By Alex Mendoza
Last night’s beautiful and heartfelt Hall of Fame ceremony at the Dayton Marriot kicked off the 2014 WGI Percussion World Championships in a truly fitting fashion. This year’s Hall of Fame inductees (Tom Aungst, Julie Davila, and James Dwyer) arrived one by one, along with several family members, friends, designers, instructors, and other colleagues of these celebrated and accomplished individuals.
Master of ceremonies (and WGI judge extraordinaire) Dave McCarthy briefly detailed the history of the WGI Percussion Hall of Fame, its legacy, and how the inductees represent the artistic and creative integrity of the activity by acting as a driving force that impacts their students, programs, and community.
The first presentation focused on the Martin Scorsese of the activity – Tom Aungst, who much like the film auteur mentioned above, has provided countless groundbreaking productions with his ensemble, Dartmouth High School; 14 of those seasons ending up with a medal – an unprecedented accomplishment considering the ever-shifting competitive landscape of World Class ensembles, with an identity that is all their own.
In an unexpected surprise, Dave introduced Tom’s long time collaborator/costume designer/set designer/choreographer, Darcie Aungst, to the stage, along with their son, Noah, who joined his father at his table. The beginning of Darcie’s speech offered light-hearted moments, the most interesting of which involved a mix-up where she was under the impression the speech would be a roast.
Throwing away the ‘roast’ speech, Darcie’s new words focused on Tom’s diligent work ethic, his goal to improve year after year on all facets from an educational & design standpoint, and conquering the financial challenges the ensemble faces every season in spite of their lavish and eye-catching productions that they bring to the floor with incomparable consistency.
The portrait she provided was of a man driven by his passion, who accepts every student into the program, shaping not only their musical ability, but also their ability to excel on an academic level, teaching them to be self-reliant, inspiring, and striving to be the absolute best – qualities all indicative of Tom’s character.
“I feel fortunate to have been at your side not only as a collaborator and designer, but also as a parent to our children,” Darcie said.
Long-time collaborator/front ensemble arranger Neil Larrivee followed, describing Tom as not only the finest educator he has had the chance to work with, but also a friend that is more like a brother than a colleague. He also noted his elation that after so many years of influencing the activity – from the fan favorite Batman production to 2012’s Evolved – “Tom is finally receiving his just recognition.”
He spoke of one particular occasion following a competition with Dartmouth, explaining that Tom never, ever stops thinking about the students, or the next season, and at that point Neil was astonished, because whereas he was tired, exhausted, and ready to call it a night, Tom was firing on all cylinders – as usual.
“You’re always the first one there and the last one to leave. Because when you work with Tom Aungst, you work with Tom Aungst. You get all of him,” Neil said towards the end, closing Tom’s dedication with the following quote from Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
Tom then came to the stage.
“I’ve had a cold for the past two days, and of course today is the worse day,” Tom mentioned before starting his speech, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell with the manner in which Tom spoke.
“I am humbled and touched by everything that has been said, and when I received my nomination letters in December, I couldn’t help but tear up a bit. I feel fortunate that I make a living doing what I love, because teaching is my passion. And when you have people that you work with, respect, and admire, and you’re reading the thoughtful words that they wrote, it’s difficult not to get emotional.
“I have people in this room right now I’ve known since they were little kids, some of which who have graduated and have come back to help. I’ve also had the fortune of working with people who have become great friends, and being able to share this with my family is one of the great joys of what I do everyday.
“But I know if it wasn’t for organizations like WGI, Dartmouth never would have found its footing the way it did in so many other branches of the program. Looking back across 15 years, I have seen Dartmouth’s success in the drumline influence the jazz band, the marching band, and so much more. So I owe a great deal of thanks to this organization, the people who run it, and all those who take part in it every year.”
Julie Davila’s induction into the Hall of Fame is significant for a variety of reasons, but the most notable is that in an activity predominantly occupied by men, Julie is the first woman to enter the WGI Percussion Hall of Fame. However, as Dennis Delucia later noted in his speech, her being a woman is not the primary reason why she is in the Hall of Fame.
Julie’s extensive percussive experience ranges as a graduate of the renowned University of North Texas, where she was a member of the UNT Drumline and Wind Ensemble, as well as participating as a member of the 1986 Phantom Regiment, and earning the 1987 PAS Individual Mallet Championship, where she warmly recalled a complement from one of her idols following her performance, and how moments such as those inspired her to push further.
Eventually she trained as a judge for WGI, after leaving a significant mark in the activity as an instructor/designer at John Overton High School – a powerhouse percussion ensemble that earned a WGI Championship title in 1996 during her tenure and numerous accolades from many of the prominent figures in the percussion world at the time.
“In her earliest years beginning with John Overton, she was brilliant, innovative, and a person I had to meet after seeing their show. I even told her on the tape that I hope I get to see her in critique. When critique finally arrived, she walked in and I gave her the biggest hug, because it was honestly one of the most innovative shows I had seen from an orchestration standpoint.
“Moreover, everyone knows that in the ‘90s Tennessee was one of the central hubs where indoor percussion evolved and flourished. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Julie was doing things that she took from her years of experience as a skilled percussionist, and educating her students in a way that changed the activity,” Dennis explained with sincere admiration.
Julie’s husband, Lalo Davila, was another one of the people to speak about his wife’s accomplishments. His speech provided a unique vantage point – from the perspective of not only a husband, but also as a father who made several references to the fact that he was always willing to help Julie in pursuing her passion for music in anyway possible; even if it meant taking on more parental responsibilities when she was away judging competitions.
