Drum Corps International
Ten years from now: Reactions from fans

Ten years from now: Reactions from fans

by Michael Boo

In the June 3, 2005 installment of Fanfare, Rob Brown of the 1981-1985 Blue Devils presented an eloquent case for why potential marchers should join a corps. The column elicited a number of reactions, all in agreement. Three of those reactions are offered below. Don Adkins is one who wanted to march, but didn't. I just read your Fanfare article on "Ten years from now." I thought you might like to hear from someone who has regrets about not marching. I graduated from Midfield High School in Midfield, Ala., in 1982. I saw my first drum corps show on PBS in 1976. I remembering watching the show and thinking how much I wanted to do that someday. I played snare drum in school and practiced constantly. After getting out of high school in the afternoon, I spent many times going to a park with my marching snare just to practice. I loved playing and still do. I decided during my senior year that I would try out for Spirit of Atlanta because they were having auditions at a school close by. I made the drum line during those tryouts but did not yet know exactly what position I would play. After receiving all the information on the cost involved, I thought there was no way I could afford it, especially since my parents did not think this was something I needed to spend money on. My dream was crushed. Later that year, a corps out of Montgomery, Southwind, was also having auditions. At that time Southwind was a smaller corps and was doing well in their class. The cost to march was not much. I thought maybe I could afford this one. I tried out and made this corps too, but Southwind went inactive that year in Montgomery. I gave up after that. My dream was not to be. I still see every drum corps show I can, though my job does not allow me time off at the right times to go to most shows. I watch on championships on TV and have some DVDs. I have taped several world championship finals from the TV and I go back and watch them often. There is a DCA corps, CorpVets, just down the road from me and I hope that someday my job will afford the weekend time off they would require. I need to try to realize my dream again. I would urge all that have the opportunity to march drum corps to take it. Don't get to be into your 40s and look back at what you wish you had done. Randy Hutchinson has advice for those who wish to audition for the corps of their dreams. I have been associated with Phantom Regiment for the last 20 years. Here are some things I tell kids who inquire about tryouts. When auditioning, don't cut yourself. Corps pay their instructional staff to be cold and heartless at audition camp. Don't make their job easy. Attitude is everything. If you get cut, don't leave with a bad attitude. Be sure to thank the instructors and the directors for the opportunity you had and take everything they say to heart. You have another year to work on it. Honestly, they would love to have you as part of the organization, but they just feel you need more work. In my 20 years I can count on my hands the number of kids who didn't have a prayer of making the corps at some time. Also, if you have your heart set on a specific corps, ask what other corps they would recommend. Instructional staffs know who has the same teaching techniques and will prep you for the future. Usually word gets out fast on the needs of others. I do agree with not saying, "I'm only here because I want to march Corps X." That will get you in trouble faster than anything. Then if they make it I tell them: DON'T BE STUPID. Just because you are in a corps DOES NOT give you the right to break the law. Laws are laws everywhere. DON'T GIVE THEM THE RIGHT TO SHIP YOU HOME C.O.D while on tour. IF THEY TELL YOU TO BE SOMEWHERE AT A CERTAIN TIME, THEN BE THERE. If it's a restroom stop on the road and you slept through most of it, ask how much time is left in the stop. Don't think that someone will say "so and so isn't here" if you don't make it back in time. NEVER assume anything. A rest area in the middle of Wyoming is a desolate place to be left alone. This goes for staff, too. I have no fonder memory than watching the late great John Brazale running down the ramp at a rest area chasing the RV because he failed to follow this rule. If you can't tell time then learn. Know what time zone you are in. That is important. If you aren't sure, ask the drivers -- they know all that kind of stuff. Speaking of the support staff: Get to know them. Thank the cooks every meal, every day for the food, and let them know you appreciate them. If you arrive at your destination in one piece, then thank the drivers. If not, then thank them anyway. Remember, these people will be willing to help you with anything. Being on support staff for the last 15 years, I've seen it all. Andrea Birbilis is glad she took the plunge. She currently works with Racine Scouts. Please continue to extend to your readers the importance of taking that big blind leap of faith. I honestly don't know where I would be today if not for drum corps. I originally joined the corps from my hometown, the Auburn Purple Lancers, for two reasons. 