More than 250 corps staff members attended the third-annual Mid-Summer DCI Instructors Summit on Sunday, July 23, the day following the annual DCI Southwestern Championship at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Gathering at the Alamo Convocation Center on Sunday morning, attendees had the opportunity to listen to several speakers discuss the evolution of the marching activity and collaborate on how to sustain the upward trend of creativity in DCI for years to come.

According to DCI judge administrator John Phillips, who served as emcee of the event, this now annual gathering came about as a way to bring corps staff members together while they're out on the road in the heat of the competitive season.

“Not all of the corps are able to send all of their own instructors to be represented during DCI's annual winter business meetings and rules congress where we host similar collaborative sessions,” Phillips said. “So this event in the middle of the season gives us a good opportunity to bring all of those who would normally not get the chance to be a part of that annual meeting, to come together, hear some interesting ideas and different perspectives.”

Panelists at the meeting included DCI Executive Director and CEO Dan Acheson, DCI Artistic Director Michael Cesario and special guests Joan Noble-Pruett and Frank Dorritie. The four used their respective talking points to reflect on the performances they saw the night before at the Alamodome and highlight how far the drum corps activity has come.

DCI Executive Director Dan Acheson

Acheson opened the seminar by thanking the corps staff members in attendance. He added that the success of Drum Corps International couldn't happen without those who guide corps members and foster inclusive, meaningful experiences for thousands of talented individuals year-over-year.

DCI Hall of Famer Michael Cesario used his segment to make a rousing call to all the corps staffers and caption heads, reminding them to stay engaged and push through to the end of the season.

“We've got three weeks to go,” he said. “Look at where you've gone so far — How far can you take them? You are the leaders. You are the inventors. You are the creators.”

As someone who has helped construct some of the most colorful and daring shows in DCI history, he emphasized to the corps staff that they should refrain from constructing programs for their own personal glory and corps reputation, and instead create shows that mean something for everyone.

“I don't care what the shows are about,” he said. “What I've asked you for the past seven years is to create a show that's compelling — a show that grabs the audience and takes them with you on the journey you're on. It's not about being admired.”

Regarding leadership tips, he also challenged the staff to one request.

“We are the luckiest people in the world to be able to work with these kids,” he said. “Find the three most unmotivated kids — or the most untalented ones — and help them out.”

Joan Noble-Pruett and Frank Dorritie

DCI judge administrator John Phillips next introduced the two guest speakers, who with their respective pedigrees in the marching arts, gave professional feedback on this season's programs to the corps staff.

One of the special guests, Joan Noble-Pruett, is a seasoned veteran in the arts — specifically in dance and color guard. In the drum corps arena she has instructed a laundry list of drum corps the likes of the Guardsmen, 27th Lancers, Star of Indiana and Spirit of Atlanta. She currently works with the University of Michigan Marching Band and as an assistant coach of the Michigan Dance Team. 

Noble-Pruett said she has been completely impressed with all the shows she got to see the night before, and that the technical work in visual training has changed massively over the years.

“The one thing that is going so well is technical training,” she said. “Seeing the amount of technical training has grown by leaps and bounds. I think that has been the biggest achievement I've seen”

“There is a much greater connection with the audience,” said second special guest and DCI Hall of Famer Frank Dorritie, who highlighted more improvements brought about by the 2017 season. “You're developing a signature, unique sound. There are groups now that truly have their own identity.”

After a short intermission, all in attendance came back together as Pruett and Dorritie shared personal anecdotes and how they related to the evolution drum corps. Those stories segued into helpful advice for corps staff and instructors on how to continue guiding hundreds of talented corps members and how to keep the activity thriving for decades ahead.