Those of us who are encouraging music technology in public schools usually imagine computers, synthesizers and software. Perhaps, for those who are more adventurous, we consider an electronic performance ensemble or digital recording. We consider ourselves progressive thinkers, ahead of the technology curve. Well, I think we missed a turn somewhere.
It begins with the words, “Center Grove High School, you may now take the floor!” And it follows with the most amazing use of technology I think I’ve ever seen from a public school.
We’re talking about Winter Percussion, (which happens in spring, hmmm…) the fastest growing performance ensemble in the world. Winter Percussion, unlike Drum Corp which is more like a field show limited to brass and percussion, is done inside and includes lots of flash and drama. Winter Percussion is like a small musical, with a theme, costumes and props.
Just last year, the traditional Drum Corp allowed for the use of electronics for the first time. Corps has just begun using amplification, but has not yet begun using electronic musical instruments. And this group is fairly traditional, even the amplification is met with some resistance by “old schoolers”.
Winter Percussion, on the other hand, is using every tool available to it: keyboards, amps, guitars, bass and an awful lot of electronic percussion. And then there’s Center Grove High School, the 2005 World Champions of WGI International.
Center Grove’s program is called “Cynosure.” It looks much like a traditional show, drum heavy, with costuming in black and copper. There is the typical “pit” which includes mallets, keyboards, bass, guitar, percussion and drums. The kids begin their already impressive show on instrumentation you would expect, featuring quads and snare. And then they kick it up a notch. Behind black pillars, mounted on marching harnesses, are electronic drum pads. The signal is transmitted via wireless mics to the mixer. Sounds are coming from Roland’s TD-6V drum module.
OK, we need to be honest. We’re still not sure how they do it and we’re too polite to ask Jeff Huffman, Director of the Center Grove High School Winter Percussion in Greenwood Indiana. But they do it and according to Huffman, “We’re going to use this set up in our marching band this year too.” Huffman says they use a combination of Roland and another manufacturer’s pads but have found that the other company’s pads (so excuse me for enjoying this part) just don’t hold up like the Roland pads. We’re going to fix that for them.
They’ve never used the V-Drum style pads, which include mesh heads, but it’s something we’re going to work with them on because we’re fascinated by their innovation! Another thought is to include Roland’s V-cymbals.
Huffman says without a doubt that the group’s success was musicianship and the ability to pull off a well-executed show with difficult music. But the group’s attempt, to reach beyond and include electronics was met with cheers from a crowd you would expect to be resistant by “marching band standards.” “Center Grove has always been on the cutting edge,” says Huffman. “It’s so exciting to be a part of that. They give us the opportunity to show people what can be done. We’re not afraid to try it and it feels great when we show what can happen.”
I sat in the crowd, amazed at all the groups using technology, Center Grove was taking the floor and I heard the kids sitting behind me say “This is the group using the electronic drums! This is a great show!” Not knowing what to expect, I sat up in my seat and got my camera ready and Center Grove did not disappoint…me or anyone. They won.
So there is a place in traditional music education where technology is celebrated and embraced, (and who knew?) it’s not where we thought it was. “I can’t wait to see what other groups do next year now that we’ve set the bar,” says Huffman. We can’t either.
Congratulations Center Grove. It means a lot that you used our product just on its merit, not because it was given to you. And we’ll help wherever we can,