Harmonic Journey’s End

Vermont from the Champlain Bridge to New York.

August 16, 2021

I want to give full credit to the name of this final blog entry of my 2021 DCI tour to the Phantom Regiment, who’s retro performance of their epic program – Harmonic Journey was the best medicine for many fans who have suffered from DCDD (Drum Corps Deficit Disorder) for over 22 months. It seemed to be fitting to end this series of blogs of the 2021 tour with such an apt title, as I have completed the long journey home from the 2021 DCI Celebration in Indianapolis. As always, it takes at least a couple of days to return to my humble abode along the Mill Brook, especially when on a lark following the road less traveled back here to the heart of Vermont. After thousands of miles on the high side of the left lane, by hook or by crook (and Siri), I am perched on my brookside deck again, listening to a recording of Canon in D performed by the Phantom Regiment in Lucas Oil Stadium Friday. Thank you, pirate posters. Still one of the best DCI closing movements of all times, originally performed in 2003 ­– Harmonic Journey gives me thrills every time. The 2021 kids really pulled it off, all three nights. My harmonic journey with DCI this season has come to an end, but the music is still surging and climaxing in my head as I progress throughout my day. Remembrances of the tour continue to flush my eyes. Since I arrived home this morning, I have resisted going to my piano because that keyboard will hog all the words, and no one will hear them. It is time to catch up with you on this digital platform.

Phantom Regiment hop-stepping it to their thrilling closer, Canon in D.

Saturday August 14 was the final night of DCI Celebration 2021, a culmination of the return of live performance of junior drum and bugle corps from across the nation after a year pandemic pause in 2020. I was back in my seat at the right 30 and loving every minute of it. Being at the top of the second tier, I was in a place where some of the kids from earlier performing corps would come up and see a show from the stands. One kid, Lucas, a high school student from Tennessee and baritone player for Music City, sat next to me to watch the Phantom Regiment. I related to him how much I enjoyed the program several time this season, as MC toured the east. I could tell by his ardor for the performance and his air of confidence that he will have a successful drum corps career and be a game changer in his life after drum corps. He is one of the thousands of examples of such fine future leaders that are present here on the field at DCI. No doubt he has proud parents.

DCI magic was brewing in Lucas Oil Stadium.

The peeps in the seat around me were having as much fun as I was. Steve to my right is a true drum corps fan, in his seat for the entire day all the three days. Parents Mark and Laurie in front of me are enthusiastic supporters of the Blue Stars. Their son Kevin performed a flawless show as a guard member. I was completely overwhelmed when the parents held each other for a prolonged and tight embrace after the show. It was Kevin’s age-out year and they were so proud. No dry eyes on that one. Again, love and family are the underlying pillars of drum corps. 

Proud parents.

The final night of drum corps is always bittersweet, a mixture of joy and sadness. Hugs, tears, and joyous revelry abound. Young, old, large, small, Mars, Venus, all shades of skin, you name it, DCI is a unique melting pot of kids from across America (and beyond), and its diverse cultural make up. Their dedication is equaled by the adults in the activity. Examples like the brothers Mike and Rick, consummate supporters of their hometown corps from Boston, touring again in the stands and at rehearsals, are multiplied large and wide. The teachers, parents, aspiring kids who sat next to me, and all those hard-working kids on the field and the professionals and volunteers behind the scenes that I have met give me the hope, courage, and motivation to go forward with my part-time substitute teaching job, HS golf coaching, and my other mission-driven, semi-retirement projects. These were the moments, images and sounds that consumed my thoughts during the two-day northeasterly traverse home in the Volvo XC.

True words spoken in rap to a hip-hoppin’ BAC.

The journey homeward included a deviation to hike more of the North Country Trail (NCT) and search for Denali, my long-distance hiking friend who was still making progress on her through-hike of NYS. My original plan was to hike some of the trail in the Seneca Territory, near Salamanca, New York. A text from Denali said that she was westward bound near Dryden, NY on a section of the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC) trail network, so I headed there instead. The FLTC is a very important affiliate organization that host the North Country Trail along the established route through south-central New York State into Pennsylvania through the Allegheny State Park and National Forest. My friend Dave from the Clarion, PA Chapter of the NCTA on the south end of the National Forest said that one should prepare well as there are no opportunities to provision deep in the National Forest. 

