags, a wooden steering wheel and a mast — but in the characterization of the members. The snare feature was probably one of the more memorable moments of this show, to me; it takes place as the snare drummers look to take over the "ship," so a couple of solos lead into the feature, which is played atop of a couple of chest props. This show, among many other positives, was really full of energy from the members.  

Norwalk (11:10 AM) — re-written

Norwalk's show has a very "Imitation Game" vibe from the beginning; its floor is meant to emulate and open cover of a book, with the spine down the middle revealing Norwalk's show title and "Volume 2019." Alexandre Desplat's theme from the 2014 film also serves as the music for the opening sequence, in which each battery members holds his or her own book while performing a dance block. Norwalk's ballad had a couple visual moment in which all of the aforementioned book props lit up on stands, leading into a really powerful and energetic closing sequence. The battery was flying around the floor during this closer and looked really clean in doing so.

Clear Brook (11:20 AM) — X Marks the Spot

Clear Brook has a lot going on visually — in the back left corner, a handful of purple rock props; in the back right corner, what literally looks like a full-sized pirate ship (okay, maybe not full-sized, but definitely fills a good quarter of the floor. While the layout of the show is really intricate, it doesn't take away from how well the group plays together; Clear Brook had one of the tighter batteries I've heard today, and matched it with a front ensemble that featured plenty of musicianship. There were some really cool impact moments in this show, likely the most of memorable which being the closer, which had a really energetic, building feel to it, culminating in a large 'X' flag extending down from the ship's mast. 

Sparkman (11:30 AM) — for Now, I am Winter

Sparkman has a really icy look to its visual design; its props emulate large icicles, its floor looks like a snowy terrain, and its uniform colors are all either white or light blue, with black pants. Other than that, the first thing I noticed — Sparkman is really, really clean. There were some triplet roll passages in the opener that were impeccable crisp from player to player. All around, this was a really good show, and the closer was one of the more memorable I've seen today — hard to put a finger on why, just a really strong arrangement, musically speaking, that left a pretty strong closing impact.

INDEPENDENT A

FIU Indoor Percussion (11:55 AM) — Death in the Afternoon

FIU's setup has a very Coliseum or Running-with-the-Bulls feel to it, and it grabs your attention from the very beginning, when basses 1 and 2 perform an accelerando 32nd-note split, before moving into a snare feature during which the snares perform with one hand on their drum and another on a cajon.  FIU plays a couple of pretty recognizable pieces, including the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black," and Pat Metheny's "The Heat of the Day," which marching fans might know as the opening movement to Bluecoats' 2016 "Down Side Up." A really exciting and creative show with plenty of memorable feature moments, FIU set the bar really high for PIO finals.

Gold Indoor Percussion (12:05 PM) — The Prince and the Nightingale

Gold was definitely a major shift in tone from FIU, with a much softer, more emotional and expressive show concept. This show was full of cool musical moments, including a realy pretty passage of front ensemble music in the second movement that led into a soft-mallet bass feature, overlaid by bird calls. Between the music being played up front and the softer nature of the battery music, that combination made for a very pleasing musical moment. A brush feature from the snares, during which they also play on the cymbals as well as their own instruments, also made for a really mysteriously cool moment. Throughout, Gold did a really good job handling major dynamic changes.  

IMPACT Percussion (12:15 PM) — Shadows and Angles

Four sets of wires, filled with lightbulbs, run from one end to the other on IMPACT's mysterious-looking floor, which is dark-colored with a bright burst of white light coming from the left side. The members themselves dress somewhat like detective, with white coats and hats as their main uniform pieces. A saxophone soloist only adds to that vibe, playing smooth jazz melodies, with some soul, in a tan trench coat and brown hat. I particularly enjoyed IMPACT's middle movement, which had a couple of really impressive solis — the cymbals especially had a great feature moment — and some tight, fast passages of intricate drill.

