When I finished my last blog, I planned to write every few weeks but here I am, a few months later, back home in England and trying to fathom where the time went and find the words to describe the last three months. Sitting here now, it is hard to believe everything that has happened and how amazing the experience has been. I imagined before I left that it would all be about performing with Rhythm X and the show but it became about so much more - wonderful new family, fantastic new friends at Lebanon, constantly learning from the incredible knowledge of front line techs, striving to improve to feel worthy of my place amongst such talent and being in constant awe of the genius of the Rhythm X design team.
Our first show is mentioned in my first blog. Our second show was the WGI Indianapolis Regional which saw us up against MCM for the first time. We spent most of the weekend in rehearsal at Franklin High School and the vibe line had new music to learn at the top of part 4 due to a sample change so we were focused and making sure our performance was as ready as it could be. The rest of the weekend’s rehearsal was strong and the show became better and more comfortable, however, both prelims and finals saw us place second to MCM whose show was already quite clean. Our show was technically demanding and extremely challenging and at that point in the season, it wasn’t as developed and clean as we all were determined it could be.
The following weekend, February 24th saw us compete in the MEPA Regional at Centreville High School and although we were the only unit in PIW, we were competing against ourselves, pushing ourselves to improve and do justice the concept of the show. We improved our score and achieved 88.7.
The following weekend was crazy busy. We had the WGI Dayton Regional on the Saturday and Sunday saw us at the Erwin J Nutter Centre still in Dayton for the MEPA Competition. We competed against Matrix and Legacy at WGI and came away with a prelims score of 91.1 (almost 3 points clear of Matrix in second) and a finals score of 91.25 but with Matrix closer on our heels with 90.5. As Matrix had been over to Europe the previous winter to perform at IPE where I had been competing with The Company, I chatted briefly with a few of the vets I had met there back in Belgium They were all surprised to see me in the US! The Sunday saw us back at MEPA and back against Matrix. Matrix scored 87.75 and we got a 91, consistent with the previous day despite a different judging panel.
Although it felt like a busy weekend to everyone at Rhythm X, Ryan Ellis (my US ‘brother’) also performed at both events with his high school drumline from Lebanon. 6 shows in one weekend!!!
The following week me and Ryan had a really eventful night out. Survival by Muse was a major part of The Man in the Arena show so it was awesome to be able to go see Muse live with Ryan in Columbus the following Tuesday, particularly as we were both huge fans. They played all their best known tracks and the concert was set to a spectacular light display. Not sure if it was a sign but they closed with Survival – I personally like to think it was a mark of respect to Tim Jackson who was also in the crowd.
When the show ended we left the arena to head home and given that Ryan tended to drive everywhere with the pedal to the floor it should have been a short trip. That short trip turned into quite an event with snow drifts, near fatal crashes, tow trucks, frozen lower limbs, rescue missions and unplanned overnighter at an ex X member’s house. The weather in Ohio was weird but the weather that night I will never forget.
The weekend of March 23rd/24th saw us compete in Kentucky at the E A Diddle Arena. We arrived on the Friday night after a 4 hour drive down and set up base at Russell County High school. Whilst wheeling the equipment into the gym, I managed to catch the resonators of the five octave marimba on a track on the floor, pulling the resonator from the marimba with a worrying crunching sound. To my intense horror and embarrassment Andrew Markworth and Tim Jackson were stood right behind me and I had visions of a very expensive repair bill winging its way back home. Trying to sound convincing I assured them I could fix it but they just smiled, nodded and walked away. No one told me that this was a regular mishap and those in the know found my horror very amusing. It actually became quite a common occurrence over the following weeks for most members of the front line.
The Saturday saw us enjoying our first outdoor warm up and my first experience of playing to a lot crowd. It felt crazy after watching so many lot videos for so many years on YouTube. Prelims saw us compete against MCM for the first time since their win at Indy Regionals. Although the show felt quite good, Mystique still bettered our score and we knew we had more to do, we knew we had more to give and we did. We were determined to better the show, to give it our all and spent Saturday night and Sunday morning in rehearsal. They went well, everyone keen to improve their part and do the show justice. Our finals performance left everyone buzzing with the knowledge we had achieved that. We improved our score to 93.475 and took the title of Mid-South Champions. Although the win felt awesome, having beaten MCM (our closest rivals at that point), it’s not the critic who counts. ;)
The following weekend saw us back at the Indy State Fairgrounds and we had a productive two day rehearsal with the Saturday blocks being held outside, and then Rookie Talent night was held! For those who know what it is, no explanation is needed, for those who don’t, no explanation is possible! Sunday, being Easter, was a free day and a chance to recover!!!