The Schug Trail, a well-maintained railitrail with several nice trailheads, part of the North Country Trail in Dryden, NY.

The last message from Denali said that she had passed Interstate 81, so I extrapolated an estimated distance that she might walk during the time it would take me to rendezvous, thus I chose Dryden in south-central NY, where I discovered the Jim Schug Trail, a link of the NCT network. The Schug is a former railroad now nicely maintained as recreation corridor linking the Town with the Dryden Multi Use Recreation Area. The NCT slogan is: “Your Adventure Starts Nearby.” The Schug Trail is a great example of the diversity of the NCT affiliate network of trails that link communities to their natural areas throughout its meandering route across the northern border states from North Dakota to Vermont. While exploring the area and various trailheads by car, I met a cyclist who thought he saw a person, slightly bent forward with a yellow pack. But alas, after searching each possible trailhead and park in the area, like the unicorn, Denali was not to be spotted this day. As the sun was long past the horizon, I abandoned the search. Siri and I progressed further toward a favorite quite pullout in the Adirondack Park a couple of hours more drive that day for my final slumber in the 4-wheeled cabin. Heading northeast along the approximate route of the North Country Trail, I eventually returned home vicariously experiencing Denali’s hike through Central NYS and the Adirondacks thinking of her out there alone on a cold night. But I was ok about not connecting, confident that she is just fine. I ate the large French fries that I purchased for her at that famous Scottish restaurant that is found everywhere along our highway system along with the Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar singles that I was going to provision her with. 

The Silver Bullet in Ironville, New York.

Early the next morning, I reached the Champlain Bridge that connects NYS and Vermont for a celebratory walk over the span and back, the sights and sounds of drum corps still reverberating in my head, feeling a tad melancholy about having to wait another long 10 months. Now that I am nicely settled back home, I continue to cogitate on the DCI experience. While in Indianapolis, I spent a good deal of time with some of the characters behind the scenes that are willing to give the three Ts in support of the junior drum corps activity – Talent, Time, and Treasure. These are the board members of the non-profit organizations that underlie the drum corps. Each corps is represented on the Board of DCI, sort of like the NFL but with a whole host of complexities that are beyond my scope here. The goal of providing equity across the corps in terms of funding, level competition, etc. can be elusive. All kids should have the same level of opportunity, safety, and sustenance. I asked these questions: How do we get more kids interested? How do we support more Open Class corps and encourage World Class entry for the kids who don’t make the cut on the top 12? How can we grow the interest in the activity to expand the fan base and financial supports?

I would like to propose an answer to these questions. Don’t be so stingy with content. I am still waiting to see the Carolina Crown video that was produced in lieu of their attendance because I was having dinner during the showing in Lucas Oil Stadium. I’m sure it was good. But, even as an ardent fan of the activity, I cannot find it anywhere to view now. So how do we expect anyone else in the public to be inspired by it and the activity.  I am just glad that I was there to attend the show in person in Charlotte earlier this season. A video service that I will subscribe to will be one that has great production quality, able to study each program and cover the wow moments, offers a recorded streaming ability for at least 48 hours following the live capture, has no irrelevant commercials, and has archived programs to view for a small fee.  

A Blue Star Highway to Vermont.

Stepping down off my soapbox, I will conclude here that it was an amazing season of drum corps for those who showed up. Dan Potter, DCI MC on the field said to each of the age-out groups, “Thank you for showing up. Your courage and dedication made it all possible, inspiring others to come out and bring us back to live performances.” That is the essence of it. It is the kids who inspire me, giving me great hope for a better future for DCI and for all of us. I am grateful for the hard work and dedication of the adults in the activity, too. DCI and the corps leaders are to be commended for making the 2021 season safe and successful for everyone. Oh, how much I missed this in 2020. How grateful I am to have a full two weeks of spontaneous vestigial responses, perked ears, goose bumps, hair raising on my deck and that sudden flush of the ocular orbs.  I will leave it there for now and say, “Happy Trails.” If you see a little gray-haired lady in an orange cap and sneakers, slightly bent forward, carrying hiking poles, tell her I said Hi.

Unicorn, leprechaun, and long-distance hiker.

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