Shaun McLeod and Lauren Danis love the drum corps activity about as much as any two individuals possibly can.

Their combined 13 seasons of experience – McLeod a tenor drummer for seven and Danis a six-year color guard member – have been spent developing skills and a fiery passion for marching music as members of the FREE Players Drum Corps, a differently-abled performance ensemble based in Old Bethpage, New York.

On June 10, McLeod and Danis had the opportunity to put their experience to the test as honorary members of Camden County, New Jersey's Jersey Surf, marking another important step in the FREE Players' road to the 2018 DCI World Championships.

“It was absolutely phenomenal,” said Brian Calhoun, the founder and director of FREE Players. “I see it as a win for FREE Players Drum Corps, a win for DCI and a win for Jersey Surf.”

Along with Calhoun and FREE Players color guard caption head Ciara Bradley, McLeod and Danis made the trip to New Jersey for Surf's first day of spring training, and took part in the whole nine yards—warm-ups, stretches, and even learning drill formations and music.

Lauren D from our Color Guard and Shaun M from our Drumline, LIVE from a NJ rest stop. They are getting ready for a full day of rehearsal as honorary members of Jersey Surf!! Jersey Surf World Class Drum Corps Drum Corps International #LaurenLovesGuard #ShaunDABDrumline #ShareTheLove #SurfsUp #DCI

Posted by FREEPlayers Drum Corps on Saturday, June 10, 2017


As far as McLeod was concerned, Calhoun knew he'd be able to handle the physical and mental challenges that a rehearsal with a DCI drum corps would bring.

McLeod—who was nicknamed “#ShaunDABDrumline” for the weekend due to his history of flashing the popular dance gesture wherever and whenever he can—is also the percussion section leader for the FREE Players.

“Shaun is always the dabbing guy,” Calhoun said. “Everywhere he goes, we performed at the WGI Percussion World Championships and he had a tenor feature and a solo and he did a dab right there in front of 14,000 people. He's dabbed on the news, and one news station did a whole feature on Shaun dabbing.”

McLeod was able to feature not only his patented dab, but also his abilities as a drummer, during double beat exercises with Jersey Surf's battery percussion section.

#ShaunDABDrumline having some fun drumming with Jersey Surf World Class Drum Corps #ShareTheLove #DCI2017 Drum Corps International DrumLine Battle Mapex & Majestic Marching Percussion #Inclusion

Posted by FREEPlayers Drum Corps on Saturday, June 10, 2017

“Ironically, Jersey Surf was having some equipment malfunctions with their tenors,” Calhoun said. “Shaun ended up being the lone tenor in the Jersey Surf drum line. It actually worked out pretty well. They had their snares, their bass drums, their cymbals, and then Shaun was the lone tenor.”

One of the more moving experiences for Calhoun came as a part of McLeod's time away from the practice field, when members of the Surf drum line invited him to join them for lunch.

“There was one snare player, his name was Matt,” Calhoun said. “Matt was the first one to come over to Shaun and say, ‘Sit with us, you're with us today,' and they just treated him as if he had been with them for the whole season and about to go on tour. It was really heartwarming to see that type of inclusion.”

Overall, McLeod's day not only enlightened him to the intricacies of a typical drum corps rehearsal, but it also challenged him in a way that brought out the best of his rapidly growing abilities.

“I'm honestly astonished,” Calhoun said. “I knew Shaun had grown tremendously, but I think being around a World Class group forced him to up his game, and it forced him to be the best he could possibly be.”

#ShaunDABDrumline learning drill and developing his skills for Drum Corps International with Jersey Surf World Class Drum Corps #DCI2017 #ShareTheLove #DrumCorps #HardWork

Posted by FREEPlayers Drum Corps on Saturday, June 10, 2017


In terms of the day Lauren Danis experienced as a member of Jersey Surf's color guard, her attitude and energy completely embodied her personal hashtag, “#LaurenLovesGuard.”

According to Bradley, who has been Danis' color guard instructor since she joined the FREE Players organization in 2011, Danis was right in the thick of rehearsal from the get-go, absorbing drill sets, dance moves and flag work like any other member of the Jersey Surf guard.

“They had one of their members come out and teach Lauren one of the opening features,” Bradley said. “She also taught her flag work for their ending feature, and it was definitely more extensive than any of the work she's had before, and she picked it up."

First block of the day is learning drill, and Lauren is rocking it! She has already learned 10 sets and is ready to learn more 👌 Drum Corps International Jersey Surf World Class Drum Corps #colorguard #youbettawork

Posted by FREEPlayers Drum Corps on Saturday, June 10, 2017

Even at 11 p.m., after a 12-hour day of practice, Danis quickly went from exhaustion to sheer excitement, when given one last opportunity to run through a chunk of performance with Surf's guard members.

“Lauren was almost asleep in the FREE Players van after a very long day,” Calhoun said. “In the same parking lot, the color guard was still rehearsing. They had a flag on the ground and Lauren asked if she could pick it up. And there she was again, going through the whole routine. I'm like, ‘you were just tired,' and she says, ‘I love it so much, I just can't stop!'”

"Lauren I think was ready to go on the whole tour,” he added with a laugh.


Posted by FREEPlayers Drum Corps on Sunday, June 11, 2017


When all was finally said and done, though, and the group had made its way out of Jersey Surf's housing site—at close to midnight, by that point—there was certainly an endless amount of takeaways, not only for McLeod and Danis, but for their directors as well.

And for Calhoun, who grew up with a brother who was affected by autism and has worked with people overcoming disabilities for most of his life, none of those takeaways meant more than being able to see the inclusivity and acceptance of Jersey Surf's “Share the Love” mantra in practice.

“These are the most musically passionate individuals I've ever been able to teach, and they really want to go out there and earn everybody's respect,” Calhoun said. “It's so rewarding to see the hard work pay off and to just be completely accepted and appreciated by the marching arts community.”

Learn more about the Free Players' trip to the 2018 DCI World Championships.

Keep up with all things FREE Players via the corps' Facebook page.