Drum Corps International, the outdoor major leagues of music in motion, just completed their world championships event in Indianapolis, Indiana. Culminating a summer, competitive tour season of numerous drum and bugle corps from North America (and, on occasion, members from all over the world), DCI World Championships are held annually to crown a champion -- about 128 champions, to be exact.
The Drum Corps International Summer Music Games, as it as often been called, is a title to reference the end to a summer long experience of the young members of our communities. Ranging in age from 12 to 22, with the maximum age being 22, or what the industry refers to as an "age out limit," these young musicians are genuine athletes in every sense of the idea. They tour on a bus from show site to rehearsal site, and then often find themselves sleeping on the bus while pulling into a new location in the middle of the night. Exhausted and mildly half asleep, these performers persist with their Drum Corps International experience by readily making themselves available to be woken up to the necessity of fetching their belongings from underneath the bus. Their new accommodation: to sleep on a gymnasium floor for what little time they have before revile calls and they are up for another 17 hours of fun in the sun. Since they are young and need to pack light, many of these musicians sleep on this gymnasium floor with nothing more than a sleeping bag and a pillow. Some students, many who have participated in the activity for multiple years, have learned ways in which to reduce their burden of carrying, packing, and being responsible for belongings throughout the Drum Corps International summer tour.
They didn't arrive to these positions by chance; in fact, many of them asked for this experience willingly. These artistic musicians voluntarily apply for, and endure, an audition for an extremely selective process in the latter part of November, and compete in a "call-back" acting fashion of auditions for securing their spot in the performance ensemble, often challenging as many as a couple hundred applicants for any given spot within the touring group. Often times, applicants can be heard of spending as much as $1,000 just to travel and cover accommodations to these events. Considering the timing of these Drum Corps International competing ensemble auditions, inclement weather can hinder their travel plans, proving that these applicants can risk and endure great challenges to simply fulfill a passionate drive to experience what they regard to be the biggest thrill for a young American.
For some, the audition process ends in some sorrowful news and a wish for the best of luck and a hope that they find another ensemble to march with. Unfortunately, due to the timing of the season and the volume of intense labor they endure over two and a half days of winter rehearsal camps in the off-season, many drum and bugle corps within any of the, now two, echelons of competing circuits are essentially established, filled, and ready to dig into perfecting their show by the turn of the new year. Seeking an open position with another drum corps by this point would be the metaphorical equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack. For the hungry and desirous, they still pursue the endeavor and hope that someone invites them to send in their audition video for evaluation and consideration for placement in the ensemble.
For those lucky enough to fit the bill of what the ensemble is looking for, this is the opportunity of a lifetime and a prize worth putting in the effort for with the audition process. For this bunch, Drum Corps International participation has become a reality; but they still have a long way to go before they can declare themselves a member of the ensemble and having performed for one of the many audiences reaching into the hundreds of thousands for many of the summer events around North America.
We interviewed David, a former Madison Scout, as a member of the Madison Scouts from Madison, Wisconsin, he is a native to the Detroit, Michigan region and willfully made the effort to save up funds from work, along with support from family and friends, to either fly or drive to rehearsals, sometimes as often as twice a month, to get the quality rehearsal time in with their brothers and sisters in the drum corps. Although Drum Corps International is the governing body regarding rules, regulations, limitations, the number of participants any given ensemble can have on the field at one time, age-out restrictions and the ultimate planner of events to both organize competitions and please audiences extending into the six figures with packed stadiums and often standing room only for latecomers, the road to reaching the summer activity is littered with additional requirements for these young starlets and hopefuls.
From required participation in fundraising events, to paying a membership dues tuition cost for the summer event, these weekend camps provide shelter, rehearsal space, instruction, photocopies of composed, transposed, transcribed, and often digital copies of original music (with permission), meals, shower facilities, and safety and security provisions, and require the members to attend the event while prepared to pay a camp fee simply to cover the weekend -- which, often times, may not contribute toward the summer costs to go on the road.
Within these weekend camps, friendships are made, music and drill are learned, past education is perfected, and tendencies are learned and worked at to be overcome. The idea is to have one ensemble playing music and performing in a similar fashion to make sense of a group that moves and plays in the same way. It's a unique, blissful combination of individuality and ensemble-like perfection; a truly remarkable demonstration of performance art unlike any other. This persists through the winter and spring months until May rolls around and the two-week move-in requirement of "spring training" for most drum corps is established. Drum Corps International allows for winter camps and spring training for a few weeks before the respective ensembles begin touring, competing and entertaining while on the road. You can visit the Drum Corps International web site, which can be found through a simple search engine query, and find their calendar to discover a show near you. However, it is recommended that tickets be purchased early so one's friends and family can avoid missing out due to a sold out show... which occurs frequently, unfortunately.
For 17 hours a day, the various ensembles of Drum Corps International train together under the summer sun. Performers lives are fundamentally simple: they eat, sleep, and rehearse for performances. However, this short to do list is anything but easy since the days are long, the summer sun is beating down on the shoulders and skin of most all the participants, and the stress of being in groups for long periods of time, all contribute to the chaos of a summer tour. It requires maturity, mental strength, physical stamina, and a desire to pursue the activity that they once found so enjoyable. Indeed, many would never give up this summer experience for anything, but enduring it is a unique experience where lifelong friendships are made under the umbrella of Drum Corps International.
