WGI Winds Debuts

WGI Sport of the Arts brings a new experience to indoor competition with the introduction of WGI Winds.

Photo by John Reichanadter/Indy Event Photos

2015 marks the inaugural season of the WGI Winds activity. Newly formed groups all across the country are preparing for the WGI Winds World Championships in Dayton, Ohio, on April 11 and 12. Forming these groups has not been an easy task for their directors, but they have come a long way in just a few short months.

WGI Sport of the Arts, which already includes an indoor percussion and a winter guard circuit, decided to create a Winds branch in order to provide a new avenue for young people to achieve musical excellence through performance and competition. As of now, WGI Winds does not have any unique rules when compared to indoor percussion and winter guard.

Forming a Group

This season, approximately 40 ensembles made the leap to start a WGI Winds group. Many of them had prior experience in WGI and decided to expand right alongside the circuit host. Independent World groups Northglenn (Colorado) Performance Theater and Orange County Independent Winds (OCI) from Huntington Beach, California, are no strangers to WGI.

“Northglenn Percussion Theater has been around since 1995 and competed at WGI every time since that year,” says Dave Marvin, director. “So when a Winds division was announced, George Lindstrom [one of the founders of WGI] came to me.”

In the 20 years that Northglenn Percussion Theater has competed, it has been an 11-time Scholastic World Finalist, winning the gold medal in 1997 and the silver medal in 1998. In 2008, Marvin was inducted into the WGI Hall of Fame, and in 2010, Northglenn Percussion Theater won the World Class Fan Favorite award. Having this experience and success made wanting to form a Winds group a no-brainer. Northglenn performed in exhibition for Winds in 2014 and is competing in 2015.

Orange County Independent (OCI), which was founded in 2010, had additional motivations for starting a Winds group. “We wanted to be one of the groups that helped shape and form and pioneer the direction of this particular branch of WGI,” says director Sean Cunningham. “We wanted to get in on the ground level before there had been any kind of established box that locked in design concepts and music concepts.”

Since 2010, OCI Percussion has won the bronze and silver medals in WGI Percussion Independent Open. Cunningham hopes that OCI Winds will be just as successful as OCI Percussion.

Already having a group of students who are eager to learn is another reason to start a Winds group. This is the case for Scholastic Open ensemble Greenfield-Central (Indiana) High School. “The biggest push was the opportunity it gave us for three more hours a week for instruction,” says director Chris Wing.

He adds that it’s great to be able to meet with students after school in another environment in which he can continue teaching them about tone quality, articulation, balance and blend.

Greenfield-Central High School is also not a stranger to WGI. Its winter guard team has been in existence for around 10 years and has been a finalist at WGI World Championships the past eight years.

While prior experience with WGI is helpful, it is not necessary. This was the case for Project Arts in Gainesville, Florida. “The Gainesville area has a lot of potential for an independent group,” says director Arjuna Myles. “A lot of people have tried to start independent groups, but it doesn’t always pan out. We wanted to jump into Winds. I believe I have one of the largest groups in the Winds division that I’ve seen, especially in Independent Class.”

Difficult Beginnings

Regardless of whether or not groups are familiar with WGI, forming a Winds ensemble is not an easy task. Difficulty often comes with filling instrumentation as any instruments that are used as part of a band or orchestra are allowed in Winds ensembles.

For Cunningham, starting a group was very hard. “When I realized that it was going to be a reality with WGI, that they were going to open the circuit and that I wanted to have a group in the inaugural season, I had three really big questions: Where would I get instruments, where would I find staff, and would kids come? Not having the answers made it difficult before diving in.”

Luckily, Cunningham’s first two questions were answered rather quickly. “Jupiter stepped in and basically made it possible for us to do this in terms of having horns to play on,” he says.

He also adds that he recruited Seth Murphy, the program coordinator for Pacific Crest Drum and Bugle Corps, for his help on staff.

Cunningham’s final question—Would people come?—was much more difficult to solve. “We really hoped the positive reputation of the percussion program would draw people to our organization in general, but horn people are a much different breed than percussionists in Southern California. When we held auditions for Winds, we had eight horn players show up. At the second audition camp a month later, maybe 10 horn players showed up.”

Despite these difficulties, Cunningham and Murphy kept pushing on, and within the first few rehearsals of the regular season, the program was filled. “We currently have 32 people on the floor,” Cunningham says. “We’ve filled just about every single horn Jupiter gave us, but it was very hard.”

Along with membership concerns, some directors face financial challenges when forming a Winds group. Marvin, who has incorporated a five-person string section in his ensemble, says that many of his members are not used to paying the fees. “String players aren’t used to paying a trip or membership fee in winter months,” he says. “When it came to it, we had a lot of players who were really excited but not prepared for the fee.”

Some directors are lucky enough to face very few challenges when forming a group. Myles says that finding rehearsal space and instruments was easy because of support from local high schools. “Our rehearsal site is a high school where I am assistant director, and we are using instruments from local high schools,” he says. “That part was simple.”

Wing is another director that did not have a hard time forming a group. “Forming it was easy because I asked kids if they were interested, and I had an overwhelmingly positive response,” he says. “Thirty-five kids signed up initially.”

The challenge for Wing was not in forming the group but in creating the final budget. “The hard thing was molding and creating it into what we wanted it to be without spending a lot of money,” he says. “The actual planning of it was the most challenging.”

Even during the season, some groups still have ups and downs. “It took a while to understand what direction we’d go,” Cunningham says. He adds that the members were always working hard, but it took a while before they really started to embrace the idea of their show. “We started slow but have really come to life in the last month or so,” he says.

