Lanah Kopplin will be contributing columns to DCI.org each Tuesday. Here's her eighth installment. I was truly my grandfather's granddaughter. When we were together, there was no mistaking who I got my personality from. He claimed to not play favorites, but we all knew that it wasn't true. I loved spending time with him, matching wits and giving each other a hard time. He always took an interest into everything that we grandkids did. So, when I joined Pioneer for the 2001 season, he was quite happy to find out that we would be performing at a show close enough for him to attend.
Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to see me perform. My grandpa died on April 18, 2001. Our special connection was there through the end. He died in the middle of the night. Although I was asleep, I woke up and knew that something was wrong with him. A few minutes later, the phone call came with the bad news. I was an absolute wreck at his funeral. Never before in my life had I experienced such a loss. It was impossible to fathom that he would never be around anymore. He'd never get to see me graduate high school, or get married, let alone come see me perform in a drum corps show. 2003 was a tough season for me. It was my first year on euphonium (I had played G baritone before that), as well as my first summer as a veteran. Many of my good friends from the 2002 season either aged out or took a year off. It was an odd experience being with the same corps, but with different members. Personally, I had a very hard time trying to figure out where I "fit in" with both the horn line and the corps. I hated almost every day of tour. Moving up to the euphonium proved to be much harder than I had expected. Day after day, it seemed like my struggling would never end. It proved even more frustrating to see everyone else around me progressing at a much faster rate than I was. It seemed like no matter what I did, I just couldn't convince my body to cooperate. Every day seemed to push me to my limit, and after a while, I was just getting sick of it. I was tired of struggling, of pushing so hard. I was tired of how heavy my horn felt. I just wanted to be like everyone else in the section. And if that wasn't going to happen, I just wanted to go home. One of our stops on tour was to a little place known at Midland, Texas. We did a clinic in the afternoon, and the show that night. Being the night's champions, we were given the opportunity to perform a victory concert. So, we set up the arcs and played through our show. Then it came time to perform our corps song. In recent years, Phantom Regiment has rotated through a number of classics as the "corps song" of the summer. For the 2003 season, our piece was "Amazing Grace." Although I was initially excited to have the opportunity to play such a piece, by that point in the summer it was just another part of the routine. However, that night was different. As we started playing, I glanced up into the audience. Directly in my line of sight, about three rows back, sat an elderly gentleman. Slowly, he stood up, removed his white cowboy hat, and looked up into the sky. That's when something happened to me. Seeing him look up immediately brought back memories of my grandpa. It was in that same moment that I know that even 1,000 miles away, grandpa was watching over me. I knew that he was able to see me perform. For the first time in my drum corps career, I was able to show him the activity that I love more than anything else in the world. And of course, that's when I started crying. I didn't play more than three notes that night. Once I started crying, I just couldn't stop. It was as if all of the frustration that I'd built up over the course of the summer was just flooding out. I had been trying so hard for so long to keep pushing and keep going. On that night, I couldn't hold back any longer. It was all I could do to keep from sobbing and draw attention to myself. But believe me, the tears were flowing. From that day on, I never thought of "Amazing Grace" in the same way. I dedicated that piece to my grandpa, and I thought of him every time that we played it. Unfortunately for me, I'll never forget the look on that gentleman's face as he held his hat over his heart. Whenever we played "Amazing Grace" from there on out, I had to make a conscious effort to block that picture from my mind, or else once again the tears would well up in my eyes. These are the moments that we live for in drum corps. That night was a turning point for me. I had become so bogged down by my worries and frustrations that I had completely forgotten how to feel. Thanks to the beautiful strains of "Amazing Grace," along with the powerful image of that gentleman, I was able to undergo a much-needed and long-over catharsis. I unloaded an enormous amount of emotional baggage that night. Because of it, I found the strength to keep fighting. I knew that I wasn't just marching for myself -- I owed it to my corpsmates and our fans (both here and above) to push through to the bitter end. And when the end came, I looked up to the sky, and said, "Thanks." Lanah Kopplin is a third-year euphonium player in the Phantom Regiment, and previously spent a year with the Pioneer. Lanah is a political science major at the University of Wisconsin (she's a Milwaukee native), and will age out in 2005. Past columns by Lanah Kopplin: Are you ready? Get out there and vote Reflections from Whitewater Methodical hard work and passion Here's to the behind-the-scenes people Drum corps friendships A new column by the Phantom Regiment's Lanah Kopplin