The other day, I drove down to Vermont’s Castleton University to see some friends that I made last year while touring with the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps (BAC), and to catch their spring training ensemble rehearsal for the upcoming 2018 season. Spring training for BAC in Castleton is the closest that drum crops comes to my humble home along the Mill Brook, a 90-minute drive south from Waitsfield Vermont. Maybe you read my daily blog series: I Ran Away with the Drum Corps, about my experience touring 23 days as a volunteer with BAC in 2017. The series has also been re-run in Drum Corps World during the past 10 months (final episode next issue).
It was great to see Steve Woodward, the prop guy on the job again. He is the most dedicated, hardest working, and kindest adult in drum corps. It was a privilege to work with him last season. He has been encamped with the corps from the beginning of spring training. The large props will arrive June 1, but meanwhile he and his crew are working in the gymnasium on some hand-held props – spears. The Glenbrook Gymnasium has been taken over by the corps. Instead of member’s air mattresses, the gym floor is covered to protect it and it has been turned into the corps’ nerve center, storage area, and Steve’s workshop. Pallets of food, paper goods, and sundry line the perimeter on one end and the color guard commandeered the other end for their assorted regalia.
The corps members are well encamped in dorm rooms and enjoying meals prepared in the college cafeteria, so Anthony, the touring chef is not on campus. At diner, I recognized many members from last year among the many new members who all seem to have known each other forever. As this is a youth education activity, each year members that are 21 complete their final year and age-out. I sat with Gino Cipriani, Brass Caption Head, and low brass instructor Ryan Williams, who stated that the uptick of the quality of new members has exceeded their expectations. I did not press too much for information on the 2018 program entitled “S.O.S”, but they explained that it is a much more complicated book than last year’s “Wicked Games” to match the increased level of the 2018 talent. It is evident to me that they are confident in their championship quality content and those who will deliver it.
After dinner, the entire corps began evening rehearsals. The rehearsals are open to the public and they encourage visits from fans as long as you keep your cell-phone/camera in your pocket. However, I was one of few others who came to observe the percussion ensemble and marchers rehearse on the field from the stands in Spartan Stadium. The guard was rehearsing separately on an adjoining field as the constant beat of their metronome echoed across the countryside. As spring training progresses, ensemble rehearsals will bring them all together. The visual component of a drum corps show is not to be underestimated and BAC is instructing the world with is championship level color guard, scoring in the top three in 2017. I am sure that we will seem some very interesting moves this summer with “S.O.S.”
From the scaffolding above, the creative team of Gino, Colin McNutt, Director of Percussion, and Michael Townsend, Lead Designer worked the corps repetitiously through sections of the program book, page to page, measure by measure. On the field, the visual team and music instructors worked with the members as they adjusted to their dots, each take improving the precision of the particular drill. In addition to the 154 marching members, there are over 50 music and visual instructors that tour with the corps. They were working on a very fast section of the program that included many body movements. It is amazing how these kids can hold a note while also gyrating, genuflecting and hurtling across the field. And, so close to each other! Everyone on the field gave their full attention to the instructors and returning drum majors Kaitlin Oresky and Nick Winckel, well into the evening under the lights.
They were working through a particularly powerful sequence of the program. What a treat to once again be in the epicenter of sound that resonates through the total body. I do not get this at home with my computer and online videos, even with the woofer assist. Being in front of this corps again triggered that certain hard wire from my brain to my tear ducts. Goose bumps rose as the corps ran through the entire part of the book that they had been rehearsing to complete today’s work. Gino and other staff gave hearty congratulations to the members for their hard work that day and good tidings for the things to come. Everyone was in great spirits and humor. I felt that indelible BAC vibe that I tried to put into words last year, with some challenge to fully explain. You really should try to catch some of that esprit and go see them in Vermont or anywhere else they will be encamped this summer.
There has been a lot of speculation about the program theme this year. Not much information is being provided by the corps, leaving the fans to wonder what to expect. Cast Away, Lord of the Flies, Lost, Gilligan’s Island, have all been tossed around on the DCP forum. I did not see any volleyballs with painted faces but I did observe a conch shell that is blown by a pit member during part of the program. Raspy horn blares from the line and beastly sounds emanating from the synthesizer portent a dark period reminiscent of “Wicked Games.” It will be interesting to see it all come together, props, uniforms and the production.
I will be returning to Castleton University on June 12 for the free Community Night presentation that will include a run-through of the entire program. Though I will not be touring with the corps this season, I will be checking in with them as they encamp or in the lot at shows that I attend this season. As you know, I love all of the corps. I look forward to seeing the amazing Boston Crusader along with all of the other amazing drum corps in the sweet spot of some great outdoor stadiums. I have great tickets in hand for several shows in the east this summer and will post my perspectives from the fifty yard line on this blog site. Meanwhile, I’ll be hanging out along the Mill Brook and keeping up with new content through my computer in preparation for an amazing summer of music in motion.
For more information on this uniquely American youth education activity checkout Drum Corps International, the sanctioning organization at dci.org.