I Ran Away with the Drum Corps – June 2017

Members of the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps brass preparing for Community Night at Castleton University, Vermont.

This is a personal reflection of a summer vacation as an intern-volunteer with the Boston Crusaders (BAC), a world class drum and bugle corps. It started out as a daily blog. I have compiled my daily entries here into this diary-style essay. 
June 21, 2017 – Along the Mill Brook

As I sit in my comfortable, humble abode along the Mill Brook, I am contemplating with nervous excitement my upcoming adventure, running away with a World Class drum and bugle corps – the Boston Crusaders. What this means is that I am trading in my comfortable semi-retirement and summertime in the idyllic Mad River Valley of Vermont for life as a sort of roadie for 150 young, hard working, talented performers. Actually, at 62 years old, I am not really sure what this means for me. I know that following a drum corps will entail thousands of miles traveled and hundreds of hours of hard work helping the corps stay on the move and performing at its best. Why am I doing this? I will let you know when I figure it out.

Did I tell you that this is a highly competitive activity? For the uninitiated, a drum and bugle corps is made up of brass horns, percussion, and color guard members who perform an 11-minute program in football stadiums. The World Class Junior Corps are the pinnacle of achievement in the marching arts and have 150 members in each who compete through age 21. The corps members and staff work their butts off perfecting their unique program and tour all over the country to compete with other corps throughout the summer months, culminating in the championships in August. It is ‘uber’ band camp delivering a very high-end entertainment experience. Kids from all over the world audition to be in the top corps.

Back in 1973, my bother and I marched in a small, VFW drum corps in Central New York State. We went to watch the national competitions in Rochester and were blown away by the top corps such as the Madison Scouts, Santa Clara Vanguards and the Boston Crusaders. After two summers I moved on to college, family and career, leaving marching behind. Fast forward four decades to 2012. It was a dreary winter morning, weather too ugly to ski so I was whiling away the morning caught in a YouTube musical journey on my 27” iMac with Bose sound system. Suddenly, the thought popped into my head: “What is the state of drum corps after 40 years of hiatus?” I typed in a few characters and up popped Blue Devils Space Chords horn line warm up. OMG! After hearing that, I dove in with all ten fingers and spent the entire day viewing and listening to 21st century drum corps. Looking back at that time five years ago, it seems to have been a life changing moment.

I decided that I would take in a live show in the coming season and headed to Fort Edward, NY, the closest show to Vermont. When I purchased the ticket at the window the guy said, “Let me see if I can get you a good seat.” I found myself firmly planted on the 50-yard line as high up as the old stadium ascended. The first corps’ performance, which is often the lowest ranked corps, was enough to hook me in for good. The corps that followed were even more amazing! Though I was not sure why one of them was doing a Christmas theme in June. Later that summer I bought tickets to the Mecca of the activity, a two-day competition in Allentown, PA, and have been going back there every year since. I now travel every summer to the Boston area as well as other major shows within driving distance in NY, PA and OH. I have also flown to Minneapolis and Atlanta for regional competitions that include over two dozen performing corps in one day. I became a customer of Drum Corps International (DCI), the sanctioning organization, and enjoyed countless hours watching the archives before they took them down for copyright concerns. As you might have guessed, I have become a drum corps junky.

Since 2012, I have had the pleasure of attending many of the regional events in several locations in the Boston area including some unique performances at Tanglewoods Performing Arts Center, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Imagine the combined power of BAC, Bluecoats, Phantom Regiment and Cadets all playing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture under the stars. In 2012, the Blue Devils from Concord, California came east early to celebrate BAC’s 75-anniversary event at Tanglewoods. I was in the round for the BD warm up on the lawn. Freaking awesome! BTW – I love all the corps. It was at a Tanglewoods events where I met a first trumpeter who, in our brief conversation conveyed the great vibe of the BAC. As a strong appreciator and supporter of youth music education, I began to think how cool it would be to be part of this massive, high spirited, touring-ensemble.

In late may and early June, BAC holds their spring training at Castleton University, VT, a mere 75-minute drive from my home. I have had the pleasure of attending the Community Nights, where one gets the first glimpse of the new program. This year it was an amazing summer night. Ron, the corps director gave a very informative, interesting, and inspiring presentation of the activity and what it takes to produce a world class drum corps program such as this year’s Wicked Games. Perhaps you learned in early American history about the witch trials held in Salem, MA in 1692. The kids performed a run through of the complete show that I thought was very clean. Watch that guard! The program is strong and powerful, dark and beautiful, with a very compelling music rep. The Chris Isaak song Wicked Game is performed beautifully by the wonderful guard/singer and ends with a rich and melodic explosion of brass. There is something about the complex and rich textures of the arrangements, performed by the BAC brass with such clarity that really caught me. This is only going to get better and I was already beginning to tear up. I strongly believe this corps will take this program a long way up the ladder, perhaps putting them in the top five at the championships. The corps also did a standstill of the BAC classics including Giant and Conquest. More watery eyes.

That evening, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the guard, and once again that positive vibe struck me. So that did it. I began to seriously explore how I could hop on board this cool train. I returned home that night and dashed off an essay/resume/email to the volunteer intern link and guess what? Mary-Mason, the tour director, invited me to join them in June. So, this week I am packing up and joining BAC for two shows in Ohio and we’ll see where it goes from there. What am I doing and why? Stay tuned. I leave tomorrow, first stop, Albany, NY for the movie theatre. I will keep you posted in future blogs from the road.

Click here for Day 2

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