Arsenal perseveres, finds success on tour and in SoundSport virtual competition

Hector Aguirre admits it. He was disappointed.

Aguirre, director of Arsenal — an El Paso, Texas-based drum corps organization and SoundSport participant — had arrived with his corps at its first live DCI Tour performance in three full years. They stood just hours away from finally taking the field in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

But due to rainy conditions, a decision was made for the Friday, July 15 event to be performed as a standstill exhibition.

“I was disappointed because the kids weren’t going to get to perform,” he said. “That was the part that hit me, like, ‘I’m not even mad about the rainout. I mean, rain is beautiful. And Wyoming rain is really nice. But did it have to happen right now?’”

Aguirre and his team didn’t lose hope. As the event’s start time grew closer and rain had cleared, they tested the field. In their eyes, it was dry enough for the corps to safely execute its production.

And, under the circumstances, they were given the green light.

Sharing the news with his members — and of course the performance that ensued — was a memory Aguirre wouldn’t soon forget.

“We told them, ‘We’re marching,’” he said. “They’re like, ‘Are you serious? So, they just went nuts. The kids just got hyped. They’re ready.”

“It was a packed house, smaller stadium, but it was a packed house,” he added. “And they announced that the first group was actually going to march the show, and the crowd went nuts. I turned back and look at the kids, and they’re all just smiling.”

Perseverance has been key for Arsenal, as the corps faced plenty of hurdles in its two-year road back to live performances.

Ultimately, a challenging path led not only to a successful brief 2022 summer tour, but a strong showing as well on the innovative SoundSport Virtual platform, wherein the corps received a season-ending rating of Gold.

Learn more about SoundSport’s virtual offerings

“The kids competed, they had a great time,” Aguirre said. “And we ended up winning the gold, which is kind of cool.”

But the path to a highly-rewarding finish line wasn’t an easy one. Aguirre, the corps’ director, watched his organization go toe to toe with its fair share of road blocks and deterrents in fighting its way back to the field.

The largest one, of course, came in 2020, which was intended to be a major step forward in Arsenal’s organizational growth process.

“2020 comes around, and we ended up having about 114 kids audition,” Aguirre said. “So things were going really well. We had put in to possibly move to Open Class for the 2021 season, so we tried to use ’20 as our evaluation season. Well, obviously, we all know what happened in March of 2020, so we pretty much hit the pause button.”

Arsenal was knocked down, but it continued to recover and climb forward. 2021 was a year geared toward recovery and rebuilding, with sights set on a long-awaited return to performances in 2022.

The road blocks weren’t eliminated just yet, though. Two years of hibernation, while important for the reestablishment of the organization, provided challenges in generating interest. With just a couple dozen students signed on for the summer of 2022 as of the corps’ April rehearsal camp, things didn’t look promising.

But hope was never lost. Faith, ultimately, paid off. And in the 11th hour, largely as a result of a close-knit community and culture built by the Arsenal organization and its past members, a full corps of excited performers materialized.

“All of a sudden, I want to say it’s probably mid May, eight of my veterans from 2019 said, ‘Hey, we want to come back. We know you guys are going through some stuff … Ae we going to be able to have a season?’”

“‘Well, you know what, guys,’” Aguiree recounted telling his veteran members, “‘that all depends on who we’ve got.’”

“They said, ‘You know what,’” he continued, “‘We’ve got this.’”

Ultimately, Arsenal’s veterans came through for the corps that had given them their start in the drum corps activity, and found several committed students to fill the remaining ranks of the El Paso organization’s 2022 ensemble.

From there, sights were finally locked on the field. That presented its own array of new challenges, including working around complicated adjusted school schedules, but step by step, it all came together. By late June, Arsenal was prepared for its first “spring training” in three years.

According to Aguirre, Arsenal makes a point to offer an experience that closely emulates that of a summer of Open or World Class drum corps.

It’s all in the name of education, Aguirre said, and setting the foundation for members to preparedly pursue further opportunities in the drum corps activity.

“I wanted the kids to get the drum corps experience,” Aguirre said. “So, they’re going to live together, they’re going to eat together, they’re going to rehearse, they’re going to go through the entire thing, spring training, travel, Fourth of July pageantry, all of that good stuff.”

As such, after several weeks of full rehearsal days in Texas, Arsenal hit the road for a brief string of performances at DCI events in Cheyenne and Fort Collins, Colorado.

The corps’ Fort Collins performance — which was recorded by Aguirre’s wife — was eventually submitted as part of its participation in SoundSport Virtual competition, which allows SoundSport ensembles that, for example, don’t have the means to travel to Indianapolis for the summer-ending SoundSport International Music & Food Festival, to receive in-depth adjudication and a final rating and award.

According to Aguirre, the platform was of major benefit to his corps.

“I was really, really pleased with the way it was done,” Aguirre said. “I listened to the SoundSport judges’ tapes, and the professionalism, the critique and all the information that the judges gave us, it was something positive for us to get out of the season.”

“I wish we would have had something like this when I was marching back in ’90s,” he added.

And ultimately, with a full production, a completed tour and a gold rating in hand for Arsenal, all of the hard work and dedication was well worth the results.

“The effort that the kids put in and that the staff put in was amazing to see,” Aguirre said. “The organization is as strong as it’s ever been, especially now after this summer.”

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