I haven't missed a single Winter Guard International (WGI) Championship since the organization was founded in 1978, and I'm not about to stop now as I'm heading to Dayton, Ohio for the big festival of winter guards this weekend. Going to the WGI World Championships is fun partially because everything happens so fast—just three days and it's over. One of my favorite things about the WGI Championships is that since winter guard is primarily a weekend competitive activity as a result of the constraints of school, one doesn't really know the dynamics of the competitiveness between units until everyone comes together under the roof of the University of Dayton Arena. Even though some of the units fly across the country to compete with distant units at WGI regional competitions, there's a mystery to how guards stack up that isn't partially clarified until the championship prelims. Lots of winter guard members also march in drum corps, which is why many drum corps guard programs don't start until the winter guard season is over. While one might think this puts drum corps guards at a disadvantage, the members come into corps at the height of their training, knowing all the basics and ready to soak up new routines like a dry sponge soaks up Mountain Dew. Now, as much as I love watching the WGI World Championships, if I had it to do all over again, I probably wouldn't be in the color guard. That's right. While carrying a xylophone and marimba around my neck in the Cavaliers of the mid-1970s did require physical stamina, (something no one would mistake me as having today), it didn't even come close to matching the level of fitness required by guard members today. Guard members probably lose more weight per member than anyone else in a corps. They're constantly running and jumping and kneeling and bowing and doing all sorts of moves for which Bob Fosse never had names. Harnessing the energy from an entire guard could power all the lights in Las Vegas—well at least for a little while. I remember on tour in 1975, just after lunch at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, the corps staff told the members that for the first time all season we would go jogging for a few minutes. We just laughed at them. Jogging? Yeah, right. It's worth remembering that back then, we didn't have to perform the high-speed drill movements we take for granted today. In fact, judging by some of our M&M (Marching and Maneuvering) and GE (General Effect) scores back then, we may not have done all that much marching, period. What does all this have to do with guards? I don't know, except to say that we didn't stretch back then, either, and neither did most guards. We just went out on the field and played and marched and then wondered why at night we would curl up in a fetal position because every muscle in our legs decided to take a leave of absence so they could collectively go search out a television tuned to Johnny Carson's monologue. In 1980, I observed Blue Devils' guard jogging around the school grounds in Whitewater, Wis. They weren't complaining. People seemed to be enjoying the fact that the guard was jogging, releasing energy and soaking up the sun in their tube top ensembles that were foreign to the reserved nature of the Midwest. And the guard members didn't seem to mind as well. Someone there must have gotten word that conditioning would help members get through rehearsals and performances, cut down on recovery time, injuries and complaints about soreness, and even make the marchers capable of doing more dynamic and challenging equipment moves, not to mention being better prepared to handle increasing dance movements. In 1977, the Cavaliers' guard pivoted around their rifles in "Porgy and Bess." We called that "dance." I truly am amazed what guard members do these days. I've been down on the field interviewing members after performances and can attest that today's shows leave members thoroughly spent, emotionally and physically. There is no way they could ever get through the productions if they weren't in top physical condition. I sweat just watching them perform, but then, I sweat standing in the snow cone line in Allentown for the DCI Eastern Classic. In the 1970s, we would hear an instructor tell a guard member, "Bert, put your legs together. I could roll a bowling ball between your feet." Today, you might hear an instructor telling a guard member, "Your feet are 'ouvert.' Let's have more 'patada' after the 'tour 'en l'air.'" And then the guard member thinks, "I gave up studying bambuca in Columbia for this?" So, no, I wouldn't be in the guard. I'd have to be fit enough to pull off a fast "guaracha" or a "grand jete en haut," while in reality I'm more attuned to faking my way through a slow minuet, followed by an hour of sleep.
Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than a quarter century and serves as a staff writer for various Drum Corps International print and Web projects. Boo has written for numerous other publications and has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating.
As an accomplished composer, Boo holds a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in music theory and composition. He resides in Chesterton, Ind.