From Practice to the Show: A Weekend with DHS Indoor Percussion


Mackenzie Boucher

The ancient Greek ethos of the DHS Indoor Percussion show co-exists easily with the real thing.

As mentioned in previous articles, indoor ensemble practices are intense, and to truly understand the level of intensity, I attended one myself. I was told the practice would commence promptly at 3:00 pm Wednesday, March 16, t-minus three days until the home show at DHS.

The Practice

I walked in at 2:23, essential coffee in hand, and into a different place entirely. Students were already setting up, the floor mat was being unrolled, the pit was being pieced together, and immediately the gym morphed into a makeshift movie set. Apparently already throwing off the rhythm, I was nearly mauled by what I was later to find out was a concert bass drum being maneuvered by two students through a doorway that was roughly as wide as the instrument itself. Having the unique experience of being able to observe without interruption allowed me to see the bare gym track evolve into an ancient Grecian affair, a glow up comparable to the home renovations on HGTV, where they turn a ratty home with green carpets (they always have green carpets) to a beach house paradise of your dreams. 

2:56 rolled around, and practice was in session. By the time practice was over, I was exposed to the true patience and talent it took to be in any part of the ensemble. I witnessed them play segments of the show as short as five seconds and reset (1), to fix a position (2), or another meticulous detail, vital to achieve the level of perfection desired. I found that Percussion Director Tom Aungst, Show Designer Darcie Aungst, and Drill Designer Jeff Sacktig, as they sat atop the bleachers, were on their own Mt. Olympus, ruling over their own parts of Greece.

Each part was played several times, until adding a new section of music, something that I found, in spite of myself, exciting. It took approximately three resets for me to discover why our indoor percussion achieves such a level of excellence: performance. I don’t necessarily mean the music or dancing itself (3), but the acting. With each reset, the same level of energy and storytelling was brought, without question. It was practically impossible not to smile, when everyone on the floor was beaming with pride, or cowering in fear, making the emotions they overflowed with irresistible to any audience. I made a pretty safe conclusion that in one three-hour practice they showed more emotions than I have in my 16.5 years of living. 

I made a pretty safe conclusion that in one three-hour practice they showed more emotions than I have in my 16.5 years of living. 

Periodically the ensemble would be stripped down to only a section, only an individual, even, Mr. Aungst (4) orchestrating each part in a way that every piece needed to be at the same level of excellence to produce the shocking final product.  For example, a cleverly choreographed set when the cymbal line would flip their instrument in such a way caught the light, reflecting it in waves that caught the eye of the audience, bringing the attention to the inner floor, the line was framing (5)

By the end of practice, not only was I exhausted (6), but the next morning I woke up and could’ve sworn that the alarm was Mr. Aungst saying “reset.” All illusions aside, within three hours of practice, I learned more about life than I do in about a month in school. I discovered true commitment and shameless persistence. I saw every dancer, every musician give their 110 percent, every reset, without question, and was moved. With such a level of performance demonstrated at a practice, I was left to wonder what the show’s result would look like. 

Periodically the ensemble would be stripped down to only a section, only an individual, even, Mr. Aungst orchestrating each part in a way that every piece needed to be at the same level of excellence to produce the shocking final product. 

The Show

I arrived at 6:30 pm Saturday evening, the thermometer read 69.8℉, but with the bodies packed like sardines on the bleachers, every breeze from the gym doors was like a summer breeze in the heaviest heat wave. We were let in by a door guard, who I soon realized was quite literally holding people from entering or exiting during a show. My younger sister, 10 years of age, Scarlett Boucher, placed herself as a shadow as I made my way to a front bleacher. Little did I know then, she would be a vital tool to measure audience reaction. At the time smaller groups were performing including an  Ice-olation theme, Illusions and Incarnation (7), and of course Dartmouth’s own Indoor Winds ensemble. 

Not only were the performances themselves interesting, but so were the range of characters attending the event.

Not only were the performances themselves interesting, but so were the range of characters attending the event. During the intermission, a blonde-haired, middle-aged, raspy-voiced woman was talking to what looked like her twin above me. In between yelling “50 for five” or “five for fifty,” she was explaining how she got scammed into selling tickets at the show for the next five years. Her green boa feathers were stuck on the black glasses atop her head, and I figured it wouldn’t last the next five years. 

Another interesting woman indeed had a shirt that was, to put it lightly, attention grabbing. She walked by us twice, but her lime green shirt was unmistakable. It read in large white bold letters, and a boombox in the middle, “Drop Beats Not Bombs.” I wonder if this was in reference to the Ukraine crisis, or this was just a lady with gray hair in a bright scrunchie to match the shirt’s philosophy in general. 

