SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Fresh off of memorable performances at the DCI Southwestern Championship presented by Fred J. Miller, Inc., staff members from across the drum corps community converged on the Alamo Convocation Center, Sunday, July 22, for the fourth-annual DCI Mid-season Instructors Summit.
Those in attendance heard from judge administrator John Phillips, as well as guest speaker Wayne Harris, before breaking into groups for discussion.
“We feel that this is an important opportunity for the instructors to get together where they might normally not have a chance to, other than in the parking lot after a show,” Phillips said. “It’s great just to collaborate on some things and have a discussion about how not only their group is doing, but just as an activity.“
Harris, who has worked with numerous drum corps and marching arts groups over many years, is currently a performance coach and director of the Marsh Youth Theater in San Francisco. At Sunday’s summit, he addressed those in attendance with engaging anecdotes and enlightening information on how to maximize design quality and entertainment value.
Using the example of a narrative from his own childhood, Harris touched on the important characteristics of good storytelling, both inside and outside of the context of the drum corps activity.
More specific to what’s happening on the field, Harris emphasized the importance of performers understanding their roles in the broader picture of a production.
“Do the students have a clear understanding of their intent? Are they performing beyond the dot book?” He said. “As many of you know, that’s the bible in drum corps. And at some point in time, particularly, this point in time in the season, it’s important for the students to really start to embody the work, and to be expressive and get beyond the dot book.”
Having experienced each of Saturday’s performances, Harris saw the kind of storytelling on display in today’s drum corps. Admittedly, he’s impressed.
“Drum corps in every aspect is better than it’s ever been before,” he said. “I’m just amazed at the performers and the sophistication of design, both literal and non-literal, we’ve seen abstract design, storytelling at its highest. We have come a long way in a short period of time.”
But there’s always room for continued improvement — that’s where the summit comes into play.
Through caption-specific discussions, instructors had the chance not only to discuss the forward direction of the activity, but also the current nature of how the activity is adjudicated.
“By having the instructors here, having our judge administration team and the rules and systems task force here, [we can] share openly about what goes on in the judging process,” Phillips said. “I believe that’s really important, for everybody to be on the same page.”
In Phillips’ eyes, though, meetings like the one held in San Antonio aren’t only about improving the current quality of drum corps.
Looking into the future, such events provide what he calls a “succession plan,” where young staff members and designers can sit down with and learn from some of the “icons” of the drum corps community.
“At some point, they’re going to be giving it up, they’re going to retire, so who fills their shoes?” Phillips said, referring to DCI’s most established instructors. “I think this is one of those moments where it might be an inspiring opportunity for a young instructor to see how their peers are working and doing things together and have a chance to talk with them face to face where they might not otherwise be able to do that.”