Going to WGI for a 16 year old British student was never something i could have imagined. I always planned on travelling to the states when I was older, but after being asked to audition and being offered a vibe spot, I could hardly refuse! This was the opportunity I’d been hoping for several years and it was happening! The actual reality of it didn’t properly hit me until about a week before i was due to set off for America, and the realisation that I was actually going to the USA to march WGI with Rhythm X was huge.
However, before this, I had lots to sort out. School (Bradford Grammar School) were extremely supportive of me and my trip, and they agreed to set up liaisons in the US and to email work (For GCSE’s) to me to complete and return to school to be graded. Also, there was the matter of clothes and suitcases to worry about, and i also had my music through from Rhythm X to get on with leaning. Along with relearning the usual warm-ups i was familiar with on marimba, but for vibe, the show music was arriving piece by piece and it was everything i expected and wasted no time getting round to leaning it. And, of course, i needed some place to live for the three months of my stay. Andrew Markworth put me in contact with a 17 year old member of the X snare line and Spirit of Atlanta (now Bluecoats) member, Ryan Ellis and his family. They, very kindly, agreed to put me up for the duration of my stay and this was the last item to sort before my departure.
It had been decided it would be best for me to arrive at X rehearsals in mid-late January, and my flight was booked for the 24th, leaving Manchester in the morning and arriving at Cincinnati that evening after a three hour change over in Atlanta. As the date drew closer, my excitement just grew and grew. When the day finally arrived, i was ecstatic (and slightly nervous about figuring out my way around the huge Atlanta airport) and after saying goodbyes to my family (including a withering wreck of a mother) i was on my way! I was on the plane within an hour, and I had a comfortable 9 hour long flight.
Atlanta was hectic. After a 2 mile walk through the airport terminals, i reached homeland security. It was at this point that i hit problems. After having my hand scanned, i was asked why i was in the USA, to which i explained about Rhythm X. I was transferred to a secure room with around half a dozen others, and was interrogated as to why and what i was doing in the USA. In the end, i had to show them videos of X on YouTube and go through the rehearsal schedule, show concept, staff team and WGI finals. After an hour of this, i was finally allowed to go, with only two hours to figure out the maze of Atlanta Airport. A lot of running and a subway train later, I arrived at the gate with time to spare for a McDonalds. Another shorter flight brought me to Cincinnati, which was much easier to comprehend, being much smaller.
Once I had my bags, I headed towards the exit to meet the Ellis’. They made me feel instantly welcome and we went for my first American meal at ‘Five Guys’, with the largest portion of ‘fries’ I’d ever seen. After this, and after we got to know each other a little better, we headed back to the house, and I settled in. The next day, we went to Ryan’s audition and then it was time for X! I was so excited! After years of dreaming of being here, i was now on my way my first rehearsal! The rehearsal was at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, about a two and a half hour drive from Lebanon and was a very interesting, busy place. There were lots of events going on, including a beer festival, and it was very crowded and was a very large site. The X building was located near the back of the site and i could hear fragments of music i recognised from the show files. This made it seem even more real and as we went inside, i got to see a world class front line in rehearsal.
Andrew Markworth (A familiar face) was running the rehearsal and stopped to make me feel welcome and introduce me to rest of the frontline i would be rehearsing and performing with for the next few months. They were all extremely friendly and had already come up with the “stereotypical British name” of Oliver. I was questioned about Britain and i was given around 50 different words to say in my accent.
We then broke down into sub-sectionals, the vibe line moving into the corridorto help me up to speed with the music, any changes and mallet changes. Within the hour, i was back in rehearsal with the rest of the front ensemble. The incredible skill and strength of the 5 marimba players was astounding. I had never seen anyone play like this and i was blown away by the ease with which they seemed to play. Before dinner, there were 5 4.5-5 octave marimbas to carry up stairs and the rest to take in the elevator. In a surprisingly short space of time, we were done and went out to grab food.
After we went to grab food from a nearby restaurant, it was time for full ensemble. The show already sounded great, despite the earliness in the season and i enjoyed watching the insane staging and hearing the battery for the first time. I didn’t find it too difficult to get used to my surroundings and i soon felt fairly comfortable with the parts and the show (Part one and two at this point). We were all treated with an early finish from rehearsal and then to a Rhythm X History Night! This involved watching each show of Rhythm X’s existence and hearing about the story behind each one from Tim Fairbanks. I don’t think there was a single one i didn’t like! My favourite though was definitely 2009’s Touch, as this was the first WGI Show i ever saw. Following this, being tired still from the flights and the early morning, i got a good nights’ sleep in the bunk beds provided, ready to do it all again tomorrow.
