RCC and Mission Viejo Front Ensemble

Newly inducted WGI Hall of Fame member Jim Wunderlich discusses his career as a percussionist, teacher and arranger with several indoor drum lines as well as drum corps; his writing technique; and the future of the marching activity. Wunderlich taught writer Lydia Ness in the front ensemble of Riverside Community College, this year’s WGI Independent World gold medalist.

Photo by Ken Martinson/Marching.com

New WGI Hall of Fame member Jim Wunderlich has been teaching, composing and arranging in the percussion activity for more than two decades. After graduating from Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School, he has led the group to several WGI gold medals. He currently works as Mission Viejo’s marching program coordinator, music arranger and front ensemble caption head. Wunderlich is also the front ensemble caption head and arranger for the Riverside Community College (RCC) indoor percussion ensemble, which won its fourth gold medal this year, and front ensemble caption head and arranger for the 14-time world champion Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps.

Other 2012 WGI inductees were Jim Haskell and Scott Johnson.

Halftime: Why did you become involved in teaching, composing and arranging percussion?

Wunderlich: I really loved being a part of the marching band and percussion ensemble at Mission Viejo, and I suppose that I showed the desire to my instructor to “get creative” with the music, and of course, to teach a drum line. He gave me my first opportunity to teach a group right after graduation. …

I started delving into the front ensemble with Steve Yates at Mt. Whitney High School, picking his brain as much as possible and watching [Drum Corps International] videos ad nauseam!

At the same time, my mom had bought me my first synthesizer and sequencer. Electronic music, and the process of creating it …, was something I loved to do. At the time, I had seen maybe only one band actually do the electronics and acoustics in a marching band setting with a good quality. I loved the idea of creating a synergy between my “home” music (synths and piano) and all sorts of percussion.

Halftime: How did you get to where you are today?

Wunderlich: I will default to a few words that describe my sign, the Capricorn: strong-willed, serious, cautious, determined and strongly attracted to music.

I remember reading that Capricorns are “not content until they’ve reached the peaks of glory.” I would say that’s definitely true and even after reaching certain peaks in this profession, I am still looking for more.

Halftime: How did you begin with RCC?

Wunderlich: Sean Vega took over the percussion program and asked me to be the front ensemble caption head and arranger. [Interestingly], Mike Jackson, [who has taught MVHS with me since 1990], and I taught Sean at John W. North High School back in the early 90s. It’s very cool for it to come full circle.

Halftime: How is your writing process different between high school and Independent World Class?

Wunderlich: The main difference is in the demand. RCC will occasionally have certain solo players stand out (such as drum set, etc.) that will make me come up with a different approach. On the other hand, MV has typically had the technological edge with electronics due to my long time with the program.

Halftime: How have you seen the WGI percussion activity change?

Wunderlich: The evolution of the front ensemble is the single most-changed aspect. [If you look at a] 15-year-old WGI DVD, you’ll see and hear an amazing difference in the ability of the players and sound production. We’ve gone from ice cream truck to rock concert. I would [also] say that the visual responsibility of the battery is the second biggest change. The velocity and physicality compared to 15 years ago has greatly changed.

Halftime: What is one of your favorite memories in WGI?

Wunderlich: If I have to pick one, I think that the 2007 double gold with MV and RCC was probably my favorite memory. To see two of your groups peak at the same time is amazing. I can still watch the videos from that year, and it brings me back to those moments, two incredibly emotional productions that I am very proud of.

Halftime: What would you like to see in the future for WGI?

Wunderlich: I’d like to see ensembles continue to innovate and bring fresh shows to the table! One of my favorite things to say/feel when watching a show is, “Well, why didn’t I think of that? How cool!”

Regarding championships, I’ve been to WGI in Phoenix, Milwaukee and Southern California. I think it’s great for the kids and the activity to move around. At the same time, I am also aware of the financial burden that it would put on WGI.

As far as music goes, I’d love to see WGI continue on the same path. The kids and instruction continue to amaze me. It’s hard to believe and a great honor to be a part of!

About the Author

Lydia Ness graduated from Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., with a bachelor’s of arts in journalism and integrated media and a minor in biblical studies. Lydia has experience in visual, print and broadcast journalism as well as public relations. She has performed in the Glassmen, the Bluecoats and The Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps as well as the Riverside Community College indoor percussion ensemble. Lydia is a student at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago, where she will be focusing on international human rights.