By Marco Buscaglia All kidding aside, drum corps is for everyone My kids know that I'm a Cavalier. They know it because I've told them that it's how I met their Uncle Scott, their Uncle Brian and Uncle Mark. They know it because they occasionally come across photos of a younger, better-looking version of me wearing a polyester green uniform. They know it because they sometimes listen to "The Planets" in the car. They know it because they crack up over the occasional stories I tell them about when I marched. And they know it because I take them to drum corps shows. I am one of the offending adults who dare take his children to shows. And they love it. They love listening to the snares warm up, love watching the color guards perform and, for the most part, love watching the shows. Drum corps is an audio-visual experience that isn't lost on kids. It's like an episode of "Barney" or "Bear in the Big Blue House" on steroids. Colors, sounds, movement and hot dogs. Yes, hot dogs. Anyone who sits in the bleachers with kids knows one surefire way to keep them quiet is to continually feed them, whether it's in the form of crackers and juice boxes brought from home or hot dogs and popcorn bought at the concession stand. Still, many fans grumble about the 6-year-old sitting behind them who talks during shows and needs to move around between corps. And I can empathize with them. Parents have the responsibility to keep their kids quiet during performances. If they don't behave, well, take them out. You owe the other paying customers that courtesy. I pretty much resign myself to the fact that I may only get to see very little of a drum corps show if I have my kids with me. If all the stars align and they behave perfectly, I can catch every corps. But if the sugar kicks in from the previously eaten ice cream sandwiches earlier than I had hoped, well, then my wife or I spend a performance or two circling the souvenir stands with our little angels until the buzz subsides. Of course, any adult who sits near children shouldn't feel the need to huff and puff over every little question or comment from a youngster behind them. Most parents give their kids the "Ssshhh" sign during shows, but that won't always stop the "Why do they carry that big drum around?" questions. I'm sorry -- and I know I'm biased about this -- but big deal. An occasional outburst from a kid in the stands won't ruin your drum corps experience. After all, you are in a football stadium, where things like mosquitoes, airplanes, police sirens, chatting band kids and overexcited parents will always add to the ambience of a drum corps show. I can't even remember when I started attending shows as a kid. My father, who marched in the Cavaliers, brought us along to shows when we were very young. So I'm glad that at an early age, my kids recognize the activity, even if they still have trouble identifying who is who. For a while, every marching unit they saw on television or in person magically became the Cavaliers: The Lincoln-Way East Winter Drumline: "Look dad, the Cavaliers!" The USC Trojan Marching Band: "Look dad, the Cavaliers!" The Chicago Police Department's Bagpipes & Drums of the Emerald Society: "Look dad, the Cavaliers!" The Phantom Regiment: "Look dad, the Cavaliers!" That last one especially hurt. Still, they see the activity firsthand and are already interested. They often ask me during the winter if they can go watch the Cavaliers practice, since we sometimes watch the corps rehearse during the summer when they are in the area. I explain to them that it's not summer yet. "When you aren't in school," I say. "That's when we go see the Cavaliers." Most of the guys I marched with also introduced their children to drum corps early. Most of us bring our kids to the home show and often don't bother to buy a ticket to get in. Our kids are too busy playing tag outside the gate and are pretty content with watching the corps warm up while we catch up with each other on our lives. Maybe show promoters can learn to embrace this market. Art museums and orchestras are finally tuning into families, with special promotions and days for children. This concept would work wonderfully for drum corps. Maybe a family-friendly section in the corner of the front stands or even somewhere in the back stands would allow corps alumni to show up with their children and still sit and watch the show, but without the worry of stern looks from other spectators. I've always thought a "Family Day" before a show would be a great way to draw in local drum corps alumni and fans with kids – kind of like the current student workshops, but geared toward much younger fans. Charge a fee and spread some goodwill. Here are a few ideas:
Hand out T-shirts and stickers – the ones you have sitting on the $1 table.
Have the corps rehearse and do a run-through on the stadium field a couple of hours before the show begins. Explain the various instruments. Talk about how the show is written.
Have a few members talk about life on the road.
Teach the corps a song familiar to kids, like "It's a Small World" or "Rubber Ducky" and let the kids bang along on sticks as someone explains the basic concepts of rhythm, harmony and melody.
Let the kids intermingle with the members afterward during a hot dog and potato chip dinner.
Set up a crafts table so kids can make their own plastic-cup drums and cardboard flags.
Have kids take turns banging on a bass drum, spinning a flag or standing on the drum major's podium.
Seat the group together at the night show. By this point, the kids will be too tired to run around.
If you're going to go the trouble of setting this up, call the local newspapers and have them promote it. Tell them to send a photographer out. Local newspapers love this stuff.
Aside from being great for the community, it would be a great way for fans to connect with drum corps. Let's get to the band kids before they ever get to band.
And for those alumni who can't find someone to watch their kids while they attend a show, well, someone has just given them a great day out with the family. Could this result in an occasional donation? I would think so.
An added benefit for the members is that they get a little break from each other. It was always nice on tour when someone's sister showed up with her kids. A little break from realty -- a few laughs at the expense of a cute toddler -- was always appreciated.
I know spending money on a big-ticket show is another story. I'm still hesitant to spend the money for tickets to a regional on my kids. But those parents that do drop $75 for a seat for their child are probably pretty confident that they'll behave during the course of the evening.
To bring or not to bring is part of the age-old debate between people with kids and people without. Those with kids see nothing wrong with bringing their kids to places that aren't always "kid-friendly," such as a drum corps show, while those without "can't ever imagine dragging my kids to a corps show."
The truth lies somewhere in the middle. I've been on both sides of this debate. Believe me, the young adult who grimaces over the 2-year-old screaming in the aisles at the grocery store is one day the parent with the 2-year-old screaming in the aisles at the grocery store. If you have kids, it's practically unavoidable.
I can respect someone's wishes to not be bothered by children at a drum corps show. But if we don't turn our kids on to the activity at a young age, their heads may already be filled with too much stuff to ever learn to appreciate it.
Hey, maybe that's a good thing. Without any children at shows, the stands would be quiet. Of course, there's always the danger that the beating of our pacemakers could drown out the corps on the field.
Marco Buscaglia marched in the Cavaliers from 1984-1989 and the Cavalier Cadets from 1978-1983. He currently is an editor with Tribune Media Services in Chicago. Marco can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous Free Day columns:
Feeder corps put big ideas in small packages
A Mascot proposal
Corps thrive thanks to members cut from different cloth
Leaf it to Canada to break the monotony of tour
Aging out isn't worth the weight
The ABCs of drum corps fans
Show concept promises all-out KISS and tell