After a season of virtual rehearsals and performances, the Longmont Combined Schools Drumline — a St. Vrain School District program mixing music, percussion, athletics and theater — qualified for the Winter Guard International, or WGI, World Finals.
This is the seventh time the Longmont Combined Schools Drumline has been selected as a WGI finalist. In addition, the group has won ten Rocky Mountain Percussion Association, or RMPA, State Championships, seven in as many years, according to David Merrill, director of bands at Longmont High School.
“With our drumline, we’ve been competitive for many years and a world champion about every other year,” he said. “This year is a very, very different situation. We started the season remotely, and were not able to have rehearsals together, students would use Webex and would be practicing with drum pads and rehearsing that way, making the most of it.”
In what has been an unprecedented year for the organization, Merrill said student performers continued to thrive in a sport that has put Longmont in the map nation- and worldwide.
WGI World Finals are usually performed in-person in Dayton, Ohio in front of a crowd of 1,500 spectators. Because of the pandemic, all drumline competitions have been done virtually. This year no winner will be announced at the world finals.
This season all 15 finalists receive the same level of recognition, including Longmont’s group, according to Dave Marvin, ensemble director for the Longmont Combined Schools Drumline and director and arranger for the Denver Broncos Stampede.
“(Performances) are almost impossible to judge on video,” he said. “This year, once you make the finals, that is your reward. The top 15 for us was really what we were striving for.”
Saskia Leisy, a Longmont High School sophomore student, has been a member of the Longmont drumline for nearly two years and has not had the opportunity to fully experience the entirety of the competitions and performance as a result of the pandemic, she said.
“It's been really weird. I didn't get all of my first season (because of lockdown last year) but it didn't affect me too much because I didn't know all the experience that we (were supposed to get,)” she said. “I’m really proud of how everybody handled it and we were able to improve really quickly once we were in-person. It was very impressive.”
Many of the members this year hadn't even played their instrument before, according to Caden Wach, a junior at Longmont High School, and they had to learn something completely new, he said. “The most challenging part of the season was how different it was in comparison to normal years. We didn't have a marching band season and we couldn't practice together until January, so we got a really late start,” he said.
For Harlow Moran, a freshman at Longmont High School, the most challenging part of this season was to get to an advanced level of playing in a shorter stretch of time because of COVID, he said.
“We had to start the season fully virtual and we had three weeks taken off of the season that we would have had in a typical year. Both of those things put us in a difficult position due to lack of time,” she said. “But because of the amount of hours and effort we put into our competition, we managed to come out of the season with a really incredible show.”
All 18 student performers belonging to Longmont, Silver Creek and Skyline high schools and the four adult members that support with coaching were desperate to get back to in-person rehearsals, Marvin said.
“There's nothing like playing live music and the kids know that,” he said. “Once we were in-person, attendance was nearly 100% because none of the kids wanted to miss … Once kids got that opp(ortunity), the love for live performing really led them down the path to get everyone there for every rehearsal.”
In addition to the WGI recognition, the Longmont Combined Schools Drumline received an invitation, last week, to compete in the Color Guard Netherland, or CGN, international drumline circuit, which is headquartered in the Netherlands and through which Longmont students will be competing against groups from all over the world.
“It'll be very unique for us. We’re used to competing with just American groups and now we’ll be able to share the virtual space with everyone in every corner of the world,” he said, adding this is the first time this international competition has been done virtually and expects it to remain an opportunity for students to compete in future years.
The achievements of the drumline also speak volumes of the kind of support SVVSD had poured into the program according to Marvin.
“We’ve had a great response from administrators at the school right down to the basketball coach,” he said. “The community support means everything to us, because they understand how hard students work at this to make a very unique performance outlet.”
Monday, SVVSD announced it has been presented with the Best Communities for Music Education designation from The NAMM Foundation for its outstanding commitment to music education, according to a press release.
SVVSD is one of three school districts in Colorado and one of 686 school districts across the U.S. to receive the award, honoring outstanding achievements in efforts to provide music access and education to all students.
Moving forward, Marvin expects more students to join the drumline given people across the district have learned of this program as a result of the virtual competitions and stellar results, he said.
“I think we are going to grow, there is really no limit to how many students we can have in the ensemble and we want to get as many student musicians involved as we possibly can,” he said. “I expect next year will be the launching pad for that.”