The weekend of April 6th/7th brought the MEPA Championships and saw us back at the Nutter Centre in Dayton. We were the only competitors in PIW so were our own competition and saw the event as a chance to improve our score and give the best performance possible. Prelims went really well and felt great to perform and gave us a real boost. We couldn’t wait to put that performance in front of a finals crowd. The finals pre-show warm up went great and we were all really hyped. Tom Gasparrini gave an awesome preshow speech and the usual 12 years, 12 Glawk ceremony took place. The performance started well but part way through the second movement I noticed Connor, the synth player glance over to Teddy on bass and it was clear from their expressions, all wasn’t well. The lights went out on the electronics rendering the mixer, bass, synths, mic’s and subs useless. Part 3 included the ballad and part 4 started with a synth solo – these were major parts of the show and neither could now be performed. It is testament to the talent and commitment of the ensemble that everyone remained calm and the show continued. We dropped 0.65 from our prelims score which was an amazing achievement under the circumstances. MEPA gave the go ahead for us to perform after retreat and we put on an amazing show to a fantastic crowd.
The following weekend saw us rehearsing in Wilmington High School and brought many changes to the show both musically and visually. Monday was a free day and on Tuesday I went into Lebanon High School with Ryan to watch Lebanon High School’s drumline finalise their show for the Scholastic Open competition. On Tuesday evening, Rhythm X arrived at Lebanon and Ryan’s school drumline got to perform their shown for us all. This must have been quite a buzz for them and Ryan in particular and X totally hyped the show.
X then broke into subs and we ran our show, I joined the vibes to perfect our parts and ensure we were performing every part in the same way. We moved into full ensemble for the latter part of the night and ran the show in chunks, constantly perfecting and tightening even the smallest details.
After rehearsal, many of the snare line and Connor stayed over at Ryan’s house – which became their home for the week. They were treated to the delights of Marie’s home cooking which were my good fortune to experience throughout my stay in the US. It was great for me and Ryan having them there and tightened the bonds already formed.
Wednesday we were treated by the X staff to the luxury of a sleep in as rehearsal wasn’t scheduled until 11am. We arrived at Stubbs Park and quickly unloaded and readied ourselves for full ensemble rehearsal. The weather was perfect and rehearsals for the next two days went really well. Thursday night saw us back at Lebanon High school sharing the facility with Lebanon and Infinity (another PIW group). Despite the competition between the groups, both units in PIW were very supportive of each other and hyped each other’s shows.
Friday morning I woke up with nerves!!! It suddenly hit me what I was about to do. From solo performances at I and E events, to DCE finals with The Company to performing alongside Coldplay at the Paralympics ... nerves have never been an issue. It’s always been about the performance, doing my best and enjoying it. The journey to the UD Arena in Dayton saw my nerves worsen. I had dreamt about this moment for years, watched X time and time again and longed to be a part, seen the UD Arena and the lot so many times on YouTube footage – it didn’t seem real anymore. It was surreal, bizarre, overwhelming, nerve wrecking and exciting all at the same time.
Once we were in uniform and started the warm up in the lot, I felt much better and the music took over. It was freezing cold and we were eager to get inside and begin our prelims performance. Our time came and we moved our equipment down the ramp into the Arena. We had our usual motivational speech from Tim Jackson, which as it often did, reduced the majority of the ensemble to tears of pride and determination! As we moved out on to the floor, the nerves returned with a vengance, but I felt strangely calm at the same time. The crowd was buzzing and the energy in the arena was incredible! The show was great, but I knew that personally I would have a better run at finals, as my nerves would be gone. I realised that it was the venue, the event, the occasion that brought the nerves. All those years of watching and dreaming and hoping .... but I had done it once now. The nerves were gone. Finals would be about the show. At the end of prelims, we pushed the equipment back up the ramp (no easy task) and we loaded and headed back inside to watch Pulse, MCM, Infinity and several other groups. All the people around me were checking the WGI site for an update on scores and when our round came up we were amazed with the score of 96.875, a point and a half above the next group in our round (Pulse Percussion). We could not wait to see how the next round had played out as RCC and MCM were in round two. Before the scores were posted we had to head back to Lebanon for a night of rehearsal. When we arrived, the news soon spread that we were in first with RCC in second (96.113), MCM in third (96.225) and Pulse in fourth (95.062)! We were going into finals in first place. That said, it didn’t change our focus and we rehearsed the same as we always did (if not better). We were not going to give up that position without a fight! None of us could believe that finals day was the next day! The season had been a blur and yet totally amazing at the same time.