Red Wave Indoor (12:25 PM) — Medicine

With a lot of neutrals dominating the overall color scheme of floor and uniforms for Red Wave, touches of the color red on a handful of props really pop and are used well for the development of the show. To open the show itself, a killer drum set intro grabs the audience's attention before eventually leading into a snare feature that, largely, includes just one hand per player laying down catchy, syncopated passages. The ballad movement of this show is really emotional and expressive, and features two members as the main focal point; one clothed in red, seemingly controlling the movements of a cymbal player in the group's main white uniform. Red strands of ribbon, during this movement fill the left side of the floor to form a grid, which creates some pretty cool visual effects. 

Rhythmic Force Percussion (12:35 PM) — Black Swan

There are a few clear main characters in this show, two female characters dressed in all white and one in all black, presumably representing the white swan and the black swan. Rhythmic utilizes six mirror props pretty well in its show for visual effects. One of the white swans opens the show with a beautiful french horn solo, adding to the list of wind instruments I saw for the first time this weekend in WGI percussion. This might have been my favorite on that list; the french horn has such a rich sound, and her solo is really well-played to set the tone for the show. Things turn a little darker wth the introduction of the black sawn character, who is often represented musically by an electric guitar player when she's featured. 

Ancient City Ensemble (12:45 PM) — Chameleon

Ancient City develops the blend-in nature of the Chameleon motif with black and white circles that almost make a sort of bubbly effect on the uniforms, props and floor. The front half of the uniform features white circles on a black background, while the back displays the inverse, which creates for a lot of really cool effects in the drill design, using these two color concepts interchangeably in different ways. While this show's development is really predicated on its visual package, there are some really cool music passages, including a ballad that features an arrangement of Bernard Ighner's "Everything Must Change," which you may remember as Blue Devils' ballad from 2017's gold-medal production, "Metamorph." Much like in that show, Ancient City uses the song as a take on "reinventing" oneself, as that movement leads into an infusion of color into the props and uniforms before the final push.

Civitas Independent (12:55 PM) — Mended

This show opens with its front ensemble instruments and prop pieces kind of strewn about the floor; everything's black and white, which makes for a pretty clean overall look. Slowly but surely, throughout the show, Civitas begins to put its props together, and they eventually form a pretty cohesive shape that looks almost like a thermometer. Both between the obvious visual imagery and the metaphor of piecing everything back together, this moment seems to really drive the show's general effect. Afterwards, there's a really open and exposed snare feature — one of the cooler musical moments — before transitioning into the closing movement of the production.

UTSA (1:15 PM) — My New Obsession

This show has a really mysterious and cool opening, with all of the members positioned around a cubic prop in the bottom right corner of the floor performing an impressive dance block before expanding out into the middle of the floor. It's a good minute or so before the battery kicks in, but that doesn't change how energetic this first movement is; the front ensemble plays with a lot of fire, and the drum set player in particular has a major role in driving the early moments of the show. It was somewhat difficult to get a read for the overall concept of the show, but I really enjoyed it from a sheer performance standpoint; it didn't have a lot of crazy effects or frills, but a really fluid visual design and some great musical passages, especially from what looked — but truly didn't sound like — somewhat of an undersized front ensemble. 

Liberty University (1:25 PM) — The Hand That Feeds

Liberty's production has a really tribal feel to it, often featuring a driving 4/4 halftime feel with African and Latin percussion instruments. The show itself has many memorable musical moments, but its opener was probably the coolest part, just because it really drives, powered by an electric — not to mention really clean — battery book. Don't get me wrong, though, there are plenty of exciting moments throughout this show; it's honestly just loud, in-your-face, aggressive, and everything you'd look for in a fun percussion show, and the members sell it really well. There's not really a dull moment. 

Triple Crown (1:35 PM) — A World Beneath Our Feet

This was definitely one of the best examples of an ensemble filling the role of a unique character that I saw today; Triple Crown's job was simply to live like insects. They certainly look like them, with uniforms that emulate the look a fly. They characterize the motif well, though with subtle and not-so-subtle shifty movements that really bring together the full visual package of, well, bugs. At one point, during the show's ballad, all of the performers find themselves drawn to a lit lamp in the back right corner, before one is electrocuted by the light. Between this oversized lamp and an array of superimposed grass blades as props, Triple Crown did a really good job this year of designing a full visual package that set a stage for its production.

