Sport of the Arts: Northwest’s four winter ensembles practice to perform at this weekend’s Carolina Winter Ensemble Association


In the winter when the football season is finished, the marching band disbands until the following year. People from the colorguard and the marching band still want to do the sport they love, though. Thus entering the little known world of winter ensembles.

The four winter ensembles at Northwest consist of Cadet colorguard, JV colorguard, varsity colorguard and winter percussion ensemble. The four ensembles are organized by band instructor Brian McMath.

“A lot (of effort) goes into the shows,” McMath said. “(We have) four different shows, all with individual uniforms, individual flag silks, and four individual competition and practice schedules.”

Members of the different ensembles also put in a lot of work to their shows.

“The average practice is three hours,” senior varsity guard member Alexis Barton said. “(At every practice), we stretch, then we warm up our bodies, we exercise and then we move to flag and do basics. Then we do some choreography. Closer to the end of practice, weapons start practicing rifle work for the show.”

In colorguard, there are usually three different pieces of equipment used in the shows. This year, the ensembles combined have five pieces of equipment. Along with the usual flag, rifle and sabre, this year, new pieces such as widgets and fans are being implemented.

“(The JV team) is the only ensemble that has sabre (this year),” freshman JV member Kaitlyn Sumner said. “It will help the show be a crowd pleaser.”

The winter ensembles at Northwest have various competitions that they go to in the Carolina Winter Ensemble Association, or CWEA for short. At each show, the ensembles are judged against their competitors for a score out of 100, which then determines their rank. As well as the three colorguard groups at Northwest, the winter percussion ensemble also competes in the CWEA circuit. Unlike the colorguard, though, the percussion produces their own music.

“With the show theme and the choreography so far,” Barton said, “I expect us to do generally well (in competition).”

Beth Rickerts, a seventh grade teacher at Northwest Middle, has been involved with the colorguard and marching band for many years.

“(My daughter) Faith was in colorguard, just like me,” Rickerts said. “I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the guard, so I help get new members in cadet.”

Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a country to create the winter guard shows. The colorguard instructors vary from Brian Winn, the instructor of Etude, a world renown colorguard; to Alex Perrez, an instructor who flies in from Florida to assist the Northwest ensembles; to Peter Beckhart, who writes the percussion show all the way in California.

Northwest is the only school in Guilford County to have a competing winter percussion ensemble. Director Kevin Greene conducts the ensemble and gave some insights about the 2019 percussion production.

“(The show is) about test subjects that are getting “tortured,” but they escape and get revenge,” Greene said. “The music to the show is called ‘the House,’ so the original concept was for it to be a haunted house, but we changed it and kept the music.”

Every year, people who have never done winter guard or winter percussion often give it a try.

“We sort of have our audition process for the winter season, for cadets, JV, varsity and winter percussion,” McMath said. “Sometimes people get cut (from the team) and sometimes people don’t. Most of the time the guard members don’t get cut, they are just placed in the (level) they need to be based on skills and what we’ve seen. (For) percussion, there are usually some cuts made because of limited instruments or expertise or need in the ensemble.”

Although the winter percussion has many fresh faces, Greene said he wasn’t nervous about their performance qualities.

“I have a lot of newbies this year, but I think they’ll do wonderful (in competition),” Greene said. “It’s a struggle because (the program is) really fast paced, but if you push hard enough they’ll rise to the occasion.”

Although there are fewer rookie colorguard members, many of the colorguard instructors are new. Sumner said that most of the staff working with them were brand new to the school, such as instructor Winn.

“I’ve taught (colorguard) for as long as I can remember,” Winn said. “I’ve been out of high school for fifteen years and I started teaching colorguard a year after that.”

Winn said that this is his first year teaching the Northwest colorguards. He has taught guards all throughout the east coast.

“I love seeing new people fall in love with (colorguard),” Rickerts said. “Every year it never ceases to amaze me how they put the shows together.”

Rickerts, Winn, Sumner, Barton and McMath all agree that colorguard is a very physical sport.

“Most sports are just physical activities,” Barton said. “Winter guard is more physically demanding. You have to be able to move and think at the same time. And it kind of drains you, mentally. You have to be able to think about what you’re doing as you move your body. It’s both mental and physical (work).”

All levels of the ensembles believe that the work they do is equivalent, if not more work than the average sport like football or baseball.

“You can’t just focus on you, you have to multitask,” Sumner said. “You have to move a flag, memorize your points on the floor, dance, toss equipment, etc. And you have to do all of this while performing and maintaining a good stamina. And to top it off, you’ve got to look at the audience (and perform).”

Despite most agreeing on the difficulty of the sports, there is a masculine stigma against the activity.

“(Colorguard) is seen as a very feminine (activity),” Winn said. “If guys get past that stigma, then I think they would realize they could stay fit, have fun and be strong.”

In the girl-dominated sport, very few boys choose to audition. In all of the colorguard ensembles, there is only one male in over 30 different members.

“Everybody loves watching the guy in colorguard,” Rickerts said. “They are usually considered the strongest on the team. I don’t understand why so many young boys stay away from (the sport).”

Barton agreed with the opinions of Rickerts and Winn, saying that males are not only missing out on not only the physical activity but also to experience as a whole.

“You get really close to (the rest of the colorguard),” Barton said. “If you continue doing it, you’ll have these amazing relationships that will last throughout high school.”

If you ask anyone involved in the four winter ensembles, they’ll encourage you to participate in the activity.

“You grow a second family (in colorguard),” Barton said.

McMath agrees.

“Students should definitely do it if (you) enjoy performing or want to see what performing is like,” McMath said. “If (you) want to meet a bunch of new people, have a good time, travel– all that fun stuff– I suggest come out and see it.”

The four ensembles have their first competition Saturday, Feb. 2 at Rock Hill High School in South Carolina.

Eighth grade Meredeth Clark stretches before rehearsal.
Freshman Kaitlyn Sumner stretches to prevent injuries during practice.
The Northwest Junior Varsity guard practice their tosses.
Senior Brandon Miller practices his choice drum, bass.
Freshman Will Sowder and Mallory Shouse practice their bass parts.
Sophomore Rachel Goldin shows off her “diamond ring” to the soon to be audience.
Freshman Ashley Cougar and Ryan Goldin show off their final pose of the show.