“I know that Julie is dedicated to an activity that has given her so much, and she wants to give so much in return. Because she loves the kids, and wants to give them the best experience, and I know as a result she has many fans. And since we’ve been married, I am confident when I say that I am – and always will be – your biggest fan. I love you.”
Then came time for Julie to speak.
“I’m going to do my best to keep my composure up here,” Julie laughed. “My daughters make fun of me for it all the time, so I’m gonna’ try my hardest to keep it together up here.”
“Growing up in the ‘80s, being a girl who wanted to drum – it wasn’t something that was typical. I was also fortunate enough to have parents that were incredibly supportive. I didn’t really have to worry about anything else, except for knowing that this was something I wanted to do with my life. And it’s my firm belief that when you find something you love, and you are responsible in honing your skills within that passion, and you maintain your integrity, the path to success will always reveal itself.”
“At the end of the day, though, I do this because I love watching the members perform. I love being able to root for them, and to be there with them, hoping that whatever I say will help them get closer to the next level. I know that with the support of my colleagues I’ve managed to find myself in some fortunate places.”
“Lastly, and most importantly, I have to thank my family for allowing me to do what I love; for sharing me and understanding how much this activity is part of my life, and to see my two daughters now as young women pursuing the arts themselves – it’s something I never take for granted. This is a room filled with wonderful, brilliant people who have made my life richer as a result, so I can never be thankful enough for the people I’ve met, and for whatever lies ahead. I truly am honored.”
Without a doubt, Dave McCarthy’s amusing comments about Jim Dwyer was the part everyone in the room was waiting for all along, and for good reason.
In the past, Jim has served as the emcee for the previous Hall of Fame ceremonies in 2010 and 2012, and is infamous for utilizing his acerbic wit with inhuman precision; something that often evokes a hefty ocean of laughter in a way that is playful, but also manages to sting a bit. Kind of in the same way a close friend might embarrass you in front of an entire audience because they know more about you than anyone else in the room.
Of course, it was always in good fun, and Jim took it in stride.
“Well, it seems that now that Jim’s part of the WGI Hall of Fame, anybody has a chance to get in if he does,” Dave commented. “And I’ve been waiting all night to say that, so I’m sure I’ll see some of you other people in two years up on this stage.”
2012 Hall of Fame member Scott Johnson provided even more laughs, as pictures of Jim during his days of playing glockenspiel as a kid (as well as participating in the color guard – flag in hand) were displayed on a projection screen. Further into his presentation, Scott explained how Jim’s friendship has always meant more than just being judges together, and that his contributions to the revisions of WGI’s visual sheets paved the way for the lofty visual acrobatics we see today.
“I know for most of us we thought taking off our drums and setting them off to the side was deemed good enough to be called visual, but when Jim got involved – he said it plain and clear: ‘That ain’t visual!’ Since then, what Jim has done for the activity is take his own experience and knowledge, and establish a set of criteria that not only rewards innovation, but also provides commentary that can help units at every level of competition. “
That knowledge Scott mentioned pertains to Jim’s experience as an architect major, before he marched with the Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps alongside fellow WGI Hall of Fame member Mark Thurston. Several years later, Mark would later go on to ask Jim as a favor to cut tapes for WGI Championships for the new Visual caption, and the rest as they say is history.
Yet, more history lingered on the horizon, as Jim would be the next to follow up with a few words of his own, and he definitely wasted no time responding in kind. Two comments specifically – one of which involved thanking Individual X for taking time to stop eating food to come to the ceremony, the other stating how nice it was for Individual Y to find time from blowing drying their hair to make the event.
You be the judge of which comment went to which person. Either way, it was delivered in a manner that only Jim could achieve – with sidesplitting humor and being emotionally poignant at the same time.
“Compared to a majority of the people here in this room, I know I haven’t done nearly as much in the ‘drumming’ word. Even when I was told about the induction and the nomination, I still couldn’t believe it, but that’s not to say I am not thankful for the people who went ahead and nominated me. I know that if it wasn’t for this activity, I wouldn’t have met the amazing people I know now, or have the opportunity to see programs that have literally changed me as an individual.
“And from the moment I was involved, when Mark asked me to come down and try this visual thing, I was immediately hooked. This weekend is always my favorite time of the year, and I am thankful that I am being placed alongside people who aren’t just peers, or colleagues – but friends I can honestly call my family.”
The unifying thread between the three inductees focused on their level of passion, and rightfully so. Passion defines this activity, ranging from the booster, to the player, to the judge, to the designer, to the techs – everyone involved finds a motivating factor that defies explanation.
People on the outside of our little microcosm of Indoor Percussion often scratch their head in confusion in regards to how people can devote such a vast amount of resources, whether it’s time, social life, money, health, etc., to a period of time that lasts only a few months.
The answer is simple – It’s for something bigger than one’s self. Anyone who has been part of an ensemble knows the mantra – you start as a series of individuals, eventually becoming a unit unified towards a common goal.
It was something that the three members mentioned in hindsight – how each new chapter starts from an unfamiliar beginning, and eventually becomes something so much more. It becomes an outlet to find one’s self, and this year’s inductees represent the highest caliber of the activity, embodying a level of excellence that has trickled down throughout the years, inspiring others to pursue similar avenues.
The next Tom Aungst, Julie Davila, and Jim Dwyer are out there, and as long as the activity continues to thrive, so will the next generation of instructors, designers and judges.
Once again – congratulations to the 2014 Percussion Hall of Fame inductees, and sharing your night with the rest of us. It is rightfully deserved.