The NHS Winter Percussion show begins with a sequence of 11 giant 4-foot dominoes falling, triggering an ensemble of students playing five marimbas.
Next, students in five giant Slinkys move to the music. As the Slinkys drop, the students inside go get their cymbals to play.
Some fast marching and playing brings out a new musical instrument that was made popular by the Blue Man Group. Four Drum Bones (made by parent J.D. Durst) -- decorated to look like straws but they produce a unique sound -- are made of PVC pipe that students hit but they can also slide the pipes to create different pitches like a trombone.
Giant marbles and a red ball appear, with the red ball going into a “big machine,” which is a giant version of a Rube Goldberg Machine that spans 60 feet wide.
A ball rolls down a ramp into a bucket that releases a shiny disco ball that slides down a zip line and triggers a tenor drum solo. The tenor drum has a light that turns on his forehead. Then all of the students turn on their lights and play until the big finale where 11 more dominoes fall and release a big red boot that swings and hits a gong to end the show, knocking over a giant box of Nerds candy.
NHS band director Eric Thornbury was the creative mind behind this amazing Winter Percussion show featuring students playing a role in this marvelous life-size chain reaction-type Rube Goldberg Machine exhibition that Thornbury described in detail for this journalist, who watched the show on Wednesday from the NHS gymnasium bleachers with school families.
The show was amazing. And I loved that we got to watch the show twice, as students performed the show a second time immediately following (for archive and social media purposes, NHS journalism teacher Joe Akers’ students were filming the show and needed to get good shots.)
The NHS Winter Percussion show, at five minutes and 20 seconds, is designed around the theme of a Rube Goldberg Machine, with the students a part of the giant machine. The Rube Goldberg 2021 contest theme is to “Shake and pour a box of Nerds (candy).”
The late Pulitzer Prize-winning Rube Goldberg was an American inventor and cartoonist best known for his cartoons depicting zany contraptions of Professor Butts inventions, known as Rube Goldberg Machines, that solved a simple task in the most overcomplicated, inefficient and hilarious way possible, according to rubegoldberg.com.
The annual Rube Goldberg Machine Event competition, which has been happening since 1988, is where students of all ages compete with the machines they have imagined, designed and created in a fun and competitive forum.
The NHS Winter Percussion’s giant Rube Goldberg Machine performance exhibition is “an artistic representation not a part of the actual Rube Goldberg Contest,” Thornbury said.
The show actually begins with a recording of an interview with the late Rube Goldberg describing a Rube Goldberg Machine, “an illogical of things put in a logical sequence.”
The show’s music was “Goldberg Variation #8” by J.S. Bach and “Dream Machine” by Michael Daugherty.
The Noblesville Indoor Percussion Ensemble (NIPE) is made up of 31 students. Thornbury described the group as “an indoor marching band but for percussion only,” with custom-designed uniforms, tarps and props. Students practice two or three times a week and compete on Saturdays. This year, they have placed second, first, first and third and then qualified for Indiana Percussion Association (IPA) State Finals over the past five weeks. Winter Percussion is an IPA Class A State Finalist.
The percussion section for the Rube Goldberg Machine exhibition show is divided into two sections. The Battery Percussion is made up of students marching on the floor, playing four marching snare drums, three tenor drums, five bass drums and six cymbals, Thornbury said. The Front Ensemble, or Pit Percussion, students play the keyboard mallet instruments and stand and play: five marimbas, two vibraphones, one xylophone, one glockenspiel, one drum rack, two synthesizers and one bass guitar.
The band director, who oversees the school’s percussion and color guard programs, is also the program coordinator and visual designer for NHS Winter Percussion (which is directed by Corey Denham). “I come up with the concepts and visual elements and coordinate them with the music arranger and staff to bring the show to life,” Thornbury said.
In addition, parents helped, too. “Our amazing parents in partnership with Rube Goldberg have created a giant box of Nerds candy that will be shaken and poured like the task for the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest,” Thornbury said prior to the performance.
Just before the start of the show, parents set up all of the custom props on a “candy-colored” custom tarp that they rolled out to nearly cover the gym floor.
He thanked the group’s “amazing designers and prop parents,” J.D. Anderson, Renee Anderson, Wally Gerber and artistic director Becky Rodd, who created the Rube Goldberg Machine and dominoes.
Earlier, Thornbury reached out to the Rube Goldberg Society and asked how to partner with them. In turn, besides offering signage, he said, “They asked if we will be part of their International Rube Goldberg Machine Contest Finals.”
So NHS Winter Percussion’s show will be a part of the Rube Goldberg Inter-National Finals Live Stream on April 10.
“For Percussion, it is an honor to be a part of the famous Rube Goldberg Machine Competition and is really special,” Thornbury said.
Thornbury and his students also got a Zoom video conference meeting with Jennifer George, Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter, on Tuesday afternoon.
He said, “This is such a unique and special opportunity to talk with his relative who remembers her grandfather well, and she now runs the Rube Goldberg Society.”
That’s one more thing that has helped put this great season “over the top.”
Thornbury said it’s been an incredible season for not only the NHS Winter Percussion but also for NHS Winter Guard, which is a National Semi-Finalist and an Indiana State Finalist.
The Winter Color Guard, designed and instructed by Jeff Welsh, performed its award-winning 2021 show, “Power through Social Distance” on Wednesday at the NHS Winter Showcase.
The NHS color guard is made up of 21 girls. Many of the guard members are in the NHS fall marching band, plus students audition to be in the winter color guard, which is choreographed dance with equipment to recorded music.
Thornbury said NHS has had a competitive winter guard since 2011, with competition in each ability class, with seven ability classes for Indiana. Noblesville won the 2018 Indiana High School Color Guard Association (IHSCGA) Regional A Class. He went on to explain. “This is the fourth from the top level ability class. We are currently competing in the IHSCGA Scholastic A class, the third from the top level class.” He said, “Our guard was second on (last) Saturday and qualified for the IHSCGA Indiana State Color Guard Finals. They are really good.”
Now, the color guard competes nationally in Winter Guard International (WGI), Thornbury said. WGI has a similar class system based on ability. Noblesville competed in WGI Scholastic A (the third-from-the-top class) however, this year WGI offered only virtual competition, Thornbury said. “Our guard records their performance and sends it to a national panel of judges to be evaluated. Because of the excellence displayed via video submission, our guard was named a national semi-finalist.”
Thornbury said, “They were also promoted to open class, the second-from-the-top class. They are a national semi-finalist out of 200 guards and one of 26 open class semi-finalists.” The competition continues over the next few weeks, all through video submission.
The guard’s show, Thornbury described, as “an introspective show that delves into all of the ways people can be isolated and build walls in our world. It is beautiful and sophisticated.”
While it’s been a tough school year with the COVID-19 pandemic, Thornberry said, “It means a lot to our students and parents to be able to do these activities. To have successes in them both is great validation that our band program is moving in the right direction and it is ‘Fun to be good.’”
Also, during the Winter Showcase, the NHS Pep Band was all together for the first time this school year, playing selections from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.