Drum Corps International
Etude -- The opportunity to perform

Etude -- The opportunity to perform

by Emily Tannert


Emily Tannert,
I attended a party on Saturday night, a victory party to celebrate the fifth consecutive win of the University of Tennessee's chapter of Phi Mu Alpha (along with Zeta Tau Alpha) in the campus-wide "All-Sing" competition. As I sat conversing quietly with a friend, a veteran of Scenic City 2002, he started thinking back over their winning performance that evening. "I had the most incredible feeling when we finished," he told me, glancing at the tipsy revelers all around us, "something that could never be duplicated by anything you could drink or shoot. It was like you get when you've just finished marching a show, the crowd's screaming, and you know you've just played your heart out. It's that vibe that comes from everyone giving it all they've got to put on the best possible show. "I, of course, knew immediately what he was talking about, as will most of you. When people ask me about my most incredible experiences in drum corps, what leaps to mind are the performances -- being the first corps to march at the new INVESCO Field at Mile High in Denver in 2002, the almost unbelievable synchronization of the lightning and our show at Philadelphia in 2001, both shows on my birthday, DCM finals in 2002, Phantom's home show in 2001, and of course, getting to conduct at Quarterfinals in 2002. What sets these shows in particular apart from the 30 or shows I marched each summer was the emotion involved, the dynamic from player to player and between performer and audience member. When it hits, the vibe is positively electric and it's such a privilege to be a part of. As a conductor you are in many ways the focus of that current of energy, and to have some hand in creating and shaping the dynamic coming off the field is a privilege beyond comparison. As a journalism major I have spent a lot of time the past few years studying the many ways people communicate with one another, and the more I study it the more firmly convinced I am that music is one of those methods of communication. This may seem an obvious observation to you or I, but to the masses of the world who rarely are exposed to music beyond the Top 40, music as a form of communication is a radical concept. And certainly that's understandable; if you remove the words from most pop songs (or even if you leave them in), it's hard to get much of a grasp on what the performer intends to communicate to us, the listener; the player or singer is remote, and the listener feels removed from any sense of immediacy. This is why people still pay hundreds of dollars to see their favorite artist live! As performers, our job is to make the music come alive, to give it significance and meaning to the listener or watcher. It's not an easy task, but when we accomplish it, we weave a spell of musical magic that enchants performer and audience member alike. Listen to almost any drum corps show, even a recording, and you can feel the passion of the performers in their playing, feel the energy within the music; even as tenuous and open to interpretation as it might be, this too is communication. I've also spent a lot of time the last couple years trying to figure out exactly why it is we march. Of course it's fun -- we wouldn't put ourselves through this if it wasn't fun, right? But what is that final reward that, at the end of the day, makes it all worthwhile? Why are we out there on the field, day in and day out, ripping our hands and mouths and bodies apart in pursuit of perfection? As with anything in life, there are many factors, but one of the biggest is the opportunity to perform. Almost everything we do is geared towards creating an awesome performance. And it's what helps to keep us going through days when the heat index is 114, or when the bus breaks down and has to be unloaded at 3 a.m. AGAIN, or when the visual tech is on your case for missing that step-off for the last six reps in a row, or when you want to slug your seatmate for eating your last Twizzler. It's the opportunity to showcase ourselves that is essential to the experience; and rather than the purely selfish desire to have fun and play a few tunes, we are striving to communicate our passion for marching, for music, for drum corps, to a group of people who (we hope!) are receptive to our efforts. Time magazine columnist Joel Steinem once wrote that "In the end, everyone, even the smartest people in the world, cannot help talking about themselves. It's not megalomania or vanity but a hard-wired human need to express yourself." For those of us who march corps, we "talk about" ourselves through our actions on the field. Our performances communicate our joy and love for what we do with those around us. And it's the opportunity to continue sharing that passion and energy, both with our corpsmates and with the audiences we reach, that keeps us coming back night after night, summer after summer, to take the field and weave our spell of musical magic one more time. Send Emily feedback and ideas at emily@imoses.com. Emily Tannert is currently living in Knoxville, Tenn., taking a year off from school before she returns to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., for a master's degree. She was the 2002 drum major for the Pioneer, and will play in the 2003 Glassmen pit. She will age out in 2003.