HUNTERTOWN — “Okay, no talking. Start to focus in on what we need to do to have a great run.”
With those words, Jason Pace called the members of his team together to make their final trek to the Carroll High School gymnasium. The students had dressed in their uniforms, stretched and flexed, and warmed up with their equipment. The competition they were headed to would showcase their many hours of hard work, sweat, training and drills.
Pace is the director of the Carroll High School Indoor Percussion Ensemble, and his team was ready to perform their program, “Prodigal,” for the Carroll Indoor Percussion Invitational on Feb. 22. Seventeen school ensembles participated in the invitational, coming from as far as Minooka, Illinois, and Munster, Indiana.
Pace is in his third year as the indoor percussion director, a position he happened upon by wearing a jacket.
“I grew up in Elkhart, and I participated in an indoor percussion group from Chicago called Pioneer Indoor Percussion,” he said. “I moved here to go to Purdue Fort Wayne, and one day I wore my Pioneer jacket to class. Someone recognized the jacket, and we started talking. He told me about the indoor percussion director position being open at Carroll, and I applied for the job. So I guess you can say that the jacket led me here.”
By day, Pace is a construction inspector for A & Z Engineering, and after work and on weekends he spends approximately 40 hours per week directing indoor percussion.
Indoor percussion has been in place at Carroll since 2003, and Pace is the group’s fifth director. Steven Hoffman, owner and designer of Avant Guard Flags & Costumes, a Fort Wayne-based company, has worked with the group since its inception. He designs costumes for indoor percussion, marching bands and color guards around the country. He designed the costumes for the “Prodigal” performance using the theme of a tattered royal wedding to tell the story of the prodigal son.
“Hands down, this is the strongest Carroll indoor percussion performance ever,” Hoffman said.
Michael Brown composed the battery music, and John Bay designed the visual performance, including the rhythms and visual movements.
Most students who participate in indoor percussion also participate in marching band. The indoor percussion ensemble consists of the marching percussion, or battery, section of the band, and the front ensemble, or pit section. Wind instruments are not allowed in indoor percussion, but guitars, synthesizers and accordions have been added to the approved list of instruments. Drums and other percussion instruments are at the core of indoor percussion, and the catchy rhythms and cadences performed with music are captivating. Combining music, marching, athleticism, acting and dance into a high-energy performance, indoor percussion is as engaging as a Broadway show.
Although the majority of groups compete at the high school level, there are also independent groups that attract participants from across the country. Students who fall in love with the activity in high school often join independent groups after graduation to continue with the music sport.
Carroll graduate Jayden Brown is a freshman at Ball State University, studying music performance and music media production. His choice of majors was a direct result of his involvement with indoor percussion at Carroll. He currently spends summers marching with the Madison (Wisconsin) Scouts, a group that tours the country performing indoor percussion. Brown maintains involvement with the Carroll group by assisting with the production of the current program. He was responsible for programming the lanterns that synchronized with the music to change colors during Carroll’s “Prodigal” program.
“The indoor percussion community is something else,” Brown said. “I love performing. This has had a huge impact on my life.”
The indoor percussion season begins after marching band season ends.
“There’s usually not a lot of time between seasons,” said Angela Spieth, mother of Rebekah Spieth, a sophomore cymbal player in the Carroll indoor percussion ensemble. “These kids are busy, and that keeps parents busy too.”
Rebekah also plays flute in marching band and concert band, and enjoys the change of pace that indoor percussion provides.
“At first it was something I thought looked cool. Now I come back for the entire experience,” she said. “It teaches me time management, and I don’t procrastinate when I need to get something done for school.”
Parents pay hefty fees to have their student participate in indoor percussion, and volunteer their time and talents to make events like the Carroll Invitational happen. A virtual army of parents was on hand to sell and monitor admissions, serve concessions, move equipment in and out, provide food, supervise students and clean up after the event. It is one of the largest fundraisers of the year for Carroll’s Indoor Percussion Ensemble, which must raise approximately $40,000 annually to cover expenses.
“We couldn’t do this without the parents,” Rebekah said. “It’s nice that my mom cares about this, and that she supports the ensemble. She does a lot for us.”
Chas Hall, a Carroll junior, plays the center snare drum in the “Prodigal” performance and has a featured role. This is his third year participating in the group.
“Indoor percussion allows me to express myself through music. It actively allows you to improve yourself while you interact with other people,” Hall said.
Watching him perform at the invitational were family members, including his 84-year-old grandmother, who traveled more than six hours to attend.
“It’s incredible to have my family travel so far to be here,” Hall said. “It feels really good to have their support, and I get to show off a little.”
Hall’s mother, LisaKay Hall, also plays an active role in supporting the ensemble.
“Obviously my reason for being involved is my son,” she said. “He is my focus. I see his excitement performing with the group, and then I see that excitement ripple out among the whole group. We all want to see our kids succeed, and they all inspire me.”
Angela Spieth sums up how many parents feel about watching their kids perform in indoor percussion: “It brings me to tears. My kids make fun of me.”
First place winners in the five divisions at the Carroll invitational were: Knox Percussion Ensemble, Knox High School, Knox, Indiana, PSB division; NorthWood Percussion Ensemble, NorthWood High School, Nappanee, Indiana, PSCA division; Minooka Indoor Percussion, Minooka Community High School, Minooka, Illinois, PSA division; Munster Winter Percussion Ensemble, Munster High School, Munster, Indiana, PSCO division; and Carroll Indoor Percussion, Carroll High School, Fort Wayne, Indiana, PSO division.
The Carroll Indoor Percussion Ensemble will perform at six competitions in Indiana and Ohio throughout their season, which ends on April 4. A performance of “Prodigal” for the community is tentatively scheduled for March 13, 7 p.m., in the Carroll High School gymnasium.