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Drum roll: The XYZs of Rhythm X

Contributed by Jenny Cope

By Alison Treen, For The Miami Student

Rhythm X is no typical marching band.

According to its website, Rhythm X is a small percussion organization providing a source of music education and performance opportunity in the greater Columbus area.

It is also internationally well -known and well-respected.

Senior Jenny Cope and junior Jeremy Beard are two Miami students - and the only current Miami students - who are members of this prestigious ensemble.

Cope plays the piano and does electronic work, and Beard plays the base drum.

"Rhythm X is a visual aspect that's a mixture between marching, acting and dancing," Cope said.

The indoor ensemble consists of two parts: the front ensemble is composed of vibraphones, marimbas, a drum set, a guitar set and piano. The marching ensemble, also known as the battery, consists of snare, base and tenor drums and cymbals.

Rhythm X and the groups it competes against are unique due to their performance structure. Instead of a stereotypical marching band, the groups are assigned different concepts by a design team. The uniforms, music, and moves surround that concept and try to convey it as effectively as possible. A panel judges the performances on how well the ensemble plays and how well the performance conveys its concept.

"We have no say in any design," Beard said.

He added that although members are given set uniforms to wear and steps and music to learn, their execution of the performance is essential.

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Past concepts have been creative. The 2008 concept, called "Gone," focused on colors. The tarp on which Rhythm X performs and the backdrop were entirely orange. One side of the members' uniforms was orange, and the other side blue. At calculated times, members would turn from one side to another, making themselves disappear into the background.

The season spans from November to April, but performances start mid-February. There are generally 10 competitions per year, and as soon as one season ends, the design team gets to work to determine next season's themes.

Rhythm X consists of approximately 50 people, and its esteemed reputation draws participants from all over the world. In fact, Cope said, in one weekend of rehearsal, the estimated commuter distance of all Rhythm X's members was about 18,000 miles.

Foreigners may even move to the area for the season, just to be nearby.

Rhythm X remains at high standards not only due to the talent of its musicians, but also due to their commitment to the organization.

Rehearsals, which take place in the Cincinnati area, can run up to 25 hours a weekend.

"Rehearsals drag on," Beard said, "but performing is why everyone does it."

Cope agreed the hard work and intense commitment are worth it.

"Once you're at Rhythm X, there's not really another competition to go to," she said.

Rhythm X's success earned it a name for itself, in the website's words, "setting our own standard of excellence." It competes against other groups in its Independent World Ensemble class in the Winter Guard International (WGI) Sport of the Arts.

Of more than 10 seasons, Rhythm X has won the World Championships three times (2008, 2009 and 2013) and received other awards as well.

At the 2013 World Championships, Rhythm X scored the highest any group has ever scored, with 98.263 points out of a possible 100, making Cope, Beard and their co-members world record holders.

According to Beard, what sets Rhythm X apart from its competitors is its daringness.

"It's contemporary," he said, "[by] trying new things, pushing the activities."

But beyond the glory and prestige, Cope and Beard cite the social aspect as another benefit.

"It's about being around people who enjoy the same thing as you, where people want to be the best," Cope said. "You're with 49 other people who know about the activity and share the same interests."

Cope and Beard also serve as role models to high school students who play in smaller divisions.

"[Being in Rhythm X] is a big dream a lot of high school [students] have," Cope said.

Yet despite Rhythm X's prestige, it is relatively unknown around Miami's campus.

Beard believes this is because it is an individual organization separate from the University. However, this April, high school ensemble groups are scheduled to perform at Millett.

Auditions for Rhythm X are happening now, and although they were members last year, Cope and Beard will both have to audition again, as they do every year. That includes learning new music and performing both as an ensemble and alone.

Cope and Beard said they are both proud to be members of the elite ensemble performance group.

"I do it because it's fun," Beard said. "It's a challenge."

Along with personal growth, Cope said she likes being a member of Rhythm X for the end result.

"My favorite part is performing in front of people who appreciate what you're doing," she said.