Proposal to Remove WGI’s Independent World Class Age Limit
Everyone involved in WGI shares a passion for the activity. Hard work and long hours make each season something very special, year after year. WGI Independent Percussion ensembles consistently innovate and push the activity, and all of its related art forms, at a growing rate.
Yet despite all the activity does to foster growth and innovation in marching percussion, an age-out rule eliminates, every April without fail, one of the activity’s most valuable assets: experienced, passionate performers. (continued)
Eliminating the age rule has been proposed before. In fact, we are used to hearing several arguments supporting the current age-out rule. The most popular argument is the desire to preserve WGI as a youth activity. This is a matter of personal preference, as WGI’s own mission statement makes absolutely no mention of a desired or intended age-based culture. It reads “WGI Sport of the Arts exists to foster positive experiences for all who participate, by promoting education, creativity and freedom of expression through the unification of pageantry and the performing arts.”
Simply put, WGI is about providing an experience through art regardless of age, race, gender, or any other orientation.
It is also important to consider the existing culture in Independent World class groups. Approximately 90% of members in the top six Independent World ensembles are at least 18 years of age, which means they are either enrolled in college or have entered the workforce. But even more importantly, it means they are legal adults.
These post-high-school environments are not bound by any age restriction, nor can they be accurately described as exclusively youth oriented. Put another way, most members of Independent World ensembles have already transitioned away from youth cultures and are now living in an adult oriented environment. The argument that the culture of Independent World Lines is exclusively youth-oriented is inaccurate in 2009.
Another popular argument is that groups will be overrun by older members. International ensembles such as Aimachi testify that groups without age restrictions are not overrun by older members and do not dramatically stifle the current culture. In his eight months with Aimachi, Chris Leone (member 2007-2008) can only recall positive experiences and observations associated with having a diverse age group. Being able to not only instruct, but also perform with younger members fostered a very positive and effective educational environment. Also, despite the age diversity, the culture within the ensemble was not unlike anything he had personally experienced in American ensembles bound by an age limit.
Another very important reality is the physical rigors demanded by the activity at the top level. If current productions already push performers to their limits, both musically and physically, there will not be many older members who can physically keep up. This alone will limit participation to those in their physical prime or close to it.
Some observe that professional percussion opportunities exist once a performer has aged out of WGI. While there is no denying this, it is important to recognize the indoor percussion art form as an activity that requires unique skills and performance abilities to produce a unique result. One would not throw away Monet’s brushes and paints and tell him to make do with Photoshop.
Another concern is there would be a shortage of instructors without an age out rule, implying instructing is the next logical step after aging out. However, an educator who is not passionate about teaching does not remain an educator for long. If someone wants to teach, they make the choice to do so, as should a member who’s heart lies in performing.
One last argument we often hear is that it’s time for members to “move on.” This implies that the marching activity is somehow a developmental hindrance.
Because rehearsals take place only on weekends, WGI ensembles are able to provide a high quality recreational outlet to full-time professionals and educators who are still eager to perform in the indoor marching activity but are still focused on developing their careers. Other international groups, composed almost exclusively of full-time students and professionals, manage to lead career driven lifestyles while still committing to their ensembles.
Similarly, Wayne Gibson, section leader of Rhythm X’s pit in 2009, worked full time as an engineer at a nuclear power plant in southern Maryland and still managed to fulfill his responsibilities to the ensemble. International members and people like Wayne choose to march because they are passionate about participating in WGI.
Finding true happiness and passion in something we do is nothing short of a gift and it should never be forcefully taken away from anyone. Period.
Indoor percussion on the whole will benefit in many ways from an all-age class.
First, and most obvious, will be the overall increase in talent among groups. Members are only beginning to peak when they age out. By giving them the opportunity to return, we are welcoming back our activity’s most talented and experienced performers who can continue to set the example for younger, less-experienced members. As a result, overall participation will increase. Groups that struggle to fill membership will have access to a much larger talent pool, and new organizations will have a greater chance of success. Also, having more groups will open more doors for less experienced members looking for an opportunity to perform and learn.
Finally, a practical point: organizations run on money, not love. Financial obstacles are omnipresent. By opening the doors to older performers, who are more likely to be employed full time, organizations will have better financial prospects leading to more financially stable organizations.
In any activity or organization that evolves remarkably from one year to the next, it is important that those in charge don’t suppress growth. WGI’s world-class performers are the best the marching percussion activity has to offer. They are ambassadors of the art. They push the activity year after year, they set the example, and they are mentors to younger members. That being said, groups will still have full discretion over the culture they choose to foster within their organization and who they choose to invite into it. With the elimination of the age rule, groups are simply provided the option to tap into a larger resource pool.
Every WGI performer is very fortunate to have found a passion that fuels a determination to be great. Without fail, the activity continues to bring out the best in people season after season in an environment so special and unique that it’s nearly impossible to duplicate. Giving everyone the option with the ability, talent and passion to continue performing would only be a positive step forward for everyone involved.
It was the student’s passion that pushed them to work hard, practice incessantly, make sacrifices, and push themselves through walls to perform at such a high level. They have earned the right to choose, for themselves, when it is time to walk away from an activity they have come to love so well.
Organizations with members employed full time will have better financial prospects potentially leading to more financially stable organizations.
Increasing eligibility could potentially lead to more competitive groups in the WGI circuit.
Now it’s your turn. Cast your very unofficial vote and leave comments. If you like the proposal and haven’t already, join the Facebook Group to show your support.