They pull down the blood-splattered bandanas stretched across their face, revealing grotesque makeup and turning the performers into sharp-toothed semi-human beasts.
They have become monsters.
They play their drums and cymbals as they march behind a front ensemble filled with marimbas, synthesizers, speakers and more drums. The sound echoes off of the walls and rattles the ceiling. The sound from the desk-sized subwoofers shakes the bleachers.
“Do you have earplugs? It gets kind of loud in here,” said Benjy Braude, IU alumnus and Veritas Percussion Ensemble staff member.
It's March 10, the day of the Winter Guard International Regional Finals, and the members of Veritas began practicing at the Indiana State Fairgrounds at 9 a.m. It’s now 10:30a.m., and they are about to drive 20 miles south to a competition at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis.
Veritas Percussion Ensemble, based in Indianapolis as a part of 317 Performing Arts, is in its first year of competition in Winter Guard International’s percussion division. They compete in the highest level of competition, the Percussion Independent World class.
Veritas’ inaugural show is called "Monster." The show depicts mad scientists who lose control of their creations.
“We’re going for the ‘Frankenstein's Monster’ aesthetic, with the membership split between being the monsters and the ‘doctors,’” Braude said.
In total, five IU students compete on the floor with Veritas. Some IU students who compete with Veritas also choose to play with the IU Marching Hundred in the fall, where Braude is a staff member.
Junior Brooks Gill and sophomore Malinda Jack, who both play bass drum for Veritas, said competing is a huge time commitment for performers.
“We leave on Friday after classes end and get to Indy by four to start practice, then we practice until midnight,” Jack said. “On Saturday, we wake up around eight and practice until midnight usually, then practice for a few hours on Sunday.”
Jack said they usually don’t get back to Bloomington until after five on Sunday afternoons, sometimes later if they perform that day.
Even Braude, who once performed in WGI, feels the effects of the time spent performing and teaching, having spent so much time in indoor percussion contests.
“Personally, in my now seven years at IU, I’ve never experienced Little Five weekend in even the smallest capacity,” Braudesaid. “I’ve just always been at indoor, and never regretted it for a second.”
Judges score groups based on musical performance, visual performance and musical and visual effect categories. These scores contribute to a final score, with a maximum possible rating of 100.
WGI consists of multiple high school and independent ensembles from across the country. Ensembles perform in gymnasiums, with competitions taking place in high school gyms and university arenas.
Brooks Gill, for example, got his start in the activity in his high school ensemble at Zionsville High School. He competed with Independent World group Rhythm X, based in Dayton, Ohio, in 2017, and with Legacy World, an indoor percussion group under the Legacy Performing Arts organization, in 2018.
Legacy Performing Arts no longer fields an indoor percussion group, and those performers and staff now make up a majority of Veritas’ personnel.
“Legacy had previously been run by a few different people,” Braude said, “And in the transition to the direction and leadership we have now, it just became increasingly clear that we could improve a few things from an organizational standpoint.”
The performers in Veritas demand a lot out of their bodies, both mentally and physically. Sometimes members take risks to make sure they can perform at contests.
On the day of the show, Jack dropped a bass drum carrier on her foot while loading instruments into her car.
“I will either be okay,” Jack said, limping back toward the building, “or I will make myself be okay.”
Sage Peglow, a senior at IU, plays cymbals for Veritas. She also teaches cymbals at Plainfield High School in Plainfield, Indiana. What keeps her coming back to Veritas is a love for the activity that she’s developed over multiple years, she said.
“Sometimes it’s hard to keep going,” Peglow said, while applying layers of makeup before the show. “All you want to do is sleep and not break your body.”
Peglow said the physical and emotional strain can take a toll on performers, one that can make her question coming back.
“Last year [Legacy World] did a show about suicide, and it took a lot of mental prep to get in the right mindset and also be respectful of the audience,” Peglow said.
A performers’ love for the marching arts is a learned one, Peglow said, but one that she can’t resist coming back for.
For example, the process of applying makeup for a show can take over an hour. Peglow said she doesn’t mind because it helps with the storytelling process of the show, something she’s glad that Veritas is able to provide.
“The best part is it’s all for 10 minutes,” Peglow said.
WGI rules state the world-class performances must not exceed 8 minutes, and world class groups are only allowed 11 minutes to set up, perform and tear down all equipment.
Veritas placed third on Sunday, scoring an 82.85 out of 100. They were only 4.35 points behind the winning group Rhythm X, which scored an 87.2. Rhythm X finished second at World Championships last year.
For this show, the ensemble had to factor in additions during practice.
“Lots of changes happened, and we handled it well," Peglow said.
One of 28 Percussion Independent World groups, and one of only two from Indiana, Veritas hopes to make WGI World Championships. Only the top 15 groups in PIW make it to finals.
Peglow says making finals in her last season, also called an age out season, would mean a lot.
"This is the greatest age out show I could ask for," said Peglow, "and making finals would be the cherry on top of an unforgettable marching career."
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly implied Legacy Performing Arts had only fielded one percussion ensemble. The IDS regrets this error.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Legacy World had not made it to the WGI World Championships. The IDS regrets this error.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly implied a connection between Veritas and another percussion ensemble. The IDS regrets this error.
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