Pace Percussion Ensemble making history in the RUSD

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Photo RUSD: Charlan Jackson (left), Eisenhower High School music teacher, guides the Pace Percussion Ensemble during a recent practice. The group features Eisenhower and Carter High School students and is on the rise after recently taking first place at back-to-back competitions.

Drum roll, please — the Rialto Unified School District’s Pace Percussion Ensemble is on a roll and making history.

The group features Eisenhower and Carter High School students and is on the rise after taking first place at back-to-back competitions recently. 

The group won the prestigious Winter Guard International (WGI) Regional in Temecula on February 26. In the process, they knocked off the vaunted Cornerstone Percussion from San Diego twice in one day and posted the second-highest score (75.280) in the entire nation in their division. That was the first-ever WGI Regional championship title in the history of the RUSD.

We were really prepared,” said Melanie Alcocer, Eisenhower High School senior who plays vibraphone in the ensemble. “It was a lot that day. We were scared that performing twice in one day was going to be hectic. But we did it, and we felt proud about it.” 

Pace Percussion Ensemble came out of the competition with a newfound confidence that they belong among the best. They followed up their victory at WGI with a first-place performance at the Southern Californa Percussion Alliance (SCPA) competition at Colony High School.

Pace Percussion Ensemble is under the direction of Charlan Jackson, Eisenhower High School music teacher.

“These students deserve a huge congratulations on their achievements,” Jackson said. 

What makes their performance even more impressive is that they are competing in the Independent A Division, a division that includes college ensembles. 

“We are going in with a great mindset,” Carter High School senior Jorge Guevara, who plays tenor drums, said during a break at a recent practice. “Everybody is ensuring we are continuing to do better. That’s the mindset we want to have now. We want to make sure we go in thinking that we need to improve, we are going to do better, and we are going to come out on top.”

Their performance and rise to the top this season have been all about setting and exceeding challenges. And they are not done yet. Pace Percussion Ensemble is hosting a Family Night on April 9 at Eisenhower High School to perform for their fans in Rialto. They will also compete at SCPA Prelims on April 10 at Great Oak High School in Temecula followed by SCPA Championships on April 16 at the Toyota Center in Ontario.  

“It’s great to see Eisenhower and Carter High School students join together to make history for the RUSD. I am so proud of all that the Pace Percussion Ensemble has accomplished so far, and I know there is more to come,” Eisenhower High School Principal Mr. Frank Camacho commented. “Mr. Jackson and the students have worked so hard and their efforts are showing.”

The students in the ensemble play instruments ranging from snares, quads and bass drums to more melodic elements such as marimba, vibraphone, xylophone and keyboards. Their show is called “The Balance” and features the music from Australian artist Plini’s song “Electric Sunrise.” 

The song is not easy to perform with a combination of odd meters and sudden changes. 

“I feel like we are doing really good,” Alcocer said. “With all the progress we’ve made to lead up to this point, I think we are doing a really good job. We are picking it up. Mr. Jackson just changed our music a little bit in practice, and we still got it. It’s really comfortable. We are just going for it.”

Jackson said he’s received a mix of surprise and skepticism from other ensemble directors due to the difficulty of the music, but he was willing to take the chance by believing in his students.

“The music they are playing is hard,” Jackson commented. “Even for college kids, that is a hard piece to place. We have odd meters in there. We have a measure that’s just seven. And then we have a measure that’s six. I tip my hat to the students for even trying to get into it. Judges are giving us a lot of thumbs up. I have to tell the judges that it’s high school kids that playing.”

Jackson said the group was scheduled to make its first-ever trip to WGI Regionals in 2020. Then the pandemic hit, shuttering those plans. Now two years later, Jackson said he felt inspired to take chances with the music and register for WGI Regionals again. Why not, he said. 

“What do you have to lose this year? This is a good year to try something that may not work,” Jackson said.

However, it has worked out. Pace Percussion Ensemble is making history and they are not done yet.