Matrix Open (1:45 PM) — A Different Point Of You

Matrix Open is another group that uses mirrors really well; they're all over the floor, in a couple of different sizes, and are used to help visualize the introspective nature of the show. The bass feature in the opener really got the crowd going, and deservingly so, it was incredibly clean — probably one of, if not the best bass feature I heard today. There's also a lot of emotion expressed by the performers in this show, and their ability to characterize those emotions really adds to the enjoyment of a recognizable musical palette. The final movement, which opens with an awesome snare feature, is set to "Mirrors" by Justin Timberlake. That's one of a handful of recent songs used in this show — another one by "Where are Ü Now" by Skrillex and Diplo ft. Justin Bieber — and it sets the table for a really impactful finish to the production.

Infinity 2 (1:55 PM) — EVEREST

Talk about intricate props, Infinity 2 has one of the bigger, bolder prop setups I've seen today, with a full-sized mountain built in the back left corner, with a bridge to a smaller platform prop — also designed like a smaller mountain — near the middle of the floor. The bottom right of the floor is built ore like a base camp, with orange tents and colored flags on strings. Throughout the early part of the show, the members of the battery slowly make their way from the base camp area of the floor and up towards the mountain. In the show's middle movement, a huge — truly... huge — white tarp fills the floor and covers all of the members, so as to portray an avalanche. The moments that followed were honestly my favorite of the show, as the group gradually rebuilt their camp, with music building toward the show's climax. 

Violet Crown (2:05 PM) — Still

Violet Crown has a really cool floor design, with a round array of stone tile flooring, all with a tiny of light blue similar to the one that covers their uniforms. A fountain scene fills the backdrops on the back sideline, so you get the idea that this is taking place in some kind of park, based on the overall visual setup. The show has a really soft opening, with nothing but piano and vocal voiceovers, before rising and falling passages of battery music enter gradually into the mix. I was really impressed by Violet Crown's overall performance quality; they moved and played at a really high level, and ultimately, there was just a high level of polish in the way the group put on its production. The coolest moment of this show, to me, was probably the ballad movement; it featured a really tight cymbal feature and a pleasing quad feature, before transitioning into the final push.

Spirit Winter Percussion (2:15 PM) — All the Colors in the Box

As you'd expect, this show is very visually-focused, with a great use of color to drive the overall theme. Colors are utilized in a variety of different ways; they differentiate between sections in the battery both on drums and in uniform accents, they're revealed on parts of unfolded floor that, and ... . Throughout the show, especially as previously mentioned in the floor itself, colors are unveiled to drive the development of the theme. On top of the obvious development in that way, members become more expressive as color is more and more infused into the show. After starting in black and white, like soldiers, performing the same uniform movements with precision, performers slowly start to find individuality in movement and in expression as they're given more color with which to work. an interesting wrinkle that adds to the musical development of the theme, the front ensemble doesn't even go near its instruments for a good minute or more of the show, almost as if there can't be a melody until color has been fully introduced to the program. So, that, among other things, was a really neat effect. By the end of the show, pretty much the entire stage — the whole floor, all of the uniforms and drums — is covered in bright color. 

Bakersfield College (2:25 PM) — For Man We Wait...

I've seen this show a couple of times now; the first I saw it was in February, and while I didn't get much of a read on the show concept, I could already tell this group was pretty good. It's not hard to see why Bakersfield has been winning to this point in PIO; they're really crisp musically and visually, and play some really tough passages at a high level. There were a couple moments in the front ensemble book that stunned me in terms of how well they were played despite a high level of difficulty. The show itself kind of reminds me of RCC 2015's "Guardians of the Breath." There's one main tree-like prop in the back corner, and a lot of the effect moments of the show and visual designs really allude to a commentary on nature. That's not to say it's ripped off, just kind of gave me flashes of that show, in a good way. Bakersfield's battery has a couple of long stretches of moving without instruments, and the front ensemble handles those periods really well, filling up the ensemble sound more than plentifully. If it's not clear yet, while the battery was very talented and an entertaining listen, the front ensemble was definitely the most memorable part of this show for me. 

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