Drum Corps International
Finding fellowship in the Far East

Finding fellowship in the Far East

by Drum Corps International


Russel Zavalla, Lia Huang Morris and Eric Smith have spent the last year teaching marching music in China and Taiwan.
Republished from Drum Corps International Magazine, Winter, 2014. Drum corps and marching band have been a growing passion in Asia over many years—recently thanks in part to the overseas outreach of Drum Corps International groups and individual instructors. The latest example is the DCI China Fellowship, a partnership with Shanghai-based music education firm Motif Music that has given three instructors from DCI groups— Eric Smith (percussion), Lia Huang Morris (color guard) and Russel Zavalla (visual)—a chance to spend a year touring China and Taiwan to teach the marching arts. "Our work is centered on the development of a detailed marching band curriculum for both students and teachers," says Smith, who played snare drum with the Crossmen and Blue Stars before joining the staff of Jersey Surf. "We're teaching core techniques in marching, rudimental percussion, and color guard to Chinese and Taiwanese elementary, middle, and high schools students and their teachers." Since their arrival in August of 2013, all three instructors have been impressed with the enthusiasm they've encountered. "I teach 50 students across five elementary schools and they are so open to learning. I love when they run toward us at the start of every class so excited to learn," says Morris, who marched with the Glassmen, Blue Stars and Phantom Regiment. "It's so great being able to provide the kids a different form of education than the one they are accustomed to."

Zavalla and Smith work with an elementary school percussion ensemble in Taipei.
For Morris—who hails from Bloomington, Indiana—the Fellowship has also offered a chance to return to her roots. "I grew up in Taiwan and had spent 10 years going to school learning Chinese," she explains. "Half of my family lives in Taiwan. Taking this job has given me the opportunity to be closer to my second home." In contrast, the experience of living in unfamiliar territory was initially a bit of a challenge for Texas native Russel Zavalla, who serves as visual instructor. "During the first month or two there was definitely a lot of culture shock, but once I started hanging out with [colleagues] who were going through the same thing, everything started feeling better." Zavalla, who played baritone horn with Capital Regiment and the Cavaliers before serving as a staff member for Jersey Surf, soon acclimated as he witnessed the students' passion for marching and their enormous natural talent. "What surprised me the most was how incredibly quick they were able to pick up on things," he says. "I have a few seventh graders in China who would give the most experienced marchers in America a run for their money!"
Before it ends in June, the Fellowship tour hopes to complete its long-term goal of providing a model for Chinese instructors to build upon. "It's exciting to be able to influence how the marching arts are taught in Asia and establish a groundwork for future generations," says Morris. "The activity is still young and developing in Asia, so there's a need for good instructors who are not only able to teach students but also teach [teachers]." "The most exciting thing for me was knowing that these were fresh minds to mold," Zavalla adds. "The students basically knew nothing about the marching arts so we've had the opportunity to build their foundation. And to be able to give teachers and band directors the information and experiences they've been hungering for, and to see the gratitude on their faces, reminds me why I came to China—and more importantly, why I wanted to become a teacher."