The next day was equally as exciting and intriguing to me, with an unexpected twist. We all took part in a workout/core strength for the first hour of the day, run by Tim Jackson. This was unexpected but surprisingly enjoyable! Fair to say i was aching for the next few days! Though we were mostly in ensemble for the rest of the day, we got to play through the warm up book and i enjoyed playing familiar exercises but on less familiar parts. It had been about 3 years since i last played vibes in Drum Corps/Indoor Drumline and it was a nice change, but also something i needed to get used to again. (balance being the hardest part!) The end of the day’s rehearsal brought a run of the first two parts of our show, and the load of the truck. Though there was lots more gear than i was previously used to, it took no more than an hour to pack the truck, tidy the building and set off. We reached the Ellis’ by around 7PM, where i was treated to an incredible homemade steak!
The next week passed fairly quickly. I set up connection with school, who wasted no time in beginning to send through work for me to get on with. Essays, papers, question after question when what i really to do was drum or get out and check out the neighbourhood. I was also introduced to the Lebanon High School Drumline (Ryan’s school line) and watched rehearsals and met up with the group to eat out, which always promised to be a great laugh.
The next weekend of X rehearsal came around before i knew it, and we again travelled to Indianapolis (this time accompanied by 500 doughnut holes, provided by Marie Ellis to feed the group). This weekend started very well with the delivery of brand new vibraphones! The race was on in the front line to see who could put their vibe together first and take apart the old one the quickest (where my team finished a respectable second!). We then sat around talking til the early hours of the morning, mostly involving me learning about the US, and saying various words in my accent, to the immense enjoyment of the rest of the group.
Saturday brought a vibe (and glock) sectional, where we broke down part three of the show, the ballad. The dynamics were very precise and various aspects of pedalling and sticking needed changing. It was at this point i was first introduced to Riley and Ryan, two of the Front Line Techs. Both showed brilliant attention to detail and soon, all 4 vibe players were playing as one. Lunch followed, then it was back together with the rest of the front. We worked on fitting the various pieces of the ballad together, this was a very important part of the show for us as it was basically a 2 and a half minute pit feature. The marimbas’ opening run was insanely difficult, and they spent time cleaning this while we (vibes, glock, rack, electronics and TJ) sat talking and getting to know each other until we were needed again. We also got to see our uniforms for the first time and they looked so awesome! Over the course of the weekend we were all fitted with a uniform and were told to order toe socks, as we would be wearing Tabi boots for the shows. Definitaly the most bad-ass uniform i had ever seen and would probably ever wear!!
We all went out for dinner and came back ready for ensemble. This part in the show had the battery staging a “fight scene” and was interesting to watch! The piece came together very quickly as the Battery just had movement in this part of the show, and the Front had already spent time gelling parts together. The movement that the Battery was doing was very effective and it was being made certain that everything was right, meaning that we were getting a good amount of reps and also perfecting on our parts, individually and as a line. Rehearsal finished fairly late, around 10:30-11:00pm and being hungry we had a good try at finding an open wal-mart, resulting in getting fairly lost in Indianapolis, but we made it back before the gates of the fairgrounds closed at midnight.
The next day’s schedule consisted of ensemble for the whole day, finishing with a full run of the show so far. Though scheduled to finish at 4 with an hour and a half for lunch, this was changed to finish at 1 with no break so that we could be out of the building and on our way a bit sooner as many had a long journey. Ensemble was preceded, like last week, by a physical/core workout, though not as intense as the previous week. An hour of this, again run by Tim Jackson and a quick warm-up and we were ready for ensemble. We worked on all three parts of the show, all coming on well, all the while with small changes, perfections and additions. The block flew by, the mindset of the entire group focused on rehearsal the entire time, except when we broke out into a jam through Broke Phi Broke as a full ensemble between a rep! 1 O’clock came before we knew it and it was time for a quick clean up and to head home. As Ryan had his first show with Lebanon that day, i got a ride back with two of the cymbal line and arrived back at the Ellis’ at around 6PM (as we had stopped for some food on the way back).
