(...and I love it)
Thoughts from a Saturday afternoon
It is truly an odd thing that we have collectively developed over the years! Like… what is the point of it? What even is it? Why do people put themselves through that crazy, exhausting, months-long process?
Bear with me as I go through some of the strange and remarkable things about the activity and then ruminate on why it is all worthwhile, even if it is one of the weirdest activities a young person can do in our modern society:
They aim to entertain and appeal to popular sensibilities, as opposed to, say, a youth orchestra or ballet performance, or a high-school soccer game, which don't go the extra mile to be entertaining to more than a core group of supporters.
Sometimes being at a drum corps show feels like you could be at a Radiohead concert, if you weren’t also baking in the sun eating a hot dog while watching a bunch of young adults running around on a field blowing into horns.
Change in technology began with simple amplification, which quickly escalated to writing utilizing synths and other advanced electronics. Today we have shows (or segments of shows) that are so ‘produced’ that they sound like they come straight out of Pro Tools.
It is a little weird when you think of the origins of this activity as an American outdoor summer pastime that required only a couple drums and bugles, a group of kids, and some grass or a parade.
There is no NFL or NBA or New York Philharmonic or Joffrey Ballet or Hollywood equivalent for DCI, though it should be noted that many DCI members go on to be top performers in whatever discipline they enter later in life.
Sometimes I see drumlines playing their drum feature in the lot—along with the accompanying choreo—and I can’t help but chuckle to myself about the absurdity of it all.
And then sometimes, I see it and think it is the coolest thing ever.
There is no better way to realize how strange drum corps is than to try to explain it to one of those clueless people…
These kids are working on a single 10-to-12-minute production for nine months, often longer (especially if you count the planning that staff does for months before member auditions even occur):
starting in December with auditions (which normally span several rounds over the course of months);
going through monthly camps during the late Winter/early Spring, during which they rehearse for as many hours as possible over the course of a 3-day weekend;
leading into a Memorial Day weekend camp that is usually the checkpoint after which Spring Training begins, and the members all move in for a grueling month-long rehearsal process perfecting the show before they take it on the road for competition;
and finally touring the country for several months facing off against all of the other groups in competitions large and small, experiencing the beautiful landscapes and varied cultures of our country, performing for locals in small parades and for crowds in humongous major metropolitan football stadiums, and culminating at the World Championships in mid-August.
In the same amount of time that it takes for a baby to grow to term in its mother's womb, this collection of people have gone through a life-changing process to create a product that won’t even exist anymore after it comes to term (well… there are video recordings, but it isn’t the same).
How weird, yet amazing.
I don't mean to say that any drum corps shows can even compare to the works of those geniuses. Just pointing out that it is the work of a community coming together to create greatness. And actually, if those people were alive today (besides the two that are alive...), they might have been huge drum corps fans, or at least have denied that their work is any better than that of a great drum corps production.
Yes, there are a select few people in each corps who necessarily have more creative control - and we celebrate them within the community - but no individual person gets to put their name on the final product.
Drum corps, in its unique way, gives many young people the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and completely throw themselves into the process, all while making lifelong friends and companions.
People who might have otherwise felt like the geeks at their high school get a chance to feel really cool about themselves as the crowd goes wild after they play an immaculate triplet diddle roll;
or a brass feature that overpowers your senses and instills a powerful physical reaction in your gut and heart;
or a color guard sequence that comes off without a hitch and adds a perfect accent to create a tear-jerking moment;
or a drill maneuver that, like human clockwork, twists around the field at incredible speed, pushing the players to their peak physical limit (while playing breathtaking music, I should add), ending miraculously in a perfect line.
To all the folks out there who are in the process of preparing for next summer (many probably even hard at work at their corps' February camp at this very moment), enjoy this process, and maybe take a moment this summer to stop and laugh to yourself about how crazy the whole thing is.