As anticipation for the 2017 DCI World Championships heightened, hundreds of drum corps fans cheered for their favorite solo and ensemble performers on Wednesday at the Indiana Convention Center and the Indianapolis Artsgarden, both serving as home to this year's DCI Performers Showcase presented by System Blue.

Annually the Performers Showcase serves as a stage for corps members to show off their skills and entertain crowds with individual and group compositions that they took personal time outside of their busy rehearsal schedules to craft.

After playing their final downbeats to pleased crowds, performers received quick comments and critique from the judges of their respective captions.

Brass ensemble judge Monte Mast, who performed himself at the competition back in 1984, said that in recent years, performers have become more sophisticated and creative with what pieces they choose to play.

“It's different now because the students are picking their own selections,” he said. “We've heard anything from very classical pieces to jazz and even pop tunes being covered.”

Mast says that performers are primarily evaluated for their technical merit, but that their showmanship can also come into play when determining the final scores.  

“We're evaluating tone quality and rhythmic accuracy and how well they adhere to a style of whatever they choose,” he said. ”But there's also a little bit of an ‘effect' caption, to a certain degree, where we evaluate how well they can show off what they're doing.”

For many of the performers, with the ability to show off comes the chance to have fun and decompress before the intensity of World Championship competition begins.

“I think it's a very good change of pace, especially at this point in the season,” said Blue Devils Marimba soloist Nicholas Soden. “I think this is a really good opportunity for us to showcase our talents, let loose a little bit from the stresses of the summer, be musical, and understand the reasons why we're here in the first place.”

The ability to perform in this setting often brings a change of mindset for many of the corps members — especially the soloists, who for the past two months have been conditioned to play uniformly in big ensembles for even bigger crowds.

“In an ensemble, I am thinking about other people and blending with other textures,” Soden said. “But for this performance I was really just making sure that it was my choice, my decisions, and really just me staying true to my own identity as a player and portraying how I felt about the piece I played.”

Although the seasoned performers have had much experience being under pressure at competitions throughout the summer, the individual spotlight can still bring nerves, Soden said.

“It was nerve-wracking, especially just because I've just been so used to being with everybody else this summer in the ensemble,” he said. “But by myself it can get a bit nerve-wracking just because a lot of my peers and a lot of people I look up to are watching.”

2016 and 2017 Performers Showcase snare drum champion, Bryce Gardner of Santa Clara Vanguard, shared a similar sentiment expressing that it is hard to ignore the pressure when all eyes are on the soloist.

“In the big venues I'm a lot less nervous, he said. “I'm a lot more calm because we have a lot more practice with the show and it's almost like going on autopilot out there, but obviously with a lot of focus. But in here, all the focus is on you.”

Gardner, who composes his own solos, says his creations are inspired by the different drum lines and percussion staff members he's been exposed to and has learned from.

“(Santa Clara Vanguard percussion arranger) Paul Rennick writes a lot of old school licks, and I like to incorporate those ideas in my solos, taking the old-school vibe and giving it my own twist,” he said.

While nearly every performer takes a different approach to crafting and showcasing their own compositions, Gardner said he leaves no room for error when on stage.

“Nothing's improvised,” he said. “I don't know what I'd do if it's improvised.”