As the residents like to say, “Deep in the in the heart of Texas”, there lives one Kelsey Gleason – a seven year alumna of the World Champion Nolan winter guard and a six year alumna of the Cadets, a fifteen year veteran as a director/instructor of a number of Texas winter guards, and currently a respected adjudicator for the Sport of the Arts. This is besides having a full-time career as a mathematics teacher at McKinney Boyd High School. Even with such a full schedule, the winter guard season will see her venture north to be a guest adjudicator with NJNJ. To facilitate her welcome, we are offering the readers a little background to help understand who she is.
You were in the Cadets for six years. Why keep returning to the same organization and activity that has the average life span of its members to be not much more than one season – or is that in improper conjecture?
While now it may seem rare for a member to march multiple years, at the time I marched there were definitely more of us. I aged out with three other women who marched 7 and 6 years respectively at the Cadets. I kept returning eac
h year because each season offered me a new opportunity to grow and learn both in the color guard arena and as a person. When I began marching at the Cadets at 16 I was not a very talented performer. I moved in as an alternate and got a full spot two and a half weeks in not because I was a great spinner but because I had the work ethic to improve. I would set goals for myself each season. At first just getting a full spot was my goal. Then as I improved, earning a saber spot was next on my list. Always reaching for that next step up and not settling allowed me to reach a level of consistency and proficiency that made me a great asset instead of a liability by the time I aged out.
How was the Nolan experience different? What you gained there – was it different or complementary? How?
Nolan was a completely different experience from The Cadets.My first year marching, Nolan competed in the novice classification. The next year we were scholastic AA and then the next we were Independent A. After that the group separated from the school although I still was a student at the high school. Nolan completed in open and then world my remaining years. To be a part of the huge arch of a program like that was pretty unique. It was definitely complementary to my summers in that as my skill level grew in the summer I was able to compete at a higher level each year with Nolan.
Having taught a number of finalist drum corps guards, you have continually returned to the Madison Scouts. What is the attraction there? How is it different from teaching a mixed-gender guard?
Teaching an all male drum corps is a bit different than teaching a mixed-gender group, although I still believe that a well-communicated critique works across genders to aid in performer development. Physically the way male performers approach equipment and movement phrases compared to female performers are different and I believe that definitely has to come into play especially in choreographic choices.
How is the demand of the guard book different with a drum corps as contrasted with a winter guard? Do you approach either differently as a staff person or adjudicator?
I believe generally most people feel guard books offer more variety, range and difficulty in the winter season than the summer due to a lack of affecting elements and smaller spaces to cover. In summer the color guard must trade off focus between the horn, percussive and visual elements. Many times the choices made during the summer are for the guard to be supportive in nature to the whole picture while in the winter some portion of the guard must always be the focus. As a result every second of a winter product must be complex, interesting and coordinated enough to warrant that first focus position. I believe that has a big impact on choreographic choices.
Why, as a weapons specialist, do you judge DA?
There are many reasons I choose to judge DA but I have also judged downstairs in the equipment caption. I enjoy the complexity of the DA caption and find it intellectually stimulating. As a director and designer of my own programs it was consistently my strongest caption. As a musician for over thirty years I find the correlation between auditory and visual elements intriguing and an aspect I enjoy commenting on in evaluations. As a technically minded individual, equipment and the correlation between the choreographic design elements as well as performer achievement of those elements, can often offer unique ensemble impact as a result of a designer’s choices. In addition as a mathematician I find the evolution of the structure of shows to be fascinating. Like in math there are many ways to arrive at a solution to a problem and part of the fun (at least for someone like me) is working through which pathway someone will take and following their thought process.
How have you noticed winter guard has changed in the last decade and what should the teams be paying attention to in regards to that?
As always performer skill, design and artistic influences and the size of the activity across the country and world is forever changing. It is part of what makes this art form so exciting. I don’t believe I should or would ever dictate what teams should be focusing on when it comes to evolving the activity. Part of the amazing thing about having a front row seat in the top box is seeing the new design voices, ideas and approaches first hand. It really is a gift.