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UpFront: WGI Winds

Eliahu Sussman • News • September 17, 2014

Winter Guard International (WGI) is well known for hosting a series of competitive performance opportunities for winter guard and percussion groups. After years of brainstorming and deliberation, the organization has decided to expand their offerings, opening up a third branch of activity called “WGI Winds.”

“WGI Winds is something that we had been considering for a long time,” says Bart Woodley, director of operations for WGI. “We finally just decided that it was time to do it. We wanted to throw it out there and see if it was something that people were interested in.”

The new program will be run by Wayne Markworth, an active adjudicator and clinician who was also the director of bands at Ohio’s Centerville High School for 35 years. “In November of last year a committee was formed,” says Markworth. “We met in Indianapolis around Bands of America Grand Nationals weekend. Throughout the winter, that committee formulated the rules, regulations, judging sheets, and just about everything else about it.”

Bart Woodley

Modeled after the organization’s existing winter guard and percussion events, the new WGI Winds is a logical extension of WGI’s offerings. “We discovered that a good number of musicians are participating in color guards and percussion lines during the winter time,” Woodley explains. “We started doing some research and the number of saxophone players in a scholastic drum line was baffling. So we thought, ‘Why can’t we offer something that can help them stay on their principal instrument, while also offering them something unique and different for their own idiom?’ The color guard and percussion divisions have been so successful because they provide such an intimate performing environment, and those groups get to be center stage. And then we had the winds, when you look at the three components of the marching band, and they were not getting that opportunity. So it was a logical extension of our offerings.”

Similar to the Color Guard and Percussion events, WGI Winds will also have six sections of competition. There will be two divisions: independent (which is all-ages) and scholastic. Within each division are three classes: “A,” for entry-level competitors; “Open,” for mid-level groups; and “World Class,” for the elite groups in terms of performance quality and size.

The first contests will be offered this winter – beginning February 14 in Indianapolis – with subsequent events leading up to the Winds World Championships in Dayton, Ohio. However, the organizers are not sure exactly what to expect in this first year. Says Woodley, “I think there were nine drum lines at the first [percussion] world championship event. No one is expecting 50 groups during this first year – even though we’d love it if that many groups signed up. We just don’t expect too many groups to be able to budget, plan, and get their facilities and instruction worked out on short notice. On the other hand, we have heard of a number of groups popping out of the woodwork. We had over 100 groups who have written asking for more information, how to get started, and so on. It does seem like there’s a lot of interest out there.”

In spite of their enthusiasm for this new endeavor, both Woodley and Markworth caution that WGI Winds might not be a great fit for every band program. “If it’s right for their situation, we would love to have them involved,” says Woodley. “But this is not a concept that is going to work for everyone. I would love for people to look at this as an alternative for their kids and their program, should this be right for their situation.”

“There’s been a lot of discussion regarding WGI Winds about if it’s a good thing or a bad thing,” adds Markworth. “I feel very strongly that it can be a great thing for a lot of programs. But it’s not for every program. A program that is already very active in all aspects – concert bands, jazz ensembles, winter guard, winter percussion groups, solo & ensembles, and the band room is just busy from early morning to late in the evening, and all of the staff members have their hands full – it might not be a good fit for that kind of a group.”

“In terms of getting a group together, I would suggest that educators be cautious about doing it in such a way that it doesn’t negatively impact the other groups that they have – drumlines, color guards, and so on,” says Woodley. “One of our major concerns is the fatigue of the band director already. They already have so much on their plate, particularly at that time, with solo & ensemble festival, concert band festivals, and everything. So it has to be something that they really scrutinize before deciding that it’s something they want to do.”

Wayne Markworth

Markworth points to one segment of music programs in particular that might benefit from this new event: smaller band programs. “I’m very much involved in marching band adjudication and so often in the fall I judge very small bands and I see that it’s just really hard for a small band to have a successful performance on the football field,” he says. “And by successful, I don’t mean winning trophies or awards. Just being able to perform well and engage the audience is a challenge because of the numbers and the size of the football field, especially outdoors. With WGI Winds being created, it’s a performance venue that’s basically in a basketball arena, with an audience close to the performers. It’s a wonderful performance opportunity because the kids can get that intimate interaction with an audience. I’m really excited about that.”

Markworth also stresses that he doesn’t want to see WGI Winds viewed as something that might detract from concert bands, which are also typically most active during the same winter and spring months when WGI Winds competitions are scheduled. “I feel strongly – and everyone at WGI does – that for school band programs, the concert band is the heart and foundation of the program,” he says. “We see this indoor winds opportunity as an extracurricular activity that can enhance that and give wind students a chance to perform in that venue. This may give kids a reason to play for several more hours a week on their instruments and improve. And from that aspect, I see it as a really strong motivational tool, especially for the smaller programs.

“The real fear and controversy, if you will, is that some directors will use this to replace their concert band, and the concert band period will be spent marching around the gym. We certainly hope that that doesn’t happen. We just see it as a nice extracurricular offering. And we also don’t want it to replace any other existing elements of a good program, like jazz ensembles or solos & ensembles. Like I said, it’s not for everybody. For any directors who feel this isn’t a good fit for them, they shouldn’t even worry about it. But I do know that it’s going to be a good thing for a lot of programs.”

Woodley shares similar concerns. “We have voiced time and again that our philosophy is not to have this activity replace a typical concert program,” he says. “Everyone knows that a quality concert band is the way that you have great musicians in your program. That is not even close what we’re trying to do. What we’re thinking is that the majority of that concert band work is happening during the class period. So when it comes to the extracurricular portion of the day, those kids are still looking for something they can do where they play their instruments.”

For those directors looking for a new outlet for their concert band students – and there are no restrictions on instrumentation or size of ensemble – this might be a welcome opportunity. “Many music students that I’m familiar with can’t get enough of whatever it is that they’re doing – they want to do it all the time,” says Woodley. “They want to be with their friends, playing their instrument, and performing.”

When it comes to extracurricular settings, there can’t be too many opportunities for kids to stay on their instruments and keep them engaged in music.

Learn more about WGI Winds at www.wgi.org.

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