A Transformative New Year! by Sean Sumwalt

With the close of 2018, I wanted to take a look back at what got me where I am today. I apologize in advance, I’m going way back! 

One day, I was at my friend Steven Slaven’s house, circa Fall 2001. You see, we both played saxophone in the Wilson Middle School band in Muncie Indiana. While over at his house, jamming to some Kenny G in his basement (I regret EVERYTHING) Steven stops shortly after playing a cheesy riff. He asks me if I want to watch a marching band show that he was part of the past summer. A marching who’s-a-what? “Sure?” He popped in the vhs tape and pressed play…

THAT my friends, was the beginning of this love affair I have with the marching arts. Honestly, I can’t really point to any one reason why I took to this activity so quickly. Was it envy? A friendly rivalry? Or was it mere intrigue? I don’t know. What I *can* tell you is that it certainly took my life in an interesting direction. My sole mission now was to be a part of Muncie’s ‘Spirit of South’ Marching Band!

I pestered the then assistant band director, Mr. “Chuck” Reynolds, to let me into the group. Over and over he told me that he didn’t think I had the discipline to do it. I was too stubborn to take ‘no’ for an answer, though. Finally, it came down to the approval of my mom. She called in and told him that I would be committed to it. Didn’t take much to convince her, a full summer with me out of her hair? Bliss…

My first year marching was in the summer of 2002. When the music was handed out I was fascinated with things I had never seen before on a page of sheet music. “What are those little notes in-between the regular notes?” little me said. From grace notes to transposing instruments, many things were learned that summer. What truly mattered though, was the camaraderie and teamwork that we as a group displayed that summer. It was infectious!! There were people that were way better than I was. They were more passionate than I was. And through all that they were willing to sacrifice their summers to be part of something bigger than themselves? Magic.

It was the start of something BIG! Before I knew it I was in every band activity known to man. Pep band, jazz band, marching band, concert band and the occasional saxophone trio/quartet peppered in here and there for variety. I began to transcribe tunes for the pep band to play and to input notes into a free music notation program called Noteworthy Composer to hear the pieces that the sax quartet could play. (This was before YouTube so finding recordings wasn’t as easy.) For some reason I wanted to hear what the 2001 show sounded like in the notation program. Odd, I know. After some digging around in the band room closet I found the score and plugged it into the computer. I couldn’t get enough!

This lead to the writing of my first piece in 2004 called Saxventure. Great title, huh? Oh f*%k off, I was 15 and I’m no Mozart. Does Opus No. 1 sound better? Yeah? Well, okay. I’ll take my lumps. Since then, I’ve gotten a bit better at selecting title names…if only a smidge.

All these experiences lead me to the position of actually writing for the very band program that start this journey. I was helping Chuck with the scores starting in 2005 and then wrote my first full show after I graduated and became a staff member in 2008. I mean I was so fond of this band program that many years later I wrote a concert band work to commemorate its existence and the profound impact it had on my life. A link to that piece entitled Legacy can be found here.

Now, why am I saying all of this? Well, if you’re still here. (Squirrel!!!) Over the past few years I’ve been slowly moving away from this passion in pursuit of another facet of music. 2018 questioned that choice, though. It was the year that I watched/adjudicated more of the marching arts than any previous year on record! I asked myself why let go of something that brings me so much joy?

2019 is going to be an interesting year. I can feel that. Not an abandonment of my love for film/video game music, but rather an enhancement. 2018’s message was one of change for me, in a good way. 2019’s starting off with the phrase, “Do more of what you love.”

Hope you all have a wonderful and transformative New Year!

If you’re interested in learning more about my marching band arrangements, I’ve created a new page FOR THE FIELD listing some of my works for the pageantry arts. I would be ecstatic if you could take a gander!

L-R: Lisa Zachary, Ashley Miller, Dallin Shroyer, Tony “Opie” Hurst, David Dodd

L-R: Lisa Zachary, Ashley Miller, Dallin Shroyer, Tony “Opie” Hurst, David Dodd