Drum Corps International
When to join a corps: The college-age marcher conundrum

When to join a corps: The college-age marcher conundrum

by Emily Tannert

I've noticed a recent and interesting phenomenon amongst rookie college-age marchers, namely that some drum corps hopefuls are choosing to postpone their drum corps careers until after their freshman year of college. The reason, they say, is concern that marching corps will interfere with them making a successful transition from high school to college.    I find this point of view interesting precisely because, at least in my opinion, drum corps life is so similar to college life: you are responsible for managing your own time, money and daily activities. You show up at the chuck truck at appointed time (just like a cafeteria), you have to be at rehearsal at a particular time (just like class), and in between you choose how to distribute your time so that everything you need to do gets done. You have to do your own laundry, get along with your seat partner and section-mates, and even when on the field, you're responsible for applying the knowledge the staff is giving you – sort of like sitting in lecture and then taking a test. You get to live away from home and without parental supervision. You're responsible for keeping up with your own belongings, and no one's there to rescue you if you run out of white socks.

Emily Tannert
I think that the summer on tour, away from home, with a heightened degree of personal responsibility and performance demand, is actually a great precursor for the demands of college life – in which standards of personal responsibility, both academically and in terms of daily life, go up significantly. To me, the idea of sitting at home, essentially still living in your parents' house, hanging out with your high school friends – essentially remaining in a high school frame of life – would hardly seem to aid the transition into college. Young drum corps hopefuls who have developed their skills mainly through participation in a competitive high school marching band program also need to be aware of how large and well-instructed their college band will be. Some smaller colleges may not have marching bands at all. So these students may have a more difficult time maintaining their skills than they did in high school, making it more difficult to achieve their ultimate drum corps goals. Also, I think drum corps starts to seem more and more difficult to do once you start college. Professors may pressure you to do internships or research studies; finances may dictate that you work; you may change your major and need to take an extra class. By starting the marching process before entering college, you'll likely be more committed to making sure you're able to continue to march once you're in college. Alternatively, you may feel that you've had your shot at marching and you're ready to pursue other opportunities. Either way, at least you've done it! I always advocate not putting off corps membership, because that age limit is absolute and inviolable, whereas school is always available to you. I've heard so many people, myself included, bemoan the fact that they didn't start marching sooner – or didn't march at all. It's always easy to make an excuse as to why now is not the perfect time for corps membership, but the truth is, there may never be a truly perfect time to join a drum corps. You just have to decide that it's worth it to you to go ahead and do it, even if it isn't the most convenient thing in the world. By the same token, if what you really want is to stay home with your family and friends one last time before you really move away from home, then by all means, do it. Just be aware of your goals and also know that plans change. Be sure that giving up this opportunity at marching in a corps is worth what you're gaining.

Personally, I think college is a brave new world regardless of whether you march in a corps or not. A summer on tour helps you be grounded in a social group and a set of work values and life skills that will serve you well regardless of your scholastic surroundings. So for anyone out there who is currently contemplating this question: I say, no time like the present – go for it!


Emily Tannert is a music education/percussion performance major at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, 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 emily@imoses.com. View archived Emily Tannert columns.