The week passed much the same as the last, meeting up with the Lebanon Drumline, working, contacting home. Friday, Ryan’s school Electronic Music Group had a convention in Columbus which i went to watch. All live music, all through electronic hardware to create a cool, bass sound! The gig was extremely enjoyable and the whole day was a good laugh! The afternoon brought X, this weekend was our first show, in Kettering, a 30 minute drive from Lebanon. We were rehearsing in Dayton, and we arrived around 7:00 PM and began to unload. Our rehearsal space was the school cafeteria and it suited our needs perfectly. We were all given brand new microphones and cables and got told to attach them to the boards. We spent a good while warming up properly, then got into the closer of the show. It came together extremely quickly, being slightly easier than the rest of the show and we were soon able to move on to the ballad, our main focus. Ryan was a perfectionist and every release, downbeat and dynamic was to be nailed. 11:00PM arrived and we left the equipment where it was and set off to a bar near where we were staying. We all got something to eat and some of the older members had a drink. At around 2AM, we left for Bobby’s house (One of the Marimba line). Though 9 of us were staying in Bobby’s front room, it was surprisingly comfy and we made it work very well!!
Saturday, we were back at the school for a full rehearsal day, due to start at 10AM. The Front had another good warm-up and we also sorted huge mass of cables that were needed for all of our microphones. Each board player got a specifically designed piece of tape to identify their cable, with mine being the British Flag! After a little while longer working on part 2, we moved our equipment to the gym where we would ensemble after lunch. Though the vibes and electronics fit in the lift (barely) the marimbas racks had to be lifted down a full tier of seating to the floor of the gym (which was nice and worrying as each marimba cost a bomb!) The main aim of the ensemble was putting the new closer on the floor. The staging looked cool and by the time we had finished with it, it was looking and sounding strong! We started to chunk back through the show until it was time for the full run. We then changed into our uniforms for a full production run of the show for the first time! The new Tabi boots proved hard to get into but before too long we were all ready for the run! It went extremely well! The energy felt great from my place on the floor and i felt completely part of and dedicated to the show! By the end of the run, i could not wait for the next day so we could show the finished show to an audience!
By this point it was late, around 11:30, and we still had to tidy and load. The whole group moved quickly to get the truck loaded and we pulled out of the lot at around 12:30, arriving home at around 1:30 having gone for some food before getting home. However, when we got home, we were greeted with a puppy! This was a surprise and though we wanted to mess around with the pup, we decided to sleep, as we had the show the next day (though the pup had different ideas and enjoyed yelping and barking into the night!
The next morning we were on our way by 7:30, grabbing breakfast en route. We unloaded as soon as we got there (Ryan was with Lebanon as he had a show with them also that morning) and we moved inside and it felt like we took over the building, as our equipment filled the main entrance corridor almost completely! We did not have much time so we soon were changed into uniform and ready for our pre-show warm up. We got around 20 minutes to play a few exercises then do a full run before we needed to move to the arena. We were in transit for around 5 minutes, arriving with another group before us before we were on. After a brief word from Tim Fairbanks, it was time for the 12 year old tradition of Glawk!!! This was a pre-show hype and we yelled Glawk for every year of Rhythm X’s existence. This fired the whole group up and prepared us well for the performance!
This was it! The first show with Rhythm X! I still wasn’t sure whether i believed it was real or not but either way, we rolled out and set up in front of the audience. Though only a fairly small stand, it was completely filled with people and we got a great round of cheers as we were setting up.
Soon, the crowd died down and we began the show. I have always loved performing but this was new, the music all worked so well together, as did every single member in the ensemble and the whole room was electric!! The first three parts went brilliantly! The crowd loved it! Then part 4 we had a pretty major tear and there was pretty much no idea which tempo was right! Luckily, there’s a bar where the bottom bass has a quater note triplet and everything else is silent, which helped us get the last part of the piece on track! The audience still went mad at the end regardless of the tear and we wheeled off the floor. Overall, i felt great about the show! It had been my first Rhythm X performance and it felt brilliant, tear or not!
We needed to pack the truck which took around an hour or so, and then we went to eat the delicious food that had been provided by one of the parents. Chicken, potatoes, biscuits, cookies, drinks, it was all delicious and we sat and enjoyed this and talked about the show and mainly the closer. We all knew that next weekend at the Indy Regionals the closer would be more rehearsed and we wouldn’t have the same issue as we had had earlier!
I stayed behind with Ryan and the Lebanon Drumline to help the Lebanon colour guard set up their tarp and then we set off back. We were back by mid-afternoon and spent quite a while playing with the newly christened Randy! An early night was needed after the long, but exciting weekend and i couldn’t wait for Regionals the following weekend where we would be up again Music City Mystique for the first time!