The Inner Game of Indoor Championships
By Neil Larrivee

WGI (Winter Guard International), once known only as an activity for color guards, is now considered an educational staple within the percussion education community. WGI Indoor Percussion is the fastest growing of the pageantry arts, sponsoring twenty-two Percussion Regional Contests and a World Championship Contest in Dayton, Ohio, held this year on April 10 - 12.

I had the great joy and honor of directing a percussion program that attended these world championships from 1996 through 2001. I have since stepped down from that role at King Philip Regional High School (from Wrentham, MA) with many terrific memories. Most of the great memories were possible as I learned how to better manage this experience each year. In my time, I found that our wonderful experiences were better realized when great mental and logistical preparation was applied. Experience surely served us well!

As the year rolls towards the World Championships, I thought I would share some insights along with a few dear friends who are Percussion Directors with some very successful programs. As Percussion Directors, we face challenges that do not normally fall within our job descriptions. Usually, a Band Director or Administrator would take care of all the planning on this kind of trip. However, for the most part, in this activity, the Percussion Director is responsible for all things musical and logistical!

Participating in this article along with me will be Don Click, Music City Mystique; Dan Burke, Blue Knights; Tom Aungst, Dartmouth H. S.; Dave Marvin, Northglenn H.S.; Dan Fyffe, Franklin Central H.S.; Tim Bray, Tunstall H.S. & Virginia Helmsmen; Jason Ihnat, Eastside Fury; and Bill Etling, Wauseon H. S.

As with any ensemble, the pursuit of musical excellence is a very high priority with "Indoor" Percussion Ensembles. And it is a given that as Percussion Directors, development of the players and of the show itself will be a constant. As the year progresses, we all expect our ensembles to develop into a well-oiled musical machine! Now, the next key is to set ourselves up for performance success and fun by anticipating potential logistical problems. And of course, we must set the right mood for the kids to feel comfortable.

Dan Burke represents this thought well when he says , "I feel it must be a goal to treat the trip as a great event for the kids. This should be the highlight of our year. It is the greatest time of the season for the kids. We work to make the schedule as seamless as possible. We make the logistics transparent so that there is no need for the kids to be worried about anything."


The journey to Dayton is an event in and of itself. Many programs are traveling from half way across the country with busses full of students, staff and parents along with trucks to haul all of the equipment and props. It can be quite an experience! "It is all about the experience for the kids," said Tom Aungst. "Sometimes, that's what they truly remember. The times they had on the bus-all the funny stories that come from the kids being all together for a long period of time and away from home."


Once you have arrived at your destination, it's time to set up camp. Hotel logistics have hopefully been taken care of well in advance, and it is a simple matter of checking in and getting on with your plan. "When I schedule hotel rooms, I do it a full year in advance. I try to schedule a block of 10-16 rooms for the parents as well as my kids," said Bill Etling. Don Click likes to "make sure that the hotel we are at is aware of the fact that we have some big vehicles to park in their lot."

Once you are all set up with your rooms, it is time to really get down to it. "I immediately drive the route from our hotel to the event location," said Aungst. "I do it myself to be sure I know exactly how much time will be required." "Heck, I try to get to the arena before the event is even happening," said Dan Fyffe. "If I don't know the site, then I would prefer to do it all months in advance so that I don't have to worry about it!"

Jason Ihnat states that he "tries to over-estimate how long things will take. If it is a 45-minute drive to the site - then I plan for 60 minutes." "I make sure that I take into consideration the time of day and what the traffic will be like as it relates to our performance time," said Click. "I am searching for possible construction delays that may exist. I am also looking for good places for the group to eat that are located near the arena and housing site." Dave Marvin feels that "you need to give yourself more time than you think you need to do everything. This will lead to a more calm and controlled environment for your entire group." "The way I look at it, no one will complain if we are running ahead of schedule. But if you are running behind---that's a problem!" said Inhat.



Everyone seems to feel that getting the kids and staff into the arena before their performance time is very beneficial. There is so much to be learned by doing so. Let's face it - very few kids will have experienced playing inside such a large facility. They are all used to their local gyms!

"On our walk through," says Marvin, "I identify everything for the kids. The judge placement, warm up area, score postings, merchandise booths, bathrooms and meeting places." "This helps so much with the factor of coming through the curtain for your performance and seeing how big it is for the first time," says Click. "I have my head pit/prop person go through the 'route' to the warm up and then to the performance area. We want to be sure to note any odd turns, doorways, hallways and etc." "Make sure you familiarize yourself with the flow from outside to inside," adds Tim Bray. "Not only do I want the kids to hear how the arena sounds," adds Inhat, "I also want to be prepared for how long the walk will be from the lot. I want to avoid any wrong turns!"