1) My next-door neighbors were in it, and 2) My mother was pretty sick of listening to me whine that I had nothing to do. Initially, I knew nothing about drum corps. I was a clarinet player in my junior high school band. Most of the other corps members were significantly older than I was, and they scared the daylights out of me. I wasn't used to getting yelled at, and I had to hurry up and learn and the instrument that was totally foreign to me. The rehearsals were long and very hard. Looking back, I wonder why I didn't quit. Every day I (and the other members) heard lectures on getting our heads where they should be end and finishing what we started. I heard language that would make a sea captain blush. Most importantly, I saw people work incredibly hard to perfect little things. Those years taught me the importance of two little words: Don't quit. So, I stuck it out. I was still uncoordinated and undisciplined and I got yelled at often. But, I learned the importance of starting what I finished. I learned respect for myself and for those around me. I learned about team work and the importance of being on time. When the Auburn corps folded in the spring of 1975, I realized that I really and truly missed the camaraderie and even missed practices. A small group of us from Auburn and nearby Seneca Falls went down to Watkins Glen and became members of the Squires. I was now a sophomore in high school, pretty much living on my own for the summer, about 70 miles from home. It was wonderful. It seemed as though I was a different person when I was with the drum corps. Most of my school friends got jobs for the summer, but I marched. My mom would often say to me, "It's time for you to stop this nonsense and get a JOB." This usually ended up in a big argument, but off I'd go, once again, to the "people who understood me." I can't explain it, but I willingly gave up going to parties with friends, the junior prom, and family vacations for drum corps. I even took my SAT exam at some school in Connecticut because the corps had a show there that evening. What I am trying to say is this: I learned so much in those years and most of it had very little to do with music. I learned to do what I was told, the FIRST time, not when I felt like it. I learned to be on time, and most importantly I learned the importance of a work ethic. I also learned how to deal with people I didn't like and who didn't like me. I learned to budget money, wash my clothes, assume responsibility for my own stuff, and eat what was on my plate. As college approached, the pressure was really on for Andrea to "grow up, stop this nonsense and get a job." I admit, it was tempting, and the whole routine of going back to school totally broke was starting to get old. But I felt as though there was still more for me to accomplish. So I did the most daring thing yet. I spent an entire winter traveling to corps camps in Illinois from my college in upstate New York. You haven't truly lived until you have spent your 21st birthday in a Ford Pinto. My mother never knew (thank God for roommates who covered for me!) until one fateful Easter dinner when the subject of a summer job reared its ugly head once again. With family and friends stretched around the dinner table, I realized there was no chance of avoiding a scene, so I calmly said that I had a summer job all lined up, in Chicago. I can still see my mother's face very clearly as it changed into several unattractive shades of red. But I was a music education major and I was convinced that this would be good for my education, so amidst threats of, "Not a dime. Not one single dime," off I went. When I went to the Guardsmen, I immediately became a very small fish in a very large pond. Most of the people in the drum line could play circles around me. I couldn't sightread at all, and I became very frustrated. Quitting certainly entered my mind, but when you are more than 500 miles from home, you need to rethink these things several times. Going home would have meant admitting defeat on too many levels, so I stuck it out. This was the HARDEST thing I had ever done. The summer of 1980 was difficult in many respects. There were endless drill and music changes and eternal bus breakdowns. In addition, I was having a lot of problems with my right shoulder. (Those blasted mallet carriers!) It was hot. I was tired -- and broke. When I felt like I couldn't take it any more, a voice inside me very quietly told me to not give up. Somehow, I made it through the season and aged out. I returned to Syracuse University as usual, with about $40 in my checking account, and realized that the party was finally over. No more avoiding it, it was time to get a job and act like a grown-up. No more bus rides, sleeping on gym floors, parades, contests -- it was all over. It was a long winter and I dreaded thoughts of the coming summer, living at home and working in some dead-end job. Good things do come to those who wait, I guess, because by some strange twist of fate, I was able to convince a professor to let me write a research paper over the summer on alternative teaching styles. What better place to do this "research" than with a drum corps? I managed to hook up a staff position with the Guardsmen for another summer and my mother began to see the handwriting