One of the reasons I write this column is the hope that others will benefit from the mistakes I've made, and specifically, the lessons that are the results of those mistakes. Well, this weekend I made a fairly massive mistake, and it is one I hope you all will learn from: A couple days ago, I went tubing with some friends. And yes, you guessed it, I didn't use sunscreen – a decision I now literally sorely regret, since the experience has left me a bright, painful pink from head to toe. I know you're all picturing those golden-brown folks you've seen on DCI World Championships DVDs, and of course part of the allure of drum corps is the prospect of returning at the end of the summer with a killer tan. And believe me, as a former member of a drum corps, I'm as much into that as anyone else! But there's a proper way to manage your sun exposure, and with the spring camps bringing outside drill-learning sessions, it's time to remind ourselves exactly what that entails.

Emily Tannert
Step one is to go to your local drugstore and purchase some sunscreen. Don't get that SPF 8 stuff; go for at least SPF 30, and get the old-fashioned kind that comes out in a creamy mess and that you have to apply by hand. Avoid the spray-on kind like the plague. I've seen plenty of folks get splotchy burns from spray-on sunscreen. You can go for the waterproof stuff, but honestly, I've never seen a "waterproof" sunscreen that held up to drum corps wear-and-tear better than anything else. The biggest factors are a high enough SPF, the size of the bottle – within reason, bigger is better – and that the cap closes tightly and securely with a low likelihood of accidental spillage. You probably don't need the chalky white stuff for your nose and cheeks unless you're extremely pale, in which case you need to be buying SPF 50 anyway! And as long as you're there, you might as well grab some aloe vera, just in case. Step two is to actually apply said sunscreen before you head outside to rehearse. Make sure you get it on early, before breakfast if at all possible. Remember, it takes at least 15 minutes for the sunscreen to absorb into the skin and start working, and you are just as likely to burn first thing in the morning as at midday. If you forget first thing in the morning, get to it as fast as possible. Don't forget to hit unusual areas like the back of your neck, ears and knees. I still have scars from blisters on my ears my rookie year, and even if you think you have a decent base tan on your forearms and thighs, go ahead and lather up anyway.

Blue Knights' snare line rehearses with the sun beating down in 2005.
For a multiple-block rehearsal day, you will need to reapply at every meal break. You will be surprised just how much of a tan you'll get even with the sunscreen. In reality, it only works for about three hours, so you're still getting plenty of sun exposure which will lead to that nice base tan and hence why you can use sunscreen all summer and still come home from finals with that Caribbean-cruise look. If you're horribly concerned about skin cancer (and you should be) and want to keep that Victorian pallor, your best bet is to buy a high SPF and clip one of those small bottles onto your dot book so you can reapply at will. Keep in mind that sunscreen is not just important to your post-tour health, it's key to your ability to stay in rehearsal during long days, which is after all, the most learning-intensive time of the season. Often, people forget this key factor and end up in the hospital with severe blistering. By the time they make it back out on the field, coated in charcoal and wearing long pants and sleeves to keep the sun off, they've missed three days of rehearsal and have to try to catch up while in severe pain from the charred skin. Disgusted yet? I hope so, because I don't want this to be you. One of those mistakes everyone makes is thinking, "oh, I'll be okay," and then by mid-afternoon, when they start feeling a little crispy, thinking, "maybe I should put on some sunscreen." At that point it's already too late. Prevent the problem ahead of time, or you'll be lobster red by snack time!
Emily Tannert is a music education/percussion performance major at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La., and holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University. Emily graduated from the Glassmen in 2003 and was assistant tour manager for the corps in 2004 and 2005. You can contact Emily at