By Adam Kohl It is a crisp, cool afternoon in Madison, Wisconsin on this Aug. 10, 2002. I am in the Boston Crusaders. I am told that finals night of DCI World Championships is one of the best experiences of your life, and now I truly believe that. After a long bus ride from the high school in which we stayed at, I am ready to unload and start warming up. The buses, cramped as ever, empty when fifty people try to pile off all at once. We retrieve our newly polished instruments, and line up in two lines of 32 people each. Sweat pours off our brows, dripping not from the heat but from the anxiety, as the excitement of performing the last show of the 2002 season mounts. Physical warmup
"Corps ten-hut!" commands the drum major. We snap to attention and are ready to move. The first group starts to march. After every two counts the next group moves. I am finally moving, along with everyone else. It seems like an eternity as we march to the predetermined warm-up site. My 26-pound instrument feels as though it gets heavier and heavier, but I have no choice but to hold it in my tired right hand. We march by other corps that were already warming up. We do not stop to look. Finally, we make it to the warmup site. We set our jackets, shakos and instruments down on the grass and circle up as we prepare to loosen our bodies. I look around and notice the trees as we stretch. Stretching in the shade is something we always love doing. Children play in the adjacent park, laughing and having fun in the playground. I also look at my fellow corpsmembers' faces as we continue to stretch. I see determination; they look as though like they could take on the whole world. Someone tells a joke, and everyone laughs.Laughter confirms their humanity -- they are not just robots put on this earth to march in a competition. They are humans put on this earth to march. After stretching every single muscle in our bodies, we move over to pick up our instruments. They are all lined up directly next to one another in a row. Each section stays together to warm up. Sopranos, mellophones, baritones and contrabasses are all warming up in different places around the park. We pick up our personal instrument and walk over to where the instructor had told us to go. Within the park, there is a cement basketball court. We line up in a block, about five by eleven people, on the court. "Corps ten-hut!" shouts the instructor again. We snap quickly to attention as he yells. Being at attention allows us all to space out evenly and line up uniformly. As I stand at attention, I have more time to think about things. I realize that this is the last time I am going to do these warm-ups with the 2002 Crusaders. That thought has been in my mind for most of the day, that everything I do is the last time that I will do it with this group. Bob Barfield, our marching instructor, gives us a little break, so we put our instruments down in place and stretch out our backs. Breaks do not last long in drum corps, though. We are back at attention in less than a minute. Marching basics "Just take one step forward," Bob said. Click, click, click, click, step. We step out with the left foot and snap our instruments into playing position. We hold position as other marching instructors check out our foot placement, horn angle, and every single thing on our bodies, adjusting to perfection. Our horns go down, but back to attention just as fast as before. Click, click, click, click, step. This time the left foot goes back, but our instruments still snap up in the same fashion. Same as before, the marching instructors go around the block and pick apart what they see. Perfection is the name of the game in this event -- they do not stop until everything is flawless. We are allowed to rest our arms again. Bob asks us to move to the back of the basketball court and listen to the commands. He wants us to march down the court, one group of five at a time. As soon as he tells us the orders we hear the click off: Click, click, click, click, step. After eight counts the next group steps off: Click, click, click, click, step and so on. I am waiting for my turn to step off and my mind wanders. "This is the last time I am going to be doing a marching warmup," I think to myself. We finish the marching warm up and Bob talks to all 64 of us. He tells us how much we mean to him and how we have grown as a corps. Musical warmup "Corps ten-hut!" commands the drum major. Being at attention allows us time to evenly space ourselves out within the arc that we have formed. We relax for a few minutes as the director, Howard, talks to us. He tells us what the plan is for this warmup and how much this performance tonight should mean to each and every one of us. After he is done, we go back in the arc and pick up our instruments. Our instruments go into playing position and Howard counts off. We play long tones at first in order to get our lips vibrating and our instruments warm. We play the huge, loud chords, for which drum corps is known. At the closing of our warmup, we are sent to put the rest of our uniform on. My mind wanders yet again. "This is the last time I will ever dress in the red and black with these people." Preshow "Forty-five minutes," a tuba player reminds me as we are lining up in formation. I stood by this guy every day for every performance. We line up in our two lines of 32 people each. We just stand here for a few minutes. We stand and stare straight ahead, and think about the immediate future that was soon to be present. The first group marches out, four counts later, the next group, until 64 of are moving. We march to Camp Randall Stadium. Other corps are warming up in the same fashion that we did minutes before. We march by with our heads held high and our eyes straight ahead to show the determination in our faces. By this time of the evening I do not feel the pain in my hand that I did earlier that afternoon. When I put on this uniform, I feel like a superhero. Nothing can hurt me, nothing can distract me. We march for about 20 minutes and finally get to the stadium. We line up our instruments in the drum corps fashion, get our water, and set up in a circle with our arms around each other. Howard talks to us for the last time before a show. The words he tells us mean more to me tonight than they ever did before. "You are the best group of people I have ever worked with in my entire life," he says. I know he means every word, because veteran corps members said that he had never said that in past years. I notice other corps coming out from the stadium after a performance of a lifetime. I look into their eyes, and I see emptiness. They left everything they had on that field. They walk by us and I turn my attention to what is going on in our circle. After Howard talks to us we get closer together and hear an F from a trumpet. We sing our corps song, but this time I can actually feel what the song really means: "This corps is made of Giants, we will never die. For we are Crusaders, true blue Crusaders. We are Crusaders. Corps we love. Corps we love." Singing that song gives me what I need to perform this night. It gives me the ability to leave it all on the field. As we line back up in our two lines, I see the people around me. I see the friends that I have been with for three months. I see that their eyes are shiny with tears. I see what I am going to be losing after this night. Show and postshow "Corps ten-hut!" commands the drum major. We snap to attention for the last time. We march inside the stadium and wait outside the gate before we enter into the field. "This is the show of a lifetime," "Leave it on the field tonight," "Party hardy," were some of the things that are said to us before we enter the field. The first group exits the tunnel and we all follow in the same fashion as we have been doing all season long. Peripherally, I notice the crowd. I hear the cheering for US. Time to concentrate on my task. Pointing backfield in a small arc, we play our warmup. I hear cheering again. My heart is full, because of the 20,000 people cheering for ME. Lining up on the field in our first set is really hard for me to do. This is the last time I can perform this show that I love so much. The drum major counts the music in: "One, two, three, four ..." The music of Aaron Copland is heard throughout the stadium. We are all floating over the field, as the music gets quieter. A loud crescendo, then BANG -- we are playing our hearts out. I have the most amazing feeling throughout my entire body. I have goosebumps. Each and every section of the show goes by flawlessly. The last song we play, I hear shouts from the crowd, "Eat 'em up Boston" and "Do it." I play my music, march my drill, and pour everything I have on the field. The last note of the show leaves the entire audience in awe. We release the note, lie down on the field and form our "living flag." An immense roar sounds from every corner of the stadium. I realize that I spoke to 20,000 people. I touched their lives. I left everything on the field, all I have left are tears. We talk after the show, with everyone crying. I go up to the marching instructor and just let everything out and show my true feelings. "Do you understand why I pushed you? Do you understand why you did this all summer?" Bob Barfield asks. "Yes!"