For many in the indoor activity, running an ensemble is a labor of love. In the case of Mike Scott, running Rhythm X as CEO is a full-time career.
Rhythm X has experienced a meteoric rise since its founding in 2001. The ensemble won a gold medal during its first year as an independent ensemble in WGI’s Open Class. After being promoted to World Class, Rhythm X would go on to win another seven medals, including first-place finishes in 2008, 2009, and 2013.
Mike was gracious enough to talk through his experience running a perennial WGI medalist ensemble.
For those who are unfamiliar with your background, can you talk about how long have you been with Rhythm X and your experience with the ensemble?
I started at Rhythm X as a performer in the front ensemble. I marched in 2011 and 2012. Shortly after the 2012 season I was hired as the Operations Director – a position I held part-time for two years while being a band director. After the 2014 season we decided that the organization was ready to hire our first full-time employee. I was hired during the summer of 2014 as the CEO, gave up life as a band director, and moved to Dayton to work at Rhythm X, Inc. full time.
Tell us about your experience launching a World Independent Winds group and some of the early lessons learned through the process.
Starting this group has been one of the largest challenges Rhythm X has ever faced. We’ve spent 14 years developing a method and a program for our WGI Percussion ensemble – so starting a brand new group after all that time was met with challenges. We had to hire an all new staff, all unfamiliar with our organization and our culture. This was a stark contrast from the percussion staff – most of whom are alumni of the program. We also had to recruit for the ensemble. Turns out, recruiting for an ensemble that has never existed before, competing in a circuit that has ever existed before, in a version of the activity that most Americans have never seen is a challenge. We decided from the beginning that we would strive to create a program that is uniquely “Rhythm X” and be the best at whatever that is. It was daunting but exhilarating at the same time.
Of course, starting any group has financial and organizational challenges. We had to learn how to support more people, handle a more complicated schedule, and find facilities for quality rehearsal time for two groups. During this time we were also developing The X Academy, forging our relationship with European X, and expanding The X Store both online and at events. Still, I think the larger challenge was what made it the most exciting: starting completely fresh with brand new people and getting to create a group with it’s own unique identity. We were fortunate to lay the foundation for what will one day be a legacy.
Rhythm X Winds is piloting Pearl/Adam’s new line of Adams Marching Brass. Can you talk more about that partnership and how it has been to be involved on the forefront of an emerging instrument line?
Our relationship with Pearl/Adams has been an extraordinary friendship for a number of years. When Adams announced that Pearl would be distributing a brand new line of Adams Marching Brass we were very excited. The timing was perfect. Pearl/Adams has been incredibly supportive of Rhythm X, Inc. this season and the horns are fantastic. They sound awesome, they look great, and they’re uniquely Adams. The Adams Custom Brass series is insanely popular in Europe and we’re pretty fortunate to get to be one of the first groups to play on the Adams Marching Brass line.
You recently announced a new partnership with European X. What was the strategy in that partnership and what advantages does it offer?
European X has long been a friend of Rhythm X. Staff members and alumni of Rhythm X have been traveling to the Netherlands for many years to consult, design, instruct, and even perform in Euro X. Right now, at Rhythm X, Inc. we’re looking for ways to spread our wings and to commit ourselves fully to our mission of providing quality music education and performance opportunities. Making our partnership with European X official allows us to bring The X Academy to Europe, share in the exciting growth of the activity in Europe, learn from our friends at Euro X, and help carry the voice of Rhythm X, Inc. around the globe. The staff at European X are just as committed as we are to making something incredible and we love working with them.
How does the activity in Europe compare to the development of WGI stateside?
Indoor percussion in Europe is much smaller than here in the US. What is exciting is the remarkable passion groups like European X have for the activity. The number of groups that travel to the United States to perform at WGI is evidence of that fact. The team at European X loves what they do which makes them a perfect fit for our strategic partner.
Tell us about the shows for Rhythm X Winds and Percussion this year and what separates them from anything you have attempted in the past.
Our design team (Tim Fairbanks, Tim Jackson, and Andrew Markworth) hold themselves to an astonishingly high standard. Each year they set out to create something that is wholly unique and new. In the last five years we have seen a Sixties pop tune, an American band piece, Paganini, Rachmaninoff, and Muse. Their shows have been about light, warriors, tightrope walkers, friendship, and philosophy and they have been inspired by Teddy Roosevelt, Lao Tzu, and Ben E. King. This year both Percussion and Winds have incredible programs. Interestingly, Tim Fairbanks and Andrew Markworth wrote the drill and music for both ensembles. This was a huge challenge as it meant their time and energy was split between both groups. The Winds show was also a challenge because we not only had to take a best guess at what this activity might look like in its first year, but also decide what Rhythm X looks like in this activity. That was extraordinarily exciting.
Clip of @rhythmxinc !! #MEPA2015 #X15 A video posted by Mid East Performance Assoc (@mepaohio) on
What will audience members latch on to and talk about after seeing the groups perform this year?
It is my hope that Winds will be a show that is talked about for many, many years. We set out to create a product that is genuinely “Rhythm X” but practical and achievable in this first year of WGI Winds. I think we have succeeded. The show’s title, Uncharted Territory speaks for itself in this case. The performers and staff have met a challenge that many people said was impossible. We put a very difficult show (Harrison’s Dream by Peter Graham and New World Symphony is the source music) on the floor in the first year. Sometimes I forget that just nine months ago this ensemble had no staff, no members, no instruments, and no uniforms; not even a truck! I’m really proud of everyone on the team. We’ve been able to accomplish something that will be remembered for a very long time.
The [Rhythm X] Percussion show is impressive for its vast density. We have 52 musicians on the floor this year performing some of the most difficult piano literature ever written. At the beginning of the season we had the entire group watch a performance of Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini performed by Stephen Hough at the BBC Proms. I was awestruck when I first watched it. It’s an incredible performance of an amazing piece. Every weekend I get to see Percussion and I’m overwhelmed that we have put it on the floor and created such an amazing piece. When you see Percussion walk out in such a large number with such an impressive set behind them, you’ll be amazed too.