One of my most vivid memories from my rookie year is the day we left on tour. We were sitting in the parking lot at Pioneerland, trying to get the buses loaded and seats all sorted out; it was raining out, and the floor of the bus had muddy shoe tracks all over it. I was smushed into a seat on a converted white school bus, lovingly nicknamed "plan B" (because when another bus broke down -- as one had that day -- this bus was Plan B), with all my stuff in my lap because there was mud on the floor and no bays under the bus.
I was sunburned, homesick, and in shock from our inauspicious start to tour. I remember fighting back tears and wondering what the heck I was doing there; this wasn't anything like my impression of what being in a drum corps would be like. When you're just thinking about marching drum corps, chances are you haven't seen much but the finished product. You might have heard stories about tour life; you might have eagerly followed some of the DCI columnists while they were on tour; you might have even gone to a housing site and watched a corps rehearse, and marveled as members went through their daily routines. You might have imagined yourself in their positions, wondered what it's like to roll up your sleeping bag each day and try to sleep on the bus each night. You likely said, "Aw, it's not bad, besides, you get to DO DRUM CORPS!" The rosy-spectacled ideal of "doing drum corps" tends to overshadow the gritty reality of actually doing drum corps. After four weeks of everydays and five weeks of tour, when all your friends at home are telling you all about the cool summer movies you're missing and the glory of putting on the uniform has long since faded into boring regularity, you will still be doing drum corps. And the thing is, let's be honest, there are days when drum corps is about the last thing on the planet you really want to be doing. You will have days when you're the last person in the lunch line and you have to eat peanut butter and jelly because the cook truck moms miscalculated and ran short of the main course, and you'd kill for a nice juicy hamburger and fries. You will have days when it's cold and raining out and the showers are cold and the bus is freezing and you're sick, and you really just want to crawl into a nice warm bed and have your significant other -- whom you haven't seen since May and who gives you a hard time about being away -- feed you chicken soup. You will have days when the humidity is so bad you feel like you're drinking instead of breathing and your shirt is soaked within half a second of stepping outside, and the visual guys decide that that day is the perfect day to do a two-hour basics block, and you would love to still be hanging out in your pjs on your couch, watching TV. The truth is, there are days that the reality of doing drum corps downright sucks – just like there are days when that's true of even your most favorite activity. But before I scare all you potential recruits off, the truth is also that you take those days in stride and you know that tomorrow -- or the day after that, or surely at least the day after that! -- will be better. But of course, that's where I was that first day of tour in 2003: In the middle of one of those days that was awful, and not really sure that it was, in fact, going to get better -- which is why I'm telling you this story: so that all of you who get to camp in November, or everydays next May or tour next June and think "Wow, this sure wasn't what I expected, I don't know about this ..." can know that not only is that reaction normal, all the things that make you feel that way also get better. During my first year of corps, it was a running joke with the Pioneer drum staff that every time I left the corps -- at the end of camps, during everydays (I was still in school), or when I left tour for a family wedding -- was the last time they'd ever see me. But not only did I manage to talk myself into finishing out that first year of tour, I came back the next year and was a drum major, and finished out my third year to become an ageout. Then I went back and worked two more summers! Call me a glutton for punishment, but I'm still here, and I still see all those Pioneer drum guys at drum corps shows and percussion conventions. Jump to three years and three months after that awful, rainy day. I was fighting back tears of an entirely different sort as I stood on the field at Orlando with my fellow ageouts. Not only had I survived that first season, I'd made it back for two more summers, and I could look at each day -- and each inauspicious occasion -- with a great deal more perspective and a seasoned outlook borne of many bus breakdowns, bad rehearsal days, blistered sunburns, and the like. And just like any other ageout, I'd have given anything I had for one more difficult day. Once you've stepped away from an experience you truly love, all the times that were bad tend to fade, and all you remember are the things that were good. The bad times you remember, you laugh about. And the good times that were really good make you cry. Sometimes having done something is more special than actually doing it, even when doing it didn't seem that much fun in the first place. Emily Tannert is a sophomore music education/percussion performance major at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La., and holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University. Emily aged out of the Glassmen in 2003 and was assistant tour manager for the corps in 2004 and 2005. You can contact Emily at email@example.com. Transitioning to the professional level The Basics on auditioning From storm-ravaged Louisiana, some hearty thanks So you want to march Emily Tannert's past columns