Drum ensemble prepares for a championship run

Posted 2/21/24

The Cranston Public School community had its first opportunity on Saturday to see a show that will, in just two months, be on a world championship stage.

The Cranston Combined Percussion …

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Drum ensemble prepares for a championship run


The Cranston Public School community had its first opportunity on Saturday to see a show that will, in just two months, be on a world championship stage.

The Cranston Combined Percussion Ensemble performed in full on the floor of the Cranston East gymnasium “Chaos/Order”, a challenging and highly conceptual piece of music and marching which they hope will earn them distinction at the WGI World Championships in Dayton, Ohio this April.

“It’s definitely the most challenging music the group’s ever played, but we have the experience to pull it off,” said Lucas Arsenault, a senior in the ensemble and captain of the battery.

For those unfamiliar, a percussion ensemble, or winter drumline, is an ensemble featuring all of the percussion that one would normally see in a marching band, minus the brass and woodwinds. They generally perform indoors on a much smaller stage than the football field typical of a marching band. Cranston’s ensemble features two snare drums, a multi-tom, four bass drums, and four marching cymbals, as well as two dancers, all making up the battery. The floor ensemble, which performs on standing instruments and does not march, includes marimbas, xylophones, vibraphones, bells, chimes, crotales, synthesizers, timpani, an electric guitar and bass, and auxiliary percussion. The ensemble in total is 27 students ranging from 7th grade to seniors in high school.

“Chaos/Order” is a five and a half minute show which runs through three short acts, each with its own accompanying theme. The show begins with a rendition of Dies Irae, from Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem Mass, a frantic and chaotic opener during which two dancers struggle with one another while the battery surrounds them. In the second act, the music shifts dramatically in tone, and time period, to Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence, specifically sampling from a cover by alternative metal band Disturbed. Finally, the piece ends on a triumphant note with the Great Gate of Kiev by Modest Mussorgsky as the two dancers come together in harmony.

“It’s one of the most complicated shows we’ve ever done,” said Alex Torelli, a senior and captain of the front ensemble. “The first couple movements are showing the chaotic nature of a character, then right at the end we all get really happy and proud of ourselves for overcoming the chaotic-ness that was forced on us by the two dancers.”

The ambitious show is a major part in the ensemble’s efforts to take themselves to a new level, WGI (Winter Guard International) World Championships. WGI is the governing body which judges winter drum ensembles and color guards across the country and beyond. They host competitions for bands at a high school (scholastic) level as well as for adult (independent) ensembles. Cranston Combined Percussion Ensemble will be the first drumline in Rhode Island to perform at the World Championship at any level.

“The ensemble is doing really well,” said Gregory Arsenault, director of the ensemble and a music teacher at Cranston East, as well as Lucas’s father. “We are way ahead of where we normally are at this time of the season, mostly because the staff and the students know that the ante is really up and we need to be well prepared.”

Saturday’s performance at Cranston East, at which several other percussion ensembles participated, was not a competition. Instead, it was a rare opportunity for ensembles to work closely with real WGI judges to workshop the show and their performance, in preparation for tournaments to come. Each ensemble that performed was afforded 40 minutes with the judges, during which time they performed their show in full, took notes from the judges, and ran through specific sections.

This show, in addition to helping them prepare for WGI championships, is an overture for Cranston’s home show in March, in which 14 percussion ensembles and 18 color guards from all over New England will be performing in actual competition in the Cranston auditorium.

Director Arsenault says that when they get to Ohio, the ensemble is hoping to make it to semi-finals in their class, Scholastic A. There will be 52 bands performing, all performing at championship levels.

“The groups who have the wherewithal to make their way out there are the ones who are ready to do it, so it’s going to be very competitive,” he says.

Beyond the competitions themselves, Arsenault hopes the students can take something valuable away just from the experience of working together for months on end to make something great.

“The idea that anything worth doing is worth working hard for,” Arsenault said. “They need to understand that everything that they each do as an individual adds to the whole. That if they're not carrying their weight, then we're not going to be successful, that any, any endeavor takes a lot of hard work and commitment to get it to the highest level.”

He continued “And then taking that idea that if they learn how to do something excellently, then they know how to do things to an excellent level. So whether they're going to go to college or to trade school, or into the military, if they understand it took that amount of work to be excellent, they understand how much work it's going to be.”

Cranston’s home show will be Saturday March 16, 2024. It will be open to the public and feature bands from all over New England.

drumline, percussion, ensemble


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