Marching to a new beat

Rhythm is defined as a harmonious sequence or correlation of elements.

As high school marching band students, Orlando Cazares and Carlos Gomez found their own unique rhythms. Now, as battery and drumline instructors working closely with the Blue Thunder Marching Band and Drumline, they have discovered a new rhythm ー a new dynamic.

Cazares graduated from Walnut High School in 1996 and played in the Blue Thunder Marching Band. After graduating, he directed the Walnut High School Drumline until moving on to become an executive director of Élan Independent Percussion, a nonprofit that reaches out to high school programs.

“There was very much [a] sense of brotherhood, a strong notion of camaraderie [and] what it is to work to build something bigger than yourself. [That is] what the kids are doing on the field every single day or every time they perform; they are doing something bigger than just them,” Cazares said. “It’s a good exercise [and] a good experience for them to learn in terms of working together essentially.”

Director Corey Wicks invited Cazares back as a percussion instructor in April 2018. After deliberating with his family and shifting his schedule, Cazares decided to accept the job.

“It’s been a process of everyone getting accustomed to one another. I was brand new to [the students here]. [The old director’s style and my style] were a bit different, so I think we all went through our own adjustment periods. I’m really just learning what’s going to work best. It’s been a learning experience for all of us,” Cazares said.

Cazares met Gomez while working at Élan Independent Percussion and invited him to teach alongside him. Gomez graduated from Azusa High School in 2018 and wanted to gain work experience in the field. As a band member, Gomez played under two different directors; now, he hopes to help other students adjust to a new instruction team.

“I’m in the same age group as a lot of these kids, but some of these kids might have different knowledge compared to me. So it’s just nice to have all the knowledge that I’ve gathered and share that with people in my age group who don’t know the same knowledge that I do. That’s one thing I want to take away from this experience. [I want to] put my name out there and show people that I’m able to do what I can do,” Gomez said.

Cazares and Gomez have been working with the marching band since summer, practicing their field show and sharpening their playing skills. In addition, Cazares and Gomez have been holding percussion clinics in which they go over drills to sharpen playing skills, such as drum rolls and sound projection.

“I’m not looking forward to going out and winning first place trophies and medals and those kinds of things. I just want to make sure that the kids are playing the best that they can play. Even if they aren’t placing well or scoring well, as long as I know and they know that they played well, that’s what matters to me. That’s my hope [of] what we can accomplish,” Gomez said.

As an alumnus of Walnut High School, Cazares understands the emphasis that Walnut puts on academic achievement. Thus, he aims to integrate education and experience within his percussion clinics.

“We come from a culture of always [putting] educational experience first. Sure, awards are nice and trophies are nice but at the end of the day, we need to walk away asking ourselves ‘What did they learn? Have I been effective in teaching them what it is to be a professional and what it is to be a strong drummer?’ Sometimes, that means trophies, sometimes that’s different,” Cazares said. “The most important thing is what they [are] getting out of this in terms of the educational experience. I want to make sure that I facilitate that experience for them and that they learn.”

By Sarah Aie, Copy-editor-in-chief
Photo by Isaac Le