Finals day dawned warmer than the previous day and we arrived at Lebanon for a morning block before giving the gym to Infinity to rehearse while we got lunch and rehearsed in sectionals. We watched Infinity’s final run through and then performed a run through for Infinity to watch before they had to go for their finals performance. We continued rehearsing for around three hours and the staff talked to us and on a personal level and as an ensemble, we knew that this show had to be the best thing it could possibly be for them as well as for us and the crowd.
My facebook status at that time kinda captures how I was feeling ..,,
“Only a few hours until I get to throw down with the most incredible group of people that I have ever encountered !!! We're all gonna be the best we can be, dare greatly and love every second and every person that we share the experience with! Rhythm X 2013, let's go!! 12 Years..... 12 Glawks....... “
We then loaded and set off for Dayton. No nerves only pride and the determination to justify my place in that arena.
We unloaded extremely quickly and efficiently, changed into uniform and were soon ready in subs in the warm up lot. The crowd grew and grew in size, volume and excitement (and became drunker on the whole)! The energy was intense, each chunk that we played received a great reaction and the group hyped off of it immensely! Kelsey Behl, one of the front line techs and an X alumni had brought me a British flag and it was hung on my vibe in the finals lot.
There were cameramen all over the lot filming and our full run was awesome. The crowd were shouting and cheering, familiar faces and strangers, all buzzing to be watching us. It felt surreal. The group fed off the crowd and we performed with the pride of being a part of Rhythm X. All too soon, it was time for the British Flag to come down, time to take a breath and prepare myself . We were soon stood behind the curtain again, ready to take this show out into the arena! 12 years, 12 Glawks – for the last time ever.
The crowd filled the entire arena, the atmosphere was incredible. The whole place was buzzing and the crowds excitement to see us spurred us on even more. We set up quickly and after a quick panic moment where one of the leads hadn’t been plugged in for the piano, we were ready to go.
It’s not the critic who counts.....” that opening moment was spine tingling for me. The entire show was incredible! On a personal level, it was the first time my own show and performance felt perfect and I wouldn’t change a single part of it. The show took over, the concept took over, this was about daring greatly, fighting to survive, being that man. The entire group threw down, it was so emotional – many of the staff and members were reduced to tears . Tears of pride and pure intense emotion. The adrenaline rush was intense! I have never experienced anything like that in my life ... it was unbelievable, words could never be enough to tell you what I felt in that moment. Our emotion and pride mixed with awe as the crowd reacted. People were on their feet, shouting and screaming, clapping and cheering. I was in a pure daze as we cleared our stuff from the arena and once we were out of the building, we embraced each other, as we knew we had done it. We had made that show the best it could be. The feeling that it left every member with was enough, we knew that it was the best we could do, winning was unimportant at that moment to me, the season and show had been awesome enough; it would be an added bonus if we did win.
We lined up before retreat and walked back out into the arena. The crowd was still buzzing with anticipation as the 24 different finalist groups filed onto the floor and the scores began to be announced. The time seemed to drag by as the incredible high schools and other independent world groups scores were announced. Finally it was only the top 3 left. MCM was announced in third. It was between RCC, who were stood next to X at retreat, and us. There was complete silence in the that arena at that moment. My heart stopped beating. When we all heard the announcement of “And with a score of 97.425.....” we did not know what to think! The second place group had beaten the record score from Rhythm X 2009!! Was that us?? The pause seemed so long, and then he announced “RCC!!!” Every single member of X and its staff and all the supporters and parents went crazy! I think I even heard my mum screaming from the UK!! We were jumping around, embracing whoever was closest to us, everyone in tears and full of emotion! We came forward and lined up ready to receive our World Champions medals from the RX staff and then we had pictures with the sponsorship banners and with our fellow competitiors. Tinsel fell from the ceiling and there were hugs and tears and photos with friends, family and members and staff. We stayed there for as long as we could, soaking up the atmosphere and emotions. We didn’t care that we still had the whole truck to load. The gold medal round each of our necks was something that we had all been working towards for years and there we were, at the finish line, having achieved everything we could have hoped for and with a show that was totally incredible.
We eventually left the arena and loaded the truck, still excitedly chatting and then went on celebrating in a local hotel lobby. We all went to mingle, celebrate, talk and in some cases, get drunk. The party was noisy, great fun and capped off a perfect day.
The following day brought the banquet, which was a happy and incredibly sad event all at the same time. We were together as champions for the last time - it was the last time we would be together as Rhythm X 2013. I knew I would never see a lot of these people again and yet they had shared the best day of my life. We had shared that. We were X13. The speeches from the age-outs and the staff were really emotional moments and when the banquet ended, no-one seemed to want to leave. Leaving was like accepting it was over and everyone came up with an excuse for one last picture or one last hug. I got everyone to sign my flag which is already proudly hung at home. Sadly, we all went our separate ways. We came together as men in an arena and left as champions of the world.
