I fell in love with drum corps last week. But wait, you say. I thought you already loved corps -- how is it you just fell in love this week?
Actually, I start every season hating drum corps. The first week or so of everydays, or "spring training" (the understatement of the year), is a bit like jumping into a glacier-fed pool of water after laying on a beach in Bermuda. First, of course, there's the initial camp-like atmosphere of Memorial Day weekend and the euphoria of packing, moving in, and seeing all your corpsmates again. But when the drum major wakes you up to the cold sunlight of Monday morning, you reach the grim realization that you are about to take on one of the most difficult tasks you've faced in your 17 or so years on this planet: Learning and perfecting a drum corps show. It doesn't matter how in shape you are, every morning when the drum major flips on the lights, your muscles protest -- sharply -- the previous day's exertions followed by a night on a cold, hard, unforgiving wood floor. Blisters form in the most unexpected of places (along with the expected ones -- let no bit of skin go unchafed!), and every night when you look in the mirror, you are reminded of a lobster. Or perhaps of a nice rare steak. Which sets your stomach to growling, since you know it'll be a long three months until you get to savor a juicy ribeye or New York strip. To counter the endless indignities your body is subjected to daily, you slather, spray and swallow every imaginable remedy: Aloe vera. Bengay. Ibuprofen. Vitamin C. Pepto-Bismol. Neosporin. Gold Bond lotion. Solarcaine. Hydrocortisone cream. Heck, you'll even try Aunt Edna's baking soda compress, if it holds some whisper of a hope of relieving your pain. What's amazing, though, is how quickly the body and mind adapt to the unending soreness and fatigue. The hair clog in the showers which on Saturday caused your skin to crawl doesn't faze you by Thursday. You start to enjoy the morning run because it's the one time all day you don't have to carry a horn, and when the techs yell at you, rather than doubting your own worthiness to hold drumsticks, you just nod and smile. The sectional shorts have traded that shiny-new sheen for a layer of grime that melds itself to the material, becoming an integral part of the shorts themselves. Suddenly wearing a shirt two days in a row -- an idea which a week ago would have turned your nose -- seems like a much better idea than expanding the extra effort to reach for a clean one. But wait, you say. You started all this by saying you fell in love with corps. What in all this is there to love? Believe it or not, there is something in all the pain and sunburn to love: You get to know your show. You get to know it well enough, by dint of sheer repetition, that it's no longer an exercise in counting and furious brain cell activity, and you start to be able to enjoy playing and marching. And maybe, just maybe, if you really know your stuff, you'll even get to -- gasp! -- perform a bit! And that's when it really gets fun, because as I've said before, the chance to perform is why we're really here. One of the pit members, a first-timer, asked us at lunch one day whether there was something to look forward to or whether the whole summer would be just like everydays. We assured him that yes, everydays are nothing like real drum corps; the real fun begins when you actually leave on tour. Getting through everydays is the price you have to pay to get to do the fun part: Marching shows! So the problem is not so much loving the activity of drum corps, but rather loving the process of DOING drum corps -- which can be two entirely different things. I remember the precise moment this year that it happened for me. It was about an hour after dinner break, and the pit was doing ensemble rehearsal with the battery on the drum solo. I glanced up between reps and caught the tag end of a sunset, the fringes of rose-colored clouds fading into twilight blue over the Ohio farmland. A bit of a breeze rustled my pit shorts against the sunburn on the backs of my knees and as I got set for another rep, my mallets digging into the blisters all over my hands, I grinned because I realized -- as I do every year -- that there was no other place I'd rather be. Send Emily feedback and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.