Rehearsal time during the event is important to everyone. However, by the time you have arrived, you ought to be in the polishing stages. "Rehearsal is for just keeping what we have sharp. We plan the calendar so that we arrive in great shape. We don't expect to develop much further. By this time, you are what you are," said Burke. "Now it's just about enjoying it from here to the end." "We won't practice like when we are home," said Aungst. "We may be making small adjustments. But for the most part, we are just making everyone comfortable with what we already have in place." "Careful planning on rehearsal sites can be a huge benefit," said Marvin. "If you get a gym to rehearse in, you will typically only get a two hour time slot. I try to plan back to back with another group to trade run-throughs and meet each other. It maximizes the experience of playing in front of strangers." I can attest to what Dave says here. Dave and I made this happen with King Philip and Northglenn in 1998. It was great for all involved!


Those who have experienced playing in a large sports arena like the Nutter Center in Dayton know that the acoustical experience is very dry. It is almost "vacuum like" for the players. It is like playing in a soundproofed practice room. To simulate that, most of the "marching" groups like to prepare by practicing outside. Yes, as crazy as that may sound, practicing outside will better prepare the kids for how they will hear inside! "The hope here is that they will be able to take what they know from outside and apply it indoors," said Ihnat. "I bring a generator to hook up my electronics in case we can't find an outdoor power source," said Marvin. "Prepare for all types of weather," said Bray. "We have had everything from snow to 80 degrees. And the wind always blows!" While this approach seems to work well for the marching groups, it may not be as necessary for a concert group. "For us, we prefer to practice inside all the time. Being outside does not seem to benefit us at all," said Fyffe.

When it is time to head to the arena for your performance, you should be feeling great. And probably nervous, as well, for there is still much to be done. As Click says, "Hopefully, you have figured out who gets the staff passes, and how many extra tickets you must buy for the setup people. Also, we must figure out if the drivers are staying at the venue during the performance or do they need to get back to the hotel to rest." "We make sure our prop people are prepared for wind and rain. We are prepared to play without a 'real' warm-up. If the weather is bad and everyone has to warm-up inside, it is a rumble in the warm-up room. You can not even hear your own thoughts." "Whether you are inside or out, you have a short period of time to warm up. We get the hands going, give reminders about certain segments and then play the whole show," said Aungst.

Sometime during the event, most directors try to find a way for the kids to see other groups perform. "Kids enjoy seeing other groups. It makes the experience more fulfilling," said Aungst. "If you progress competitively, you may find less time to do this. So try to plan accordingly," said Marvin. "Make sure the kids get to check out the lot," said Click. "It is a site to see and hear!"



While all of the above information is logistically based, the following thoughts really come from the wisdom that experience can bring you. These are some of the "inner game" tidbits that can really help keep you and your kids mentally strong. "One of the best ideas I have discovered is to build in stress relief times," said Marvin. "Plan a couple of spots when they can relax and have down time. Visit a mall, have a pizza party or some pool time. Don't expect the kids to be running at 100% every waking minute." "We always schedule time for the kids to play laser tag with other schools from our local circuit," said Etling. "It's a cool way for the kids from different schools to meet each other."

Tom Aungst has some very definitive issues that he insists are taken care of. "Coordination of the parents and staff with prop and pit set up is so important. Actually have the parents practice the set up before you go to Championships. You do not want a lengthy set up or breakdown to cause you to be overtime and possibly affect the outcome of your score.

I make sure that I talk to the kids on how to behave, treat others and react to the outcome regardless of our competitive results. They must realize that they are representing their school and community. We also discuss nerves and how to manage them. We talk about it through the season, trying to put ourselves in that place where thousands of people will be watching. We try to 'feel it' while practicing. I really try to 'know' my group and how they act and react to situations. There can be a different group personality each year. Realizing this helps me know when to lighten my approach to the group."

"In the event we don't make finals, we will still watch the contest," said Etling. "It is important for the kids to see and support the other groups. After all, the kids are why we do this!"

There are bound to be problems that will arise no matter how well you plan. However, it is not what happens to you, it's how you deal with the situation that is most important! "Equipment problems are going to occur," said Aungst. "So we bring more than we need---spare heads, sticks, mallets and actual drums that are tuned and ready to go. We have had 'blow outs' right before the performance. How it is dealt with can actually add a certain level of calm and confidence for the kids. Of course there are some things that happen that you really don't expect. Like the time our truck driver drove over our piano only a few hours before our performance time! Fortunately, I knew where to go to rent another instrument."

"We always have a repair kit with every possible replacement part we may need," said Fyffe. "As with most schools, our instruments are not in perfect working order. So anticipating whatever can go wrong is a smart way to go."

So what happens when you are in a real jam? "We use two way radios in the lot to coordinate connecting with prop and pit parents," said Marvin. "If something goes wrong, at least we can work with each other towards a solution.

"I have a card made out and laminated with every parent, staff and bus driver cel phone number. I also include the number for the hotel, bus company and arena. Every adult traveling with us gets one. This really reduces any possibilities of not being able to get to someone when you really need them!"

I hope that some of these points can be helpful to you as you make your way to the World Championships. You may find some of these points great for any kind of group travel, as well. Being prepared can really help you achieve your very best results. What's left? "Well," said Click, "Directors-remember to bring your Rolaids!"

