The Music of the Field

Music has always been a major part of my life. Now that I’m a dad it’s funny to think that had it not been for the actions of several parents, I would likely be working as a band director. What might have been.

Now, this post is not to rehash points I have made before but more to highlight a specific event that not only needs support, but showcases the talent that youth of this and many countries possess.

It’s no secret that I was in marching band for a long time. I began in high school, attending band camp before school had even started. All tired “American Pie” flute jokes aside, I signed up for band the same way I signed up for any other class, so going to school before any of my friends had even thought about setting their alarms for the first time could have been a real rocky start to high school…had I not loved it so much. I continued marching in college and even instructed for a period of time. I even moved up to the big leagues. Marching band big leagues? Yep, because what the majority of the population doesn’t know is that every summer since 1972 marching groups have competed all over the country under the title: Drum Corps.

The competition, known as the World Summer Music Games, operates under the governing body of Drum Corps International. Ask anyone who has marched what “drum corps” is, and you’ll get a wide variety of rehearsed answers. Truthfully, it’s not that difficult to explain. It’s marching band. Though woodwind instruments (clarinet, flute, saxophone, etc.) are not used and it is much more on a professional level. That’s it really. An extremely well rehearsed marching band. The problem is…it’s so much more than that, so people who have given their time and body to one of the almost 50 current marching groups, don’t want to give such a simple answer. In addition, people have a general stigma regarding marching bands which generally stems from underwhelming performances from high school bands during half-time at a football game. So people within the drum corps community try to avoid the marching band label.

I should mention, the people you’ll see in a drum corps show are the absolute best of the best within their ages (kids start as young as 10 in some groups and you become ineligible after 21). How so? These people go through rigorous audition processes, which from the start includes an audition fee. As there are not drum corps groups in every state, and people often want to march for a specific group, they pay extensive travel bills just for a chance  to maybe get one of 150 coveted spots. Should you be offered a spot, it comes with a very hefty bill (more on that in a moment) and once a month practices for which you pay more travel bills. After several months, you give up your life for the summer to tour from June to August, culminating in a week of finals competitions.

Why the major bills? Two reasons really. The first is fairly simple to understand. It takes an enormous amount of money to do what these groups do. Once you move in with your group, everything is taken care of for you. You are fed three meals a day, with additional snacks. You are given a place to sleep, which by and large means sleeping on a gym floor of a local high school at whatever city you happen to be in that night. You are provided with world class instructors to help you be the best you can possibly be through countless hours of practicing. You are given a uniform, which is altered for you and cleaned for you. Lastly, they transport you everywhere. If at any point over your summer you notice a large number of charter buses in your area, this could be why. Most performing groups make a little bit of money at every show, but it’s nowhere near enough. So in order to march, you pay “dues” which today almost always means a couple thousand dollars. Drink that in. The second reason, is interest. Which is why I’ll be asking you all for a favor shortly. The kids who march in these groups are mostly from America, and the tour itself stays within American borders (in past years there was a single stop in Canada), but while groups play throughout the country all summer long, most people who are not tied to marching bands in some way, never hear about it. Advertising is expensive, food for these kids is expensive, this is an expensive activity. So getting the word out, and proving that this is an exciting event to anyone who gives it a chance has proven difficult. However, technology has allowed us a very cool opportunity.

Live on the big screen, this is the quarter finals for the drum corps community and will showcase the top 12 groups based on scores leading up to the event. This is a chance to see these groups at their peak, and if you’re a fan of marching band or even if you just want to support music education and the arts, you’ll walk away happy. Check the site, it’s almost a guarantee you’ll find something in your direct area. With our rough economy and the rising price of keeping these kids safe while on the road, four groups have needed to pull off tour during the season this year due to financial issues. Keep this great organization that has been a dream for many kids, up and running.

Support music!

If you have further questions, leave comments below!

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