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Oxford Stories Column: What It’s Like to Be a Member of Drum Corps

Music City performing their program “Coronation.” Photo by Tucker Robbins

Drum corps has more than 400,000 fans, dozens of competitive groups and a series of competitions around the nation that last all summer and lead to the world championships in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Whether it’s playing a brass/percussive instrument or performing with the color guard, Drum Corps International, founded in 1972, is the non-profit organization behind the scenes that pulls thousands of young people, ages 13-22, together in pursuit of their love for the arts.
A typical season of drum corps starts in the fall/winter with audition camps held by each corps. These camps last anywhere from one day to a full three-day weekend. Staff sometimes review videos submitted by potential members that cannot attend one of the live auditions.
The audition process involves students learning new skills and music, or for seasoned veterans, further training and sharpening skills.
The rise in interest over the years has made the activity far more competitive, before the summer season even gets under way. According to dci.org, within the top-tier of drum corps alone, more than 8,000 students audition for roughly 3,500 member positions across the nation, meaning less than half of those students actually become corps members.
For many, though, the fascination, and even obsession, with the activity does not end if they are not contracted for the summer. Thousands of high school students make up a large portion of the DCI fan base, participating in clinics, buying merchandise and even traveling to see competitions live.
The average age of participating marching members is just 19.4 years old, but depending on an individual’s talent and each corps rules and regulations, students can participate at much younger ages.
Thousands of high school bands annually attend a DCI event in an attempt to inspire students to become more involved with the performing arts.
After the audition process, which spans all the way until the final audition/callback camps in April, contracts are sent to students the staff feels will be most successful over the season. Within this contract, potential members are given all of the standards and conducts that they are expected to live up to throughout the season.

Marching members hugging after singing their corps song. Photo by Tucker Robbins

One of the more pressing matters that makes accepting a contract and marching drum corps is the financial obligation. So when it comes to housing, transportation and feeding of 150 young adults all summer, on top of producing a fantastic show and hiring top notch staff, things can get a little expensive.
While each corps might have their own tuition and fee prices, the average cost of being a world class drum corps member can range anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000, and the average cost of being an open class drum corps member can be $1,500 to $2,500. Because of the cost, many eligible members are not able to participate in the summer season, despite having made it through the audition process.
Those who do find the means of saving, fundraising or any other way of getting the money together, pack up their giant suitcases and prepare for pre-tour move-ins. This is the two- to four-week period, depending on the corps, before the competitions begin in which members start learning their roughly 10-minute shows.
This portion is what many consider the hardest part of the three-and-a-half month season because it is filled with 12-hour rehearsal days, typically outside in the heat of the early summer, and physical conditioning to build the stamina required to perform such extensive shows.
It is because of how physically demanding the activity itself is that staff strongly encourages, or even requires, pre-season workouts to prepare the body for the amount of stress that it will be put under during move-ins.
Lucas Oil Stadium. Photo by Tucker Robbins

From another point of view, it’s during the hardest days when some members seem to hit walls and/or make lifelong friends. Every member is there for the same reason and are going through the exact same thing as another, making it very easy to relate and be supportive of each other. Many members create their very best friends through the activity.
After learning their show and surviving move-ins, the members move on to the more exciting portion of the summer that is filled with competitions – tour season. The premiere show is the kick-off and unveiling of everything the members have been working on for the past month or so for a live, packed audience, and it sets the stage for placement for the season.
It is typically said that everything gets easier once touring begins because rehearsal days are shorter since the corps is constantly on the move around the country, and all that is left to do is fine tune the details and practice, practice, practice in pursuit of perfection. On top of that, each corps usually has at least one show day a week, if not more.
Show days are what every aspiring member dreams of, but none more than World Championships held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. Imagine this stadium standing in the middle of the field where more than 20,000 fans are packed in every single seat and some forced to standing room only. This is the end goal for most marching members.
Although finals wrap up around the second week of August and conclude the summer long season, it is not long before October arrives, and aspiring members and veterans alike begin registering to audition for the next season.

By Tucker Robbins
Read more stories like this on Oxford Stories.
For questions or comments, email hottytoddynews@gmail.com.

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