For more information on WGI, call 303-424-1927 or go to the WGI website at

Bio Information
Neil Larrivee was the Director and Designer for the 2000 WGI Scholastic World Champion King Philip Indoor Marching Percussion Ensemble. King Philip placed second as well in '97, '98 & 2001. The King Philip Concert Percussion Ensemble also placed second during 2001 in the Scholastic Concert World Class. Neil has served on the WGI Percussion Advisory Board and Steering committee since 1997. At King Philip Neil was also the Co-Marching Band Director, arranger and Percussion Director. Neil currently is the Pit Director and Arranger for the eight time DCI World Champion Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps. He has been with the Cadets since 1993. In 2001, The Cadets were awarded the DCI Division 1 High Percussion Trophy. Additionally, Neil is the Director of Education and New Product Development at Vic Firth Inc.

Tom Aungst is the Percussion Arranger and Caption head for the eight time DCI World Champion Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps. In life outside drum corps, Tom is the Percussion Director for the Dartmouth Public School System in Dartmouth, MA. His job includes teaching percussion students at all levels of the program, from the beginning students in 4th grade, to the middle and high school percussionists. His success in the WGI Indoor Percussion arena is unparalleled. Under Tom's direction, Dartmouth High School has captured two championships (1998 & 1999) and has consistently placed in the top three.

Tim Bray has been teaching percussion at Tunstall High School in Virginia for the past 24 years and is the founding director of the Virginia Helmsmen. He has worked with many high school groups- writing, teaching, clinicing and judging shows. He is married with 2 children, and both are percussionists.

Dan Burke is the Director of the Blue Knights Indoor Percussion Ensemble Program. He joined the Blue Knights family in 1979 as a marching member, and has since been a member of the instructional staff, founder of the Alumni Association and volunteer. He is a current member of the Rocky Mountain Percussion Association Board of Directors, WGI Percussion Advisory Board and WGI Steering Committee for Percussion. Dan is a Project Manager for IBM, where he began his career in 1985.

Don Click is the Executive Director and co-founder of the Music City Mystique youth organization. Don is also responsible for all pit arrangements and functions as the show coodinator the indoor percussion ensemble. A graduate of the University of North Texas, Don spent three years as a member of the UNT indoor drumline. Additionally, Don was a member of the 1985 Bridgemen, the 1988 Suncoast Sound and the 1989 Concord Blue Devils. He has taught and continues to arrange and consult at various high schools throughout the nation. Don currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Southeastern Color Guard Circuit as well as Second Vice President and Executive Board Member of Winter Guard International. He is a member of the Percussion Advisory Board and Steering Committee of WGI as well.
Bill Etling is currently the Arranger and Percussion Coordinator for Wauseon Schools. He is in charge of Wauseon's Marching Band Percussion Program and the Wauseon Indoor Drumline. He also works with the 7th and 8th grade percussion ensemble as well as the high school percussion ensemble. In the past Bill has taught and arranged for many high school percussion programs as well as drum and bugle corps. Bill maintains an active schedule of private students. He is currently a member of the Vic Firth Scholastic Educator Program.

Dan Fyffe is the interim band director for Franklin Central High School of Indianapolis, Indiana, and he is in his eleventh year as a music educator for the Franklin Township Community School Corporation. He is the founder, Director and Arranger for the Franklin Central Percussion Symphony. The Franklin Central Percussion Symphony is the 1998-2001 Indiana Percussion Association State Champions in World Concert Class, and the 1998, 1999, 2000 & 2001 Winter Guard International World Champions in Scholastic World Concert Class. Daniel holds a Masters of Science Degree in Music Technology from Indiana University and a Bachelors of Science Degree in Music Education from Ball State University. He is currently serving on the IPA Executive Board as Past President and World Concert Class Representative. Daniel is also currently serving on the Winter Guard International Percussion Advisory Board. He is an educational endorser for Vic Firth and Premier Percussion. You may contact him at

Jason Ihnat has been the Director and music arranger for the Eastside Fury since its founding in 2000. Jason is also the Director of Bands at Memphis (MI) Community Schools. He has been the percussion arranger and instructor for several high schools, colleges and drum corps including Novi High School, Eastern Michigan University and the Americanos Drum and Bugle Corps. Jason has performed with several orchestras, was a member of the Cadets of Bergen County Drum and Bugle Corps, and received his Bachelors Degree from Wayne State University (Detroit, MI) in Music Education.

Dave Marvin is in his 25th year as a teacher and arranger in the percussion activity. He is currently the percussion coordinator at Northglenn High School, Northglenn, CO. Northglenn has been WGI Finalists since their inception in 1995, Silver medalist in 1996 and 1998, Scholastic World Champion 1997 and Scholastic Concert World Bronze medalist in 1998. Dave is also the design coordinator with Blue Knights Independent World Percussion Ensemble. The Blue Knights were WGI Independent World Class Champions 1999-2000, and Silver medalists in 2001. Additionally, Dave has arranged or designed for WGI medalists in all Scholastic marching classes, Scholastic Concert World Class, Independent Open and Independent World Class since 1995.