Percussion ensemble preps for national competition

Mar 17, 2017

Dartmouth High's percussion ensemble has a dizzying performance, but judges are in for the ride.

The 49-student winter performance, titled "Emotional Rollercoaster," includes bumpy backdrops and surging inclines, while performers are wrapped in clown faces and popcorn vendor costumes.

The team performed at the high school on March 11, scoring 91 out of 100 points for the New England Scholastic Band Association Percussion Regional, but the percussion competition was just a warmup for the World Championship upcoming in April, said the school's Music Director Bill Kingsland.

"Our group is actually a World Class group. They still have to do all the local shows to qualify," he said, explaining that on the South Coast, there aren't many schools willing to dedicate the resources and funding that Dartmouth does. A typical show can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000, and Dartmouth's parent fundraising group helps diffuse these costs.

This means that neighboring districts put forth A Class (beginner) and Open Class (intermediate) performances that Dartmouth already outranks as a World Class (advanced) team.

The local competitions help the group work out any kinks before the big, end-of-season performance at the Winter Guard International in Ohio.

"We have shows every weekend until we leave. We practice during the week, three days," said Tom Aungst, who programs the 10-minute routine and arranges the music.

The instrumentals do not include wind performers, Aungst explained. Students play marching drums, marimba, xylophone, vibes, piano, and synthesizers to recognizable tunes. The winter performance includes Sia's "Alive" and Maroon 5's "Sad."

The secret to Dartmouth's winning streak is not necessarily instrumental, however.

"We're one of the only groups that use dancers," said Aungst. "It's something we think is important visually. That kind of makes us unique."

Eight dancers are incorporated into the routine, which allows students from outside the music department to participate, he said.

While the team will head to Ohio on April 19 for the three-day competition (April 20-22), residents can see its performance at the high school on April 15 at 7 p.m.


Dartmouth performs at the high school on March 11. Video courtesy: Dartmouth Public Schools/ Facebook