Indoor Percussion on an Epic Quest for Greatness

Dartmouth High School’s prestigious music program is a key part of the school community, yet is rarely understood by outsiders. In an attempt to understand the program and its inner workings, I decided to focus on the part of the program actively in the spotlight at the moment: indoor percussion. Indoor percussion is a complex body consisting of dancers, battery (1), and pit, 44 members in total. 

Outsiders are left to wonder how so many people can work together to make beautiful music and visuals. To get straight to the source, I spoke to three knowledgeable persons on the subject: Battery Section Leader Oliver Johnson, Dancer Ashley Dejesus, and Percussion Director Tom Aungst (2).

Who doesn’t love it when you do something really well and people applaud?

— DHS Percussion Director Tom Aungst

According to Mr. Aungst, the current show called The Curse of Medusa (3) but is actually Mean Girls meets Greek mythology, a creative marriage made in Hades. So this rendition goes: Athena, a goddess on mount Olympus, is with Poseidon, but when Poseidon sees Medusa before she is quite literally snaked by Athena, he declares her the most beautiful. As you can imagine, some Kardashian-level drama ensues, making the indoor percussion show a must watch. 

To communicate such an epic (4) across to the audience, the band makes full use of visuals to mimic that of Ancient Greek art. The show’s theme coincides with the rising interest in Greek mythology over the last decade with authors like Madeline Miller reimagining old Homeric epics and Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. The aesthetic of Greek mythology is an attractive one that captures the beauty in the drama of life: the larger than life legends and gods that last centuries and carry inspiration to today’s artists, indoor percussion particularly.

Unanimously, the message was that indoor percussion was a family, as Ashley wholeheartedly attests. “I’ve made some of my life long friends here, in this program. The friendship and the family-hood we have in the [group] is something that I’ll never take for granted,” she said.  The energy of indoor percussion itself is infectious, and unanimously again, they described the euphoric feeling of competitions coming together, a feeling that keeps the indoor percussion together and working hard. 

“Who doesn’t love it when you do something really well and people applaud?” said Mr. Aungst, who then reminds me of Aristotles’ philosophy that excellence is an art won by training and habituation. Mr Aungst admits he is tough on his students and the expectations are high, but the challenging dynamic is beneficial. 

 To do justice to such a rich culture, the musicians of the group work tirelessly. Oliver notes that practices after school, limited in time, are often intense and strenuously filled with as much preparation as possible. The time commitment, however, makes this makeshift family program stronger as people mature together, and watch others mature and learn. 

“It’s really cool to see them mature,” said Mr. Aungst. “I probably see the kids more than their parents, especially when we do indoor percussion.” Family is built on trust, and Mr Aungst spoke to that idea. “I trust the kids, because I try to treat them as professionals,” he said. 

Being trusted and treated with respect is a rarity as an adolescent, and it gives a unique self-esteem that Oliver says the indoor percussion helped him discover. 

 Mr Aungst finishes by saying, “You’ve got excellence, you’ve got quality, and everyone wants to be a part of something great.”

And it is inspiringly true, and a want that everyone, not just those in indoor percussion can relate to. Indoor Percussion is competing now, in a manner similar to Odysseus’ journey home, and they are unrelentingly determined to succeed and give the audience an epic they won’t forget.

End Notes

  1.  Drum and Cymbal line
  2.  Systemwide Percussion Instructor, assistant high school band director (famous)
  3.  Soon to be The Revenge of Medusa
  4.  A work portraying heroic deeds and adventures or covering an extended period of time (thanks to Apple Dictionary)