on the wall. She had lost the battle, the war, and all of the accompanying skirmishes. I went to Schaumburg, where I found a dead-end job by day and did drum corps by night. It was baptism by fire, and I loved it. Alternative teaching styles? My God, this was an encyclopedia of alternative teaching styles! No time to observe and contemplate. Nope, just get in there and do it. I learned a very valuable lesson that has served me to this day. We teach in the manner in which we ourselves were taught. I had no experience as a percussion instructor. In fact, I was now a college voice major, dabbling in marimba. Suddenly, I had the responsibility of six mallet players and drill charts. I sat down with the percussion caption head to discuss this paper I had to write, and asked him if I could have some time to observe his teaching. He looked at me as though I was nuts, and said, "You can do this all by yourself. Here are the charts. The mallet players are over by the truck waiting for you. Dinner is at 4:30 and we will spend the evening learning drill. Have fun." After the first week, I was ready to scream "Uncle!" and head for the airport. That pesky little voice in my head kept saying, "Don't quit." I began to realize all of the sacrifices that instructors made for me, and the members who paid money to learn something. Okay, maybe I can just get through this week, and next week, and the month of July. I began to think like a teacher. I began to recognize strengths and weaknesses. I even managed to fix some problems. I learned how to tune drums, fix equipment, line fields, plan rehearsals. I learned that things get done when busy people take responsibility. I learned that every kid CAN learn if only someone will take the time to inspire them to keep at it. I learned that we all don't learn the same things the same ways. The most valuable lesson I learned from the Guardsmen years was the ability to think on my feet; and the importance of always having alternate plans B, C, D, E and sometimes even plan F. So, 30-plus years after my first encounter with a drum corps, I am still at it. I continue to do things I never thought I could do. Was it worth it? Yes it was -- a MILLION times over. These days I stand in front of students every single day who want recognition but who don't want to take the responsibility, or they don't want to do the work associated with becoming a better musician and a better student. Drum corps teaches young people how to function in today's busy world. It develops the entire person and gives them a sense of accomplishment and self-assuredness. You can't put a price tag on that. Leaping into the abyss can be frightening. There will always be people who can play circles around you, or spin flags and rifles better than you. The important thing is to believe in your abilities. If you don't get into the corps of your dreams, think about alternate plan B, C, D and E. There are junior corps all across the country dying to have YOU in their organization. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Yeah, having money in your pocket is a beautiful thing, but this is a once in a LIFETIME opportunity and once you turn 22, this door is closed forever. Want to be a good teacher? Get in there and get your hands dirty. Yes, you heard me, get your nose out of "standards and methods of teaching" and see first-hand how those who can teach. Those who can't perhaps never had someone who truly believed in their abilities. The drum corps of the 21st century is like a garden -- it grows all types of people. I like to think that it's THE most challenging and rewarding thing I will ever do. It renews my faith in the importance of education and the value of music. Those who contemplate joining corps need to get up off the sofa and DO IT. My 30-plus years haven't always been easy, but I wouldn't trade a single experience for anything. Do NOT put this off until next year, because next year may not come. There are still corps, especially in Divisions II and III, who would gladly welcome new members. Thanks for reminding me: Don't quit. Ever. Fanfare archives Michael Boo has been involved with drum and bugle corps since 1975, when he marched his first of three seasons with the Cavaliers.

He has a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in music theory and composition.
   
He has written about the drum corps activity for over a quarter century for publications such as Drum Corps World, and presently is involved in a variety of projects for Drum Corps International, including souvenir program books, CD liner notes, DCI Update and Web articles, and other endeavors. Michael currently writes music for a variety of idioms, is a church handbell and vocal choir director, an assistant director of a community band, and a licensed Realtor in the state of Indiana. His other writing projects are for numerous publications, and he has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating. His hobbies include TaeKwonDo and hiking the Indiana Dunes. But more than anything, Michael is proud to love drum corps and to be a part of the activity in some small way, chronicling various facets of each season for the enjoyment of others.

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