I can still see the woman who taught me the most about the competitive side of the drum corps activity: She had brown shoulder length hair, was probably in her late 40s, and was wearing a pale blue T-shirt. She was sitting in the third row of the stadium in Erie, Pa., a little to the left of center for the show. For our encore performance, she slid over, and took an empty seat right behind our drum major. We proceeded to play a few standard encore songs, and then played our ballad, "Vide Cor Meum," from the film "Hannibal." At the climax of the piece, it was evident to each of us who could see her that this woman was absolutely crying her eyes out. This music, this corps, this setting had driven this woman's emotions to critical mass. The power of drum corps was clearly evident, and this moment made all the "scores" in the competitive world of drum corps exponentially irrelevant. I figured out on this night in August of 2001 that the only reason I actually cared about competitive success in drum corps is that "winning" a show means you get another chance to perform. Ask any member of a corps, and the will tell you that competition doesn't matter to them. Ask them the same question ten minutes after they have "lost" to a rival corps by 0.10 at their home show, and I suspect the answers will be quite different. I think the important thing to realize here is that it really is acceptable to care about "winning." For me, "winning" a show, also known as "getting eight people to see it your way," just gives me another opportunity to perform. Another performance means another chance to have something like the Erie phenomenon occur. Another performance means a chance to give the music your full attention. Another performance is another opportunity to change someone's life. On the flip side, getting sucked in to the external competition vortex, where you base your summer on the opinions of the eight people mentioned above, can be quite a negative experience. At that point, it is easy to lose focus on the really important parts of the summer: Having a great time, entertaining people, and creating something monumental. It has happened to me, and trust me -- it is not good. The atmosphere becomes volatile at best, people get testy, and every member ceases to have a good experience. The bottom line about competition between drum corps is that it's all really just a big game, in which marching members are quite possibly the least important piece. At its highest levels, the game is masterfully played by instructors, designers, judges and directors. If you have ever seen the way it works, I think you would agree that it's hardly worth getting wrapped up in. Sure, it's nice to win the game, but only a few will. Why worry about it? There isn't too much you can do about it, other than march your spot, and hope for the best. If competition is important to you, I suggest channeling all your efforts into personal excellence. I find it to be much healthier to challenge yourself to be the best you can be, rather than to concentrating "beating" Corps X at tonight's show. Can I nail that spot 10 times in a row? Can I play that part perfectly every time? Can I get all my stuff out of the gym on time? Am I being an example for other people in my corps? Can I keep my head in the game during rehearsal? Am I doing everything I can to make this myself and this corps consistently wonderful? Personally, I have "won" at the highest level, and while that was nice, I will say that I get much more satisfaction out of the other years, where the emphasis was on becoming consistently magnificent. In 10 years, you are not going to remember what your Field Brass score from the [insert city] show was, but trust me -- you will be able to tell people what the lady in the stands who changed your life was wearing. Which is more important to you? Special thanks to Greg Gilman, alum of the Blue Devils, and current member of the San Francisco Renegades for his assistance. For all my faithful readers, I promise not to let four weeks go by before the next installment. : ] Send your comments, suggestions and ideas for Authentic cadence to email@example.com . Sam Saunders is a psychology major at the University of South Florida. He has been in the Cadets since 1998. The 2003 season will be his second as drum major, as well as his age-out. His prized possessions include his Macintosh, his rubber plant, his Miles Davis CDs and his William Faulkner book collection. Sam lives in Temple Terrace, Fla., with his roommate, Devin, who aged out of the Blue Devils in 2001.