Advancing Lansing's Pageantry Arts
Peter Eichler’s day job is being the events and promotions coordinator for Douglas J Companies. In his spare time, however, he has a unique position as the instructor of Michigan State University’s winter guard, State of Art
He has performed with drum and bugle corps and winter guards across the Midwest, including the world-class Pride of Cincinnati
. The crowning glories on his performance resume, however, are his national and international tours as a performing member of Blast!
, a Tony Award-winning Broadway show that brings the pageantry arts (color guard, winter guard and drum corps) from the field to the stage. With a winning combination of talent and experience, Eichler could be working with the arts anywhere, but he chose stay in Lansing.Blast! Back to Lansing
Eichler grew up on a farm in Pigeon, Michigan, and graduated with a class of 99 students. He then headed to MSU, where he was a piano pedagogy major for three years before deciding that his true passion lay in the pageantry arts. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, Eichler used one of his final semesters of college to study music business and arts management.
After college, Eichler toured with Blast!
in Japan and across the United States before returning to Michigan in 2008. “Touring was great,” he says, “but it was time for me to move along.” He came back to Lansing because it just made sense to him. In addition to boasting his alma mater, the city is close to his family and to his partner, who he met here. “Lansing is my comfort box,” Eichler says. “It was great to be able to jump back into a place that feels like home.”
Even though Eichler returned without having a job waiting, he knew Lansing was somewhere he could pursue his dream of a successful life rich in the arts. He started out working at Starbucks, but before long was employed at the Aveda Institute and then at Douglas J eXchange, building his professional network while continuing with State of Art as an outlet for his creative energies.
His work with State of Art helped Eichler secure his current position with the East Lansing-based Douglas J parent company. During his interview, he presented his materials from the guard’s trip to the Winter Guard International World Championships in Ohio as evidence of his ability to successfully plan and carry out events. “I got 23 girls from point A to point B back to point A safely, kept them housed and fed, with all having a great experience,” he says with pride. “That’s why I make a good event planner.” More Than Just Spinning Flags
Winter guard is basically an indoor color guard without the marching band. The team spends months learning and refining each season’s show, an approximately ten-minute routine combining marching and dancing with the spinning and tossing of flags, wooden rifles and sabers. The members work in formation, telling a narrative through music, props and movement. Last season, State of Art performed a show based on the myth of Orpheus.
Eichler works with co-instructor Orlando Suttles to recruit and train the members as well as design the show. “To a casual observer, our show might appear random, but it’s not. Months and months of work go into it. My passion is the design. To be able to have an artistic voice in the medium that I love so much, that’s what I truly hold dear about State of Art.”
But for Eichler, winter guard is about more than spinning flags. In putting together a competitive show, guard members learn to be detail-oriented, to work as a team, to manage time effectively and to be people of integrity. Members routinely go on to be veterinarians, lawyers and doctors. “They’re a bright bunch of kids,” Eichler says with a smile. “I count myself lucky to be able to serve them in the role of [an] educator.”
The guard members count themselves lucky to be instructed by him. “Peter is so young. He could still march. World-class guards don’t have an age limit. He could be one of those guys that could march forever, but he chooses to teach instead,” reflects Taylor Herbart, a past member of State of Art.Creating New Traditions
State of Art has been competing for five years and won the Winter Guard International Championship in their class in 2009. “Most people don’t know what winter guard is, let alone that we’re good at what we do,” says Herbart. Fundraising is a way for the guard to gain some visibility and connect with the local community.
“We work on fundraising constantly, tick tock ‘round the clock,” Eichler says. “Every year we have to raise our entire operating budget. Some years we’re successful, some years we’re not.” The money they make pays for the staff, the costumes, the show entry fees and the transportation to and from competitions.
These fundraising events give the community a way to get involved and support State of Art, but Eichler realizes that it works both ways. “We have to find a way to give back to the community that gives to us,” he says. His plan for building community involvement into the structure of the organization includes volunteering at the Humane Society, the Special Olympics and the WKAR Spring Drive.
A proud Spartan, Eichler’s heart will always be with MSU. He is thrilled to be associated with the university’s successful package of pageantry arts, and his passion is contagious. “[The arts] are alive and well and thriving and giving great opportunities,” he says. In the future, he hopes to create more student initiatives and to reach out to the community in the Capital region to partner with sponsors. “We’re fairly young, so we’re creating new traditions.We don’t want to overload. We’ll start small and get bigger and bigger.”
Brittany Baker is an MSU Student and a first time contributor to Capital Gains.
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
Peter Eichler and the MSU winter guard “State of Art”
All Photographs © Dave Trumpie