Pride of the Mountains reaches new heights in the off-season!

When Pride of the Mountains marching band is not performing in the fall, they don’t quit until the next fall, many members look for other music related outlets. Two prime examples of these outlets sponsored by the band are Purple Thunder and Western Carolina University’s Winter Guard.

Purple Thunder

Most drum cores consist of drumming cadences with very little diversity in the type of music played, but here at WCU our music program went above and beyond. Purple Thunder is an indoor drumline consisted of drummers from Pride of the Mountains marching band. What makes this music ensemble different from any other is that they collaborate with other collegiate teams such as the WCU Dance Team and Cheerleaders for the utlimate college experience. Purple Thunder always livens up the audience with upbeat music and hip hop routines. The Purple Thunder coordinator is Pride of the Mountains Assistant Band Director, Matt Henley, in addition to Dance Team and Cheerleading coaches, Jessica Graning, Kim Cherry-Beck, and Eddie Wells.

In the audition process, directors look for drummers that can be competent to play the part, “performance drumming”, where drummers shine through performance rather than focusing on strictly the music aspect. Henley also searches for a lot of personality, which is mandatory for the themes of their shows.

Purple Thunder drummer, Ethan Carter said his favorite part of the show is the beginning where they stand in lines and begin to form a circle, gaining all of their high energy, screaming, yelling with all of his friends. Drumming for WCU has enhanced his personal relationships which are more fun and more enjoyable.

The concept for this year’s show, Hit the Lights, was previously designed and tested in the fall by using LED lights on the drums for Pride of the Mountains ‘How We Roll’ marching band show. Henley researched songs that contained a theme of lights and started his brainstorming process.

Purple Thunder Snare Drummers at practice. Photo by Christina Jackson.

Henley said, we can always expect Purple Thunder to be an “entertainment value pack”, where he guarantees you will be in awe, laugh a little, clap a little, and stand up. Henley hopes that each audience member will walk away not forgetting the experience they had just by sitting in their seats. Henley said, he likes how the group has evolved to incorporating the dance team and cheerleaders which makes it the ultimate school spirit experience.

Winter Guard

Western Carolina University's Winter Guard


Winter Guard is very similar to Color Guard, but Winter Guard is typically performed indoors usually in a gymnasium on a floor or artistic mat. Instead of marching with a full band, performers dance to music or an optional indoor drum line. The sport uses multiple instruments such as, flag, rifle, sabre, and additional props. Directors and show designers choose where to place performers and how to choreograph particular movements. Winter Guard is also a sport declared by Winter Guard International (WGI) which serves as a non-profit organization governing the, ‘Sport of the Arts’. Winter Guards are typically associated throughout middle schools, high schools, and colleges/universities. However, there are many independent organizations that aren’t scholastic. WGI holds many annual competitions averaging 42 Regional and Elite Events, which consists of World Championships that evaluate more than 300 winter guards and 170 percussion ensembles.

Winter Guard Instructor Scott Beck for WCU had this to say, “Although auditions were not held this year, we scout for individuals who have good attitudes, and good work ethics. There are two three-hour practices during the week and a 12-hour practice on Saturdays. During the three-hour practices, we do stretching routines to loosen up our bodies, review fundamentals and learn choreography. Saturday’s we spend more extensive time stretching, emphasizing dance technique and movements in addition to spinning (flag/rifle) fundamentals.”

Maria Maddox said, “Being a senior, I love having the experience to spin in the off season for one last time. Color Guard is fun because you get to interact with the entire band, but Winter Guard is more challenging because I get a chance to strengthen the art of body movements, and technique.”

These past two Saturday’s they have had special guests such as Rhea Jeanne Starnes, who helped with the movement of the show and Rodney Bailey who staged the show, to show performers how to transition from spot to spot on the mat. Scott said that his favorite part about being an instructor is watching how well students progress throughout the season. At this moment, there is no official name for this group of talented individuals but they are using the title, Western Carolina University Winter Guard, temporarily.

Western Carolina University Winter Guard. Photo by Christina Jackson.

Their first performance is on Friday, Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at Fairview Elementary School, followed by their first regional competition in the South Carolina Qualifier at Dorman High in Spartanburg, South Carolina on Feb. 2.

For more information about Winter Guard check out their official site at Winter Guard International.

For more information about Purple Thunder contact Matt Henley, and for more information about Winter Guard contact Scott Beck. Both can be contacted via email at the ‘Professional Staff’ section.