My facebook post from the day read as follows
“Still in amazement of what I have been a part of the last three months! Rhythm X 2013 - a truly inspirational group of people and I can't believe it's already over! Being able to say I am the only British person to march Rhythm X, and also to be the only British WGI Champion is awesome!!! And to really put a cap on an incredible rookie year, we got the highest WGI score ever with 98.263!!
It's been a life changing experience and I look forward to many more great times and fantastic memories in the future! :) Glawk!”
It was then, on the drive back to Lebanon that the realisation that I only had one more full day in America before I had to leave, more sad goodbyes. I spent the last day mostly with Ryan, his girlfriend Mallorie and some of the Lebanon drumline. They had all become such good friends and it was so hard to say goodbye. But after a last burrito (the Brits don’t have a clue when it comes to burritos) and a last watch of Rhythm X and Lebanon’s finals runs, it was time to say goodbye to them all. I did get a few extra hours with Ryan and Mallorie and an unexpected hospital run when Mallorie had an allergic reaction of some sort. It gave us extra time and we had a last few laughs (mostly at Mallorie’s expense). But she knows it came from a good place.
The last morning before I headed to the airport, Marie took us to the Cheesecake Factory for a farewell meal with my “American Family” (which was incredible – the cheesecake and the family!!) and then it off to the airport and my last goodbyes. I can’t describe how close me and Ryan became during my stay. We both had our fears before I arrived but it not every day you find a friend who can drive 80 miles with and do nothing but exchange weird noises with ..... and that be ok, or talk about nothing but Drum Corps. The Ellis family made me feel so welcome in their home that at times, I almost forgot I was away from home!! Marie felt like my American Mom and all the Ellis’ felt like real family and the goodbye’s were so so hard. I had my Mum and kid sister waiting for me back home though, so with the last farewell, I began my long journey back to England.
It was a long flight and I was sat next to the smallest woman I’d ever seen but who took up more space than someone 3 times her size and I slept badly I arrived in Manchester achy, tired and with backache. That mattered not as I was literally jumped on by a tearful mother and sister. My mum kept hugging and hugging then letting me go to check I was ok, ask a question then ignored by answer and grabbed me again. Eventually she let me go and we drove home chatting excitedly about all that had happened in all our lives since we were last together (fair to say my 3 months topped theirs).
I still cannot believe my time in America is over!! It's been such an incredible experience! I could never thank the Rhythm X staff, for giving me the spot and also committing to the show and creating something so amazing. The staff and techs are incredible and I have learned so much about myself, about music and about what I want to do from being around them. I have to say a special thankyou to Andrew Markworth for encouraging me to audition in the first place. Without his words at DCE last year, I would never have had the courage.
The members of Rhythm X were an awesome and unbelievably talented group. They welcomed me, a young British newbie so openly and made me instantly feel a part of them. They were all so dedicated and committed and so badass. I know some of them I will never see again but I hope I get to march with some of them in the future. I miss all of them so much.
A lot of my time was spent with the Lebanon Drumline!!! Those guys were so awesome... I wish my school had a drumline and those guys were in it. Think I was born to be American, sure my ancestors missed the Mayflower (and I mean the ship, not the British WGI Colourguard Unit). We had some really great times and some brilliant laughs and they too made me feel an instant part of their world. So miss them all.
My amazing American family made this whole experience possible. What a gift they gave me. They opened up their home and took me in. Not many people would do that for a complete stranger and I could never ever repay their kindness. Being with them is what made the whole experience even more special. It was hard to say goodbye to them but I know that I have found an awesome friend in Ryan, a lifelong one I hope and I know we will march together again (hopefully next year at X)
I now have a summer with my old friends at The Company to look forward to and our Circle of Life show, written by the amazingly talented Andrew Markworth. This year will hopefully see us retake our High Front Ensemble award given all I’ve learned from the X Front line and now plan to teach at CO and also see us defend our European Champion status. I have been with some of the guys at The Company for a long time and marching with them is like marching with my family. It is the knowledge passed on from them and the support and encouragement given by people such as Mark Pickles, Craig Sherratt and Rick Cartwright that urged me to work hard, strive to always be better – so I can never thank them enough. I must say a quick thankyou to anyone who sponsored me – so very appreciated.
None of this trip would have been possible without my mum, who allowed me to leave (which was in itself a huge deal for her), paid for most of the trip and sorted out all the detail with school, transport, visa’s etc. She has always been so supportive of everything I do and I am so grateful for that and for making it possible for me to follow my dreams.
To anyone reading this wondering whether they are good enough, whether they have courage enough, just remember these words ....
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.