West Union’s performance, “Rock Concert,” is a medley of classic rock that begins with a rendition of “China Grove” by the Doobie Brothers. The drummers switch to hand bells as the music transitions into Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” while the rest of the musicians are quiet, playing only to punctuate the song in specific places. Finally, beach balls are tossed around and the drummers take up their drums once more, as Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” leaves the station.
The West Union group presents themselves as the band “The Wyverns,” complete with big hair, torn jeans, and T-shirts with an image of their namesake mythological creature. The name has been used by the Percussion Ensemble before, and it comes from a teacher who served his residency at West Union High School in 1995 and 1996. During his time there, he wrote a musical piece and, when trying to think of a name for it, he and Carl Schneider came up with the idea to base it off of the West Union Dragons, naming it “Wyvern.”
To reach the championships, groups must perform in at least three competitions in the Tristate circuit. West Union first performed at Conner High School in Hebron, Ky., on Feb 22, where they earned a score of 65.35 out of 100. On March 8, the Percussion Ensemble participated in the competition at Milford High School, earning a score of 64.35. The third competition was on March 15 again at Milford High School, and West Union wowed the judges, who gave the improved performance an 81.65 out of 100. These scores are combined to calculate the overall standing and placement of the school in the championships. As West Union had the highest overall score, they had the honor of playing last. “Rock Concert” once again impressed the judges, giving West Union a score of 81.20 and the gold medals.
TriState Marching Arts began in 1995 as a way to bring competitive winter guard to the Cincinnati area, and it covers Southern Ohio, Northern Kentucky, Southeast Indiana, and even parts of West Virginia. Each performance is scored by multiple judges with each judge having a specific area that they are responsible for, including equipment, technique, and general effect. The criteria used in judging falls under the Winter Guard International standard. The WGI, located in Dayton, is “the NCAA of winter guard,” according to Doug Yeats, the co-executive director of TMA. Chris Thomas, the other co-executive director, elaborates that, “it is an international body and has performers all over the world.”
West Union Percussion Ensemble formed out of the West Union Marching Band which began in 1983. When the marching band started moving into the national competitions in the early ’90s, the group began a transition into the current ensemble with their first competition being in 1992 at Morehead, Ky. Carl Schneider, the assistant director of the ensemble, said, “Mr. Meyer and I had never seen one before. We had no idea what we were doing. We just decided to go down there and do it. We had a floor. We had costuming. We had all of this stuff. Flags out on the floor. We thought we did terrible.”
“Then in ‘93, we started competing in the WGI stuff, and we were fifth in the world that year. It was the first year they ever held it, and no one knew what to expect. We did it, and a lot of groups were mad, because our general effects scores were so high. No one else did costuming. They were all in their marching band uniforms. At the next director’s meeting, there were all these new rules - no one could have floors, no one could have costuming, no one can have flags. Now as time has gone by, though, you can see what is happening. Everyone is doing that stuff. We were cutting edge of doing all of it years ago.”
The percussion ensemble continues its efforts to be on the cutting edge, being the only group to incorporate steel drums, hand bells, and electric guitars in TMA. Brian Meyer, the director of the percussion ensemble, and Schneider are constantly looking at the group’s strengths, so they can incorporate that into the performance. “We had a couple of good guitar players this year, so we could go in the ‘Rock Concert’ direction. One of the guitar players is a senior this year, so, if we stay in this direction, we’ll have to find more guitar players or look into doing something else.”
West Union Percussion Ensemble is consistently noted as crowd-pleasers at competitions. The students look as though they are enjoying themselves, which makes watching them a fun experience. The audience was clapping in rhythm at places and even singing the words that go with the tunes. By the end of the song many people were on their feet, cheering the ensemble.
The West Union Percussion Ensemble will give encore performances of “Rock Concert” on March 28 during halftime of the girls action at the C-103 All-Star Basketball Game and again on April 16 at 7 p.m. at West Union High School.
Paul Hannah can be reached at (937) 544-2391.