So you've decided you want to march drum corps! Congratulations for embarking on a journey that will, in all likelihood, change your life. There are a few steps you have to take to get started on your way, though, and one of them is choosing your new drum corps home. Whether you're a drum corps newbie searching for a drum corps family, or a vet looking to move up in the ranks, most auditionees fall into one of two categories: #1, "Absolutely certain where I want to march," and #2, "I have no clue where I should march."

Emily Tannert
If you fall under category #1, "Absolutely certain where I want to march," you may already think you have a corps picked out. Maybe your best friend is a member, or perhaps your uncle marched there way back when. Maybe you like their winning ways, or their sense of family -- or maybe you just think last year's show is the coolest thing you ever saw. Maybe it's a matter of geographical or financial necessity. Maybe your first drum corps experience was a clinic given by a particular corps. Maybe your band director is a vet and will take your solo away if you audition anywhere else! There are a lot of good reasons to want to march with a particular drum corps. There are, of course, a few not-so-good reasons to end up at a drum corps. "Because I love the uniform" is one, and "I've always wanted one of those member jackets" is another. No joke – I've actually heard these said at introductory camp meetings! But whatever your particular reason, know what exactly it is. Then ask yourself: What am I looking for in a drum corps? See whether your reason for liking a particular corps and your answer to that question match up. If they don't -- and there's at least even odds that they won't -- you find yourself back with most of us in Category #2: "I don't have a clue where I should march." Category #2 is a fine place to be; it gives you an unbiased starting point for embarking on your search. In fact, I advise most people to skip Category #1 entirely, shed their biases, and start looking around them with Category #2 eyes. Why? Because all drum corps are not made alike, and what you may want out of your drum corps experience may not be what you see on Saturday night at DCI finals. Ask yourself: Is placement all I care about? Does the corps' administration matter? Is it OK if I don't march with a 135-member Division I corps? Do I care what kind of show music I play? How well does this corps tour? Do I like the staff? Do I care what kind of people I march with? These are all things I wish I'd known to ask before I started out in drum corps. Be advised: Your quality of life while on the road becomes very important very quickly. Some corps have differing philosophies on free time, floor time, meal times, etc., which may not include as much of each as you were expecting. And if a corps doesn't have the infrastructure to tour effectively, it can start affecting your performance on the field in a negative way much faster than you might think. On the other hand, some corps that tour very effectively and place highly every year don't have much of a "family" atmosphere; it all depends on what's important to you. While all corps directors want you to have the best possible experience, each goes about getting you there a different way. It's wise to try to talk to some recent vets to get a feel for the corps as an entity (and no, uncle Ernie doesn't qualify). Try to find out what sort of veteran return rate the corps has. If it's abnormally low (taking into account the number of age-outs), that might be a warning sign; if it's very high, that's a great sign. Try to get a range of opinions from more than one section of the corps, not just the drum major and your best friend. Show design and staff personnel are also important factors; if you hate your show, you won't give your all doing it, and if you don't connect with the staff, you won't grow much over the summer. The drum corps years go by too quickly to get hung up on "But my cousin was the star soloist here!" If you don't like it, you don't like it, and that's OK. Drum corps come in all different shapes, sizes, and forms because different people need and want different things. It can be disappointing when you find out that the corps you'd had your heart set on doesn't mesh with your personality, but take heart: There's another drum corps home out there for you somewhere! Don't be afraid to try out another place; most corps don't finalize their membership until December, January, or even February, and if you're truly talented, chances are a corps is going to want to keep you around. And keep in mind that you can always join a lower-ranking Division I as well as Division II and III corps. As I've always said, it's not where you march, it's that you march, and if you don't make it into your first-choice corps (or you don't like your first-choice corps), you will still learn a heck of a lot more out on the field with a smaller group than you would sitting at home watching DCI quarterfinals in the movie theater. So, lessons of the week: 1. Know what you want.
2. Talk to people who can tell you where you can find it.
3. If at first you don't succeed, keep on trying! And if all this seems a bit daunting, remember that it took me three years and four corps to find my place -- and while it can be a long road, it's one that's entirely worthwhile.
Emily Tannert is a sophomore music education/percussion performance major at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La., and holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University. Emily aged out of the Glassmen in 2003 and was assistant tour manager for the corps in 2004 and 2005. You can contact Emily at