Yesterday, I had the pleasure of going to AMC River East 21 and watching Drum Corps International’s production of “Big, Loud and Live!”
Ok, so first thing first….what is drum corps?
Well, here’s a taste of what it can look like:
Drum Corps is like a professional marching band. In the Marching and Music Arts, Drum Corps are the major league. They are the NFL teams of marching and playing. They are independent organizations, from all over the United States, and yes, there are corps in other countries, Drum Corps International (DCI) is the organization that brings all the corps together to compete. DCI holds competitions all over the country in the summer, and these various corps travel all over playing to huge crowds, and the season, which goes from June to August, culminating in the DCI World Championships.
Here’s a clip that actually has me in it…this is from 2000.
And if you’re so inclined, here is a link to that show in its entirety.
This week is championship week, and last night was prelims. I won’t bore you with all the details, but in short, all the World Class Corps (there are various classes) compete in prelims, with the top 25 going on to semifinals. From there, the top 12 from Semifinals go on to Finals, and finals night, a World Class World Champion is determined.
So I was a band geek in high school. Did marching band all 4 years, and en route, discovered Drum Corps thanks to my band director. In 1995, I went to my first live show, where i fell in love! 2 years later, I auditioned for and marched in my first drum corps, a group named Mirage out of Rantoul, Illinois, that had 24 members at our largest. Then in 1998, through a whole lot of luck, I auditioned and got into one of the premier drum corps in the activity, the Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps of Rosemont, Illinois.
I went on to march with the Cavaliers for 2 seasons, and was even fortunate enough to win a world championship with that organization in 2000. That’s the cavaliers in the clip above. Awesome, right???
Drum Corps is still one of the best things I’ve done in my life. I learned and experienced so much through the activity. But also in 2000 I joined the Illinois Army National Guard, and for many years, I simply was too caught up in life to be a part of the activity in any way. I did attend a competition somewhere around 2010, but that was about it.
And so over the past couple years, I’ve gotten more involved with the Cavaliers Alumni Association, and even played a performance with the alumni corps. From there, I began paying more attention to the various corps, which is so much easier via social media.
This year, I ventured to my first live event in a decade, at Northern Illinois University. It was amazing. So many memories, I saw familiar faces, and I had a blast. I felt young again…well, younger than I generally do day to day. And so, I was very excited to see prelims this year.
One thing you have to know about Drum Corps is that throughout the season, the shows the various groups do evolve. They aren’t the same in August as they are in June. Corps change the pictures, and what they do, sometimes they change music…it’s an evolution, to make the show the absolute best it can be, based on crowed reaction, and often times judges input. So the youth who participate in the activity are constantly working to not only perfect a product, but sometimes, learn completely new aspects of it, in addition to traveling from city to city every night, sleeping on gymnasium floors, and doing 10-12 hour practices every day, often in the sun and broiling heat.
Looks amazing right? Well, Drum Corps is also an amazing subculture. It has it’s own language, mores, customs, traditions, folklore, and the performers are often treated like rockstars by the fans. I mean literally. I remember having high schoolers run up to us after performances, and asking for our autographs, or to take pictures with us, or to simply gush over how awesome we are, and how much they want to be like us one day.
I did it. The first show I went to in 1995, I begged to go out to the parking lot after the show, where all the corps buses, and trucks were, and I gushed like a school girl over members of the various corps. “You guys are amazing!!!” How do you do that???” I loved every performance I saw, but I particularly was enthralled with the Phantom Regiment, and their performance of a Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Rachmaninoff. Here’s a look at that beautiful piece of art:
At the time, I didn’t even play percussion or a brass instrument. I literally learned to play a horn, specifically a Contrabass Bugle, at my audition for Mirage. Brief side story:
I wanted to be a snare player. I received an audition packet, and literally got drum sticks and a drum pad, and taught myself, as best I could, to play snare drum. When I showed up at the audition, we literally were lined up at 3 tables, approximately 12 foot long, that was wrapped in a layer of rubber…literally a drum table.
And we went through the audition packet, exercise by exercise. For someone whom had no formal training playing drums, I hung on way longer than you would have expected. I was a band geek after all (saxophone/trumpet/Drum Major…which has nothing to do with playing drums) and had gotten a few pointers from percussionists I knew. But about an hour in, a super cute blond woman walked in. She had the funniest accent I’d probably heard in my life up to that point, and said “Excuse me gentlemen (it was a room full of guys, including the corps director, who was a percussionist and former snare player for the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps), but we only have one Contrabass at this moment, and could really use another one. Anyone want to play Contrabass?”
All eyes turned to me. Even at my young age, I could already read the writing on the wall. “Umm…I’ll try Contrabass” I knew it was at least give it a try, or wind up a cymbal player (which takes mad skill, don’t get me wrong). So, shout out to Ms. Charlotte Rinkel (Labrosse), who showed me the light of being a brass player.
I literally was playing a scale by the end of that first day, which was the Friday after Thanksgiving. By June, I was playing whole songs. Because the corps was so small, I also played bells for a song, and conducted the ballad, Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.
So that’s my drum corps background. I am not a judge, or trained to be one. I do however, know what I like, and I have a large background in enjoying the activity, even with my 20 some odd year hiatus.
I took notes on the corps performances, because I have a horrible memory. If you’re never seen drum corps, the notes wouldn’t make much sense to you, but I will attach pictures of my notes below. Feel free to ask anything about them, and I’ll be sure to expand.
If you’ve never seen drum corps, you are missing out. It’s great. It’s fun. It’s something wholly different from most of the entertainment popular in our society today. Even if you’re a person who likes going to the symphony, drum corps is a completely different beast. So, I’d encourage you to check it out.
Tonight, 8/9/19 is semifinals
Tomorrow, 8/10/19, is finals.
You can actually watch both online, at Flomarching. It’s not free, but it’ll be worth the money. Hell, if you’re adventurous like me, you could drive yourself on over to Indianapolis Saturday afternoon and see it all live.
I have a work event Saturday afternoon unfortunately.
Here’s a bootleg video (don’t tell anyone) of what I think is the most entertaining show of this year, and also the 1st place prelims winner, the Bluecoats. Their show is a Beatles show. It’s amazing!!!! I also hope that they end up being the 2019 World Class Champions. We shall see.