The drum corps activity dates back as far as the colonial times where Drum and Fife Ensembles were the influence for military leadership to control their ranks. From the type of beat from a snare drum to the furious melody of a flutist, the platoon or battalion would respond in a manner that was pleasing unto the commanding officer who had direct influence on the musicians associated with the warriors.
The oldest ensemble in American history that remains in existence, to this day, is not one that is necessarily registered with Drum Corps International, but instead is composed of members of the world's most elite fighting force: The Commandant's Own, The United States Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps. Here, musicians must be selected through a rigorous audition process in addition to becoming a well-qualified applicant for the United States Marine Corps. Actual Marines compose of this ensemble, for which they are fully compensated under the military pay grades and rank structure while touring and performing in the summer. An additional duty of the Commandant's Own includes The Evening Parade, where both the Drum Corps and the silent drill team of the Marine Corps are hosted and present an evening of elegant pageantry that dates back to the earliest years of this country's history.
These traditions are deeply rooted, appreciated, and remembered by those who push the envelope of this day and age's Drum Corps. Knowing where they came from is largely instrumental for the creativity they seek in finding new answers to the age-old question: now what? Through this, amazing, breathtaking, audience pleasing, and inspiring innovations have developed that take this activity to new heights each and every year. Once upon a time, Drum Corps International began a summer season's audition process with their member ensembles hosting auditions with fundamentally flawed applicants arriving but unfamiliar with the basics of what is expected of a member in these ensembles. Naturally, these newer members were taught the fundamentals and assisted in their development and progression as not only athletic musicians, but as better citizens upon returning home at the end of their summer tour experience.
According to Mr. Scott Johnson, percussion caption head for the repeat Drum Corps International world champion ensemble, the Blue Devils, out of California, probably had the most influential perspective in the activity today. Indeed, he is amazed with how very talented the young musicians are that arrive on the first audition day. "In the past, people would show up to auditions and have trouble with some of our basic rudiments." He would continue to share how the musicians that show up these days are remarkable because they can do so much with playing, marching, wearing a drum, and learning to play together, which makes the audition process more challenging for everyone involved; it's now longer a question of who can play to the standard minimum but now a matter of who should be selected based on their ability to play together... and do it well.
From the colonial times, to the evening parade, to the early days of Drum Corps International, and on to the innovations for our future, Drum Corps is perhaps the best kept famous secret in North America that not many are aware of but can find enjoyment in at all ages. The joys of performance art can be appreciated by anyone and attendance at these events are not limited to certain demographics, talent levels, or particular interests; even audiences are participating members in the activity because the performers and judges evaluate the competing ensembles both on their ability to perform and their ability to influence and inspire the audience to raise to their feet in appreciation of something that was just performed on a football field in a National Football League stadium... which typically ends up being a packed house before the national anthem has even begun.
Do you have a child that is interested in seeing North America on a summer tour with peers? Are they hungry to learn and equally appreciative of a unique thrill? Do they have a talent that they seek to develop and are looking for an outdoor outlet to pair it with?
Find Drum Corps International online and explore the different Drum Corps that are participating in the activity as we speak. Their auditions are typically held around Thanksgiving weekend, if not the last weekend in November. If this is a choice they are willing to make, be sure that the last weekend in December is also reserved as that is typically a "call-back" weekend in which they must attend if they are serious about retaining their spot in the performance ensemble. Without attending this event, notifying the ensemble of their intent, being offered a spot by the end of the first audition camp (which is rare, but can happen), or staying involved in the activity in some way, this tends to be an audition process whereby professionalism is not only expected, but rewarded with the opportunity to maintain a spot within the ensemble... regardless of their performance position or title.
Drum Corps International has been around for years, and there's a very real possibility that DCI is not going away any time soon. The supporting entity for a competitive, rewarding, and educational experience of a lifetime is here to stay and Drum Corps International may continue to promote the one initiative that has inspired YouTube videos of parking lot sessions before the show to be actively attended, recorded, and shared among more than just teenagers and college students, but people of all ages. Unique as it may seem, the parking lot is a warm-up area for Drum Corps International groups that are warming up for their designated performance time, and these spaces or sessions are open to the public to attend and enjoy but not interfere with. While common customs and courtesies are respected and appreciated in such a professional-like setting, the artistic side of the activity has a way of consuming the hearts and minds of those who attend and all can be mutually edified by simply visiting one of these shows.
In fact, the Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps contribute to the Evening Parade (held Friday evenings at the Washington, D. C. Marine Barracks during the summers, when they're not touring and performing across this great nation.
Whether its your first visit or fiftieth, there are always new things arising at these events and something can be available to catch ones attention if they are a music lover of any genre. The Blue Devils and Bluecoats emphasize jazz while the Cadets and Santa Clara Vangaurd explore the classical musical tones of culture. Be sure to explore other competing organizations at other shows you might visit, like the Phantom Regiment who indulges in music like the innovative composer of tango, Astor Piazzola.
Come one, come all. It's not marching band... it's the major leagues of music in motion and performance art. It's Drum Corps International.
Chris Young - Contributing JOURNALIST
Mr. Young, our editor-in-chief, is also an accomplished performance artist. His background ranging from the stage and theatre to establishing an innovative stage-like environment wherever he went, he comes to this website with international performance art experience. His name will be in a featured story in the near future.