I don't, strictly speaking, remember the first drum corps show I ever played. Frankly, I'm surprised that after three years of at least thirty shows per summer I can differentiate any but the most important shows at this point, so it's really no surprise to me that that first show ever has slipped away into the murky mists of memory. But I do remember the first show I marched during my last season; I think there is something special about your ageout year that causes you to take note of every event, so I do very clearly remember my last first show.
You want to imagine a season's first show as a glorious melding of training and adrenaline that results in a superb performance, a heralding of the imminently successful season to come. In reality, it's nerve-wracking. You haven't screwed up enough times in rehearsal to know how to react to every possible adverse circumstance; the show still feels uncomfortable in places, like a new pair of shoes that isn't quite broken in. I've never forgotten what my first corps director told me before our first show in 2001: "You have to just hope that you can play the whole thing from start to finish, without the drum major having to start over." And in reality, that's the truth. If you can begin at 'A' and end at 'B' together – and, in your mind at least, there's an even chance that you won't – then you've had a successful first show. By the time I started my ageout year I had previously marched somewhere between 65 and 70 drum corps shows; never mind the marching band and indoor drum line performances. You'd think I'd know by then how to slip into that special performance mode that allows you to think of nothing but the show for 10 minutes solid. But the nerves and uncertainty that go along to the first show – in uniform, in front of people who have paid to watch you play – produce this special kind of otherworldly attentiveness that I can only describe as being similar to an out-of-body experience: You are conscious of every note struck, every foot placed, every smile, every time you look up, each crowd reaction. Most of the time, I get to the end of a performance and only remember the uncomfortable spots: bad notes, ensemble tears, dirty moments. The rest slips by in the contented oblivion of execution and adrenaline. During a first show, however, you are aware of everything that happens for the duration of the performance. Afterward you are relieved, jubilant even, because it's done and you don't have to do it again this season. A good performance produces a certain euphoria, the product of the special relationship between a dedicated player and a receptive audience that is a bit like riding in a convertible on a perfect summer afternoon, or skiing through thick, fresh powder. Finishing a first show, though, produces a feeling that is a lot like running three miles in the muggy Southern midday: You're glad you did it, but you're mostly glad it's done! There is one thing that is very, very special about a first show, though. It's a moment many rookies and hopefuls cite as the fulfillment of a drum corps dream: the first time you hear the announcer say, "On the field, from (hometown of corps), the (drum corps name)!" I remember clearly the first time I heard an announcer introduce the Glassmen – it was a moment for which I'd been waiting months. It never got old hearing it as the summer went on, but the first time I heard it was like a giant payoff. Somehow the discomfort and fatigue all becomes insignificant in the moment the show starts. And when it's your first show ever, the most beautiful thing of all occurs: once it's over, you are no longer a drum corps rookie. You've survived not only camps, cuts and everyday rehearsals, but also a real show experience. You've earned your uniform and the respect that goes with it, and now you can truthfully say that you've marched in a drum corps. Pretty soon the corps routine seems like an old hat, and you shrug off its insanities in conversations with your friends back home as if ten minutes of marching and playing madness is, well, child's play. Maybe that's the true magic of a first show: the 10-minute transformation from terrified rookie to assured veteran. Congrats to all of this year's rookies for surviving their own first shows. It only gets better from here! Emily Tannert is a music education/percussion performance major at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La., and holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University. Emily graduated from the Glassmen in 2003 and was assistant tour manager for the corps in 2004 and 2005. You can contact Emily at firstname.lastname@example.org.