7:24 pm and the Jackson-era music-filled intermission was over, and the indoor percussion segment began. The first group was from Mansfield, presenting their Spark. More than once my reactionist sister was more than impressed but in awe. This show was characterized as “Very dramatic” by a loud voice of unknown origin somewhere within 3 feet of us. 

Next was Salem, New Hampshire’s Blue Winter Percussion, which had high energy, and a stand out pale cotton candy pink-colored hair xylophonist, and a costume malfunction that if I had any remorse I wouldn’t write about, but I don’t. An unlucky drummer’s pants split, either in the middle or before the performance, and his underwear was exposed to the audience. I’m not sure if anyone noticed, but either way, kudos to that musician for the “show must go on” attitude. 

7:45. Tension builds as Everett High School’s show starts up. It was a story of true human spirit, and according to my sister, ”fabulous,” which is a word held in high standing. The makeup was vibrant and beautiful, and the synchronized breathing was a wonderful example of the one mind good ensembles share. 

Two performances later, Portsmouth’s ensemble performs Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps it was the tension to see our ensemble, the hour of the night, or the size of the ensemble, but all I could think was, “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever wanted Romeo and Juliette to die faster” (8). My sister at this point was giving me a dead arm by practically sleeping on it, and I was dying for something more Greek. 

8:30 finally arrived after much anticipation, and the Corinthian-style columns were being rolled out onto the floor. Immediately the whole audience seemed to lean forward, tension was at an all-time high. Our ensemble was unmistakable with the pristine white Greek tunics, gold capes that I am fairly certain you would be able to signal a plane down with, and beautiful head wreaths on every artist. The ensemble was all business, every part in laser focus, setting up and positioning for battle. 

The performance started and the pit awakened by each player facing the middle bowing forward and back like individual pendulums. The party burst into life hypnotizing every onlooker. The Greek party was started, and Athena was commanding the floor, everyone in her radius seemed to be drawn to her. From her marble podium she directed her fellow goddesses and captured the hearts of Mt. Olympus. 

But just as the party was finding peak groove, a new beauty was introduced, electric violinist Medusa. She was not the traditional snake Medusa, though, she looked like a goddess. The gold on her floor length dress was reflective, causing a certain glow that reflected off her crown (9) framing her head like a star. Suddenly the group no longer orbited Athena, but now this newcomer, Medusa. 

As you can imagine in true Mean Girls fashion as promised, Athena and her posse did not love this. In fact as the floor was circling her, she and her posse were orchestrating Medusa’s demise. Directing all this jealousy and circling Medusa with it, the ensemble fell into a spiral of spells. A scream was produced from the center of the circle, presumably Medusa. The audience was shocked as what was once a party of the gods had become a Greek tragedy.

The dancers carried Medusa’s body, seemingly throwing it out of Mt. Olympus, producing another round of claps from the audience. It seems Athena was victorious, and the party seems to get back on its rhythm, as Athena’s fist spiked the sky in victory against her fallen foe. 

From the back, however, lurked a fully transformed Medusa. Atop her head, snakes replaced her crown, and her glitter-gold dress was replaced by an emerald-scaled dress. Suddenly the party fell back into chaos. 

The posse who enabled this problem turned the columns to find their party partners turned to stone. Distress fell over the floor, as Medusa advanced unchallenged to what once was Athena’s marble throne. The drum and cymbal line fell first, all frozen in mid-motion, agony ingrained in their frozen stature. Sweet, radiant Medusa, now took on much sharper, vulgar features mercilessly stopping the party. She reached the throne and the entire audience was frozen as well, in the sense that no one could take their eyes away. 

The pit fell last, Medusa mercilessly moving forward sharp violin notes freezing musician after musician, hands up in a failed attempt to save themselves. The end product can only be described as a visual masterpiece, a live action Pergamon Altar. I think my sister summed up the level of art the Dartmouth Indoor Percussion achieved that night, ‘I didn’t know the band could do that.”

End Notes

  1. Reset, Reset, reset, I wonder if the musicians and dancers hear Mr. Aungst say reset every time they foul up in real life, or in their sleep, reset, reset, reset
  2.  If you ever thought football positions were hard to understand, imagine trying to understand indoor percussion. I tried and failed quite miserably. 
  3. Which was amazing, obviously 
  4.  Has amazing name remembering capability and the attention to detail of a musical Sherlock Holmes
  5.  I audibly say “wow” at this point, which is a bit more weird when you’re the only audience. This would not be the only expression given, gasps were solicited later on 
  6.  You know, as someone who just sat and took notes, and did nothing physically exerting 
  7.  Unfortunate door jam at the worst possible moment; the audience second hand guilt was intense
  8.  This is a bit harsh, because they did play beautifully I’m sure; I just don’t remember much except that heavy mood in the gym
  9.  Similar to that of Quinta Angustia de Cordoba