Early Successes

Despite these difficulties, the groups have managed to come out with incredible ensembles and great experiences in the inaugural season so far. “It’s been fantastic,” Marvin says. “We actually did this last year for WGI performances at all of the World finals shows, so we have a year of experience with it already. But this year … it’s been such a fantastic season because we have so many opportunities for us to develop the kind of show that Northglenn is known for.”

Myles echoes this sentiment. “It’s still pretty early, but it’s been great for us so far,” he says. “We had an awesome turnout—48 members total. Getting the show on has been a little hectic, but the experience is great overall.”

Some groups, such as Greenfield- Central, have even had opportunities to perform early on. “We did the first regional, … and it was fantastic,” Wing says. The experience with his ensemble has been a “roaring success,” Wing adds.

A Different Experience

Whether or not groups have had experiences with WGI, it is clear that WGI Winds is very different than color guard and indoor percussion. This difference is challenging yet exciting to everyone involved.

“The Northglenn approach has always been very entertainment-based,” Marvin says. “Our shows are designed to really captivate an audience. I think the Winds division offers us this opportunity 10-fold. It really allows us to explore the musical side of things without running it through what we call the xylophone filter. We don’t have to sample wind sounds. We don’t have to mimic the sound of a string section on a synthesizer.”

Northglenn’s show, called “Welcome to the Timely Manor,” is a story of a retirement home where musicians spend their final years. “What they find is that when they die at Timely Manor, they get to live on and play music forever at that retirement home,” Marvin says.

The quad line, a group of living boys, breaks into the Timely Manor to see if these rumors are true, and they find themselves joined with those great musicians during their time there. At the end, they “get booted out” and are left wondering if it really happened or if it was just their imaginations.

Cunningham says that WGI Winds is different simply because it has never been done before. “When you look at percussion, you have groups like Music City Mystique that set the standard back in the day and helped form and shape and drive the direction since then,” he says.

Cunningham adds that nobody has set a standard in WGI Winds yet, so nobody knows what to expect. “Orange County just said we … will just do something really interesting and really creative and really different than what people will expect.”

OCI’s uniqueness and creativity will definitely shine in its show, “Agnostic,” which features chamber-style winds music with a dark and somber vibe. “We did not want to simply do drum corps music inside an arena or a gym on a mat with horn players,” Cunningham says. “We wanted to do a completely different style and come across in a different way.”

Some directors, however, think that many similarities do exist. Wing believes that WGI Winds, much like guard and indoor percussion, can help students enhance their skills in a more intimate environment during the winter months.

“[Winds] forms another opportunity for that group of kids,” Wing says. “Winter guard was created for students to perform in a more intimate environment throughout the year. It’s a chance to work on things they’ve worked on throughout the year. Same with winter percussion.”

Directors also feel that WGI Winds allows a similar type of artistry. “They can have a more artistic show like what indoor guards and percussions do,” Myles says. “In that sense we’re very similar because we’re not trying to be like an indoor marching band. We’re trying to be a little more artistic and a little more theatrical.”

The Future of WGI Winds

The directors of all of these groups believe that, even though it is early in the season, WGI Winds is headed in a great direction. “The idea has some merit; it has some legs to it that can potentially be something great,” Wing says. “I think WGI has opened a door, and we’ll see if anyone walks through that door.”

Greenfield-Central has gone through this open door with its show “Dreamzzz,” which begins in a unique way—with the students sleeping. “It goes through this awakening point, and there’s different things that happen throughout it emblematic of having dreams of different things,” Wing says.

Project Arts walked through the open door with its show, “Arbor Vitae,” about a tree of life in a fantasy world. “It’s kind of in a futuristic world with a beautiful tree of life that provides for our village,” Myles says.

These and many other groups are very glad that they have taken advantage of these new performance opportunities. “I think it’s going to go in a great direction,” Myles says. “Quite a few groups around the United States are already formed this year, and that’s great to hear. There’s enough excitement in the air about WGI Winds that it’s going to just be a good experience and a good addition to WGI.”

Marvin says that WGI Winds is exciting because the activity allows groups to do whatever they want to do in their own setting. “WGI has been very open about trying to let all of those opportunities grow,” he says. “Our hope is it does become something bigger than indoor marching band.”

Wing says that Greenfield-Central’s future as a WGI Winds ensemble depends on whether or not this season has met all of the group’s expectations; however, it’s looking good. “If you ask me now if we’ll be in for five years, I would say, ‘Yes,’” Wing says.

The three Independent World Groups also foresee themselves staying a part of WGI for a long time. Myles believes that WGI Winds has provided a learning experience for his group. “Hopefully we can get our names out there and continue to succeed,” he says. “I just hope that we are able to keep participating every single year.”

Cunningham believes that his group’s future will be in establishing a unique identity for itself. “We plan to work very hard over the next few years to establish an identity and a style and a persona for the group that helps WGI promote the activity and helps it grow.”

Marvin says that he is “extremely excited about additional performance opportunities” for his group outside of percussion and guard. “For us in Colorado, this is a game changer to not only really expand the competitive side to WGI but also to really enhance and grow music programs here,” he adds.

About the Author

Liz Wright is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is a senior at the University of Cincinnati (UC) studying creative writing, communications and journalism. She marched trumpet for five years in the Kenston High School Marching Band in Bainbridge, Ohio, and for three years in the UC Bearcat Marching Band. After graduation, Liz hopes to pursue a career in copyediting.