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Drum Corps 2018: Mid-Summer Reflections

Posted July 22, 2018 by Paula Monique

Although it might seem like drum corps were just posting their camp dates and making dramatic show announcements, the 2018 Drum Corps International season actually has less than three weeks left!

I’ve personally always found mid-to-late July to be one of the most exciting times of the season. Drum corps that haven’t seen each other all summer just began competing head-to-head in huge stadiums with jam-packed crowds. The level of performance is higher than it has been all season, as are the stakes.

The reality of how little time is actually left begins to sinks in, and deep cleaning of the show is in full force. Design staffs are working diligently to make sure any last major changes are implemented to help present the best possible product going into championships week.

As hard as it is to believe, we’re in the home stretch of drum corps season, folks, and Indianapolis is right around the corner!

Although this is my 17th year in the activity, I feel like I’ve been seeing drum corps through a new set of eyes this time around. The 2018 season has felt different to me —.not a weird different, but a refreshing different.

I’m on brass staff with the Blue Knights from Denver, Colorado this year, and it’s my first experience with a drum corps from the West. By marching in and teaching drum corps from the eastern U.S., the majority of my experience was surprisingly spent — wait for it — on the East Coast.

Tour would generally start and sometimes even end in the East, with a sprinkle of the scorching hot and storm-filled Midwest to break things up. So many of my wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) drum corps memories were made in the East. From July Fourth parades in Bristol, Rhode Island (“PLAY SOMETHING!”) to the crowd in Allentown chanting “EAST! EAST! EAST!” the slew of super passionate fans and alumni made us feel like rock stars. East Coast drum corps brings a ton of nostalgia that I will always cherish, but I have really appreciated the change of pace and scenery I’ve been experiencing this summer.

By spending an extended amount of time out west with the Blue Knights, I’ve had the opportunity to experience a different side of drum corps that I didn’t realize I was missing. The mountain views we’ve seen in Colorado, Utah, California and the Pacific Northwest have been nothing short of breathtaking. It’s so refreshing to have that as a backdrop to your rehearsal. I wonder if that will ever get old. It sure doesn’t seem like it will at the moment.

This summer, I’ve been on tour much more than I have in the past three years, but because of my job at home, I’ve had to break up my time into chunks to make it all work. By spending time on the road, going home to the “real world” and then heading back to drum corps a couple of times, I was able to reflect more than usual on my experiences and was reminded many times what makes this activity so special. I’d like to share a few of those things with you now.

Drum corps members are inspiring.

Regardless of the drum corps, these performers pour everything they have and then some into their show and organization. They eat, sleep and breathe this activity and are out there every. single. day. working their butts off to get better at their craft. They work together, as a team, even if they're mad at the person next to them because they got the last chicken patty at lunch. Sure, they did “sign up for this,” but that shouldn’t discount everything they’re accomplishing. Generally, these young adults have positive attitudes, think nothing is impossible and are determined to succeed. Their level of talent and dedication is truly inspiring to be around.

Volunteers, drivers, and staff are the unsung heroes of drum corps.

Have you really stopped and thought about how much is going on behind the scenes to make a drum corps function? So much work is being done by so many people to ensure a smooth day. Sometimes we only take notice when something goes wrong, but there are so many things going right that deserve appreciation. 

The time and effort that goes into making just one meal is crazy. Doing that four times a day and often with limited help or resources brings the crazy meter off the charts. 

From late night airport runs to uniform cleaning to driving 500-plus miles to the next housing site, it takes so much to get a corps down the road.

So if you have the opportunity, please take the time to say thank you to these people for all of their help. Drum corps would be pretty impossible without them.

Great showers should never be taken for granted. 

I believe it was Forrest Gump who said, “Life is like a drum corps shower … you never know what you’re gonna get.” Not a truer thing was ever said. 

Being back on the road has reminded me of the lovely array of drum corps shower conditions: freezing, icicle cold. Liquid hot magma.  No water pressure. Water that comes out like daggers (ouch). Then there are drains that don’t work, so you’re standing in a small lake. Sometimes only one of 40 shower heads actually turns on. Sometimes bugs have taken over the locker room. 

The list could go on and on. Every now and then you might get a good one, but for the most part, showering on the road can be a bit rough. Each time I went home, I was very grateful for the shower in my apartment.

Go with the flow.

In drum corps, myriad things can “go wrong” at any time, and we must be able to adapt and overcome — quickly. 

From bus breakdowns to bad weather and everything else in between, less-than-ideal situations will pop up on tour. Drum corps people are trained to deal with whatever comes their way and make the best of each situation. If something goes south, we figure it out and get through it together, usually with minimal complaining. 

I was reminded of the resilience of the drum corps community multiple times this summer, most recently when the Santa Clara Vanguard lost their food truck. 

It was a very unfortunate event, but it was great to hear about other corps stepping up and helping with meals. We are all a part of the same family and have each other's backs. I know that Vanguard is still looking to raise money for a new truck, and more information can be found at www.scvanguard.org.

Being at drum corps always reminds me of how important the little things are. Seemly small things, repeated over and over, will lead to larger success (or failure). The little things are what make up the big picture, and it all adds up. It’s all important — one of the many drum corps lessons we can apply to daily life.

I’m glad that I’ve stopped to smell the roses a bit more this summer.

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Paula Monique resides in sunny South Florida, where she is an assistant band director at a K-12 school. She is heavily involved in the marching arts and is currently on brass staff with the Blue Knights from Denver, Colorado. Paula's drum corps background includes brass staff for Carolina Crown (2015-17), Bluecoats (2015), Boston Crusaders, (2009-11, 2013) and visual staff for The Cadets (2009) and Teal Sound (2007). She was a cast member of the show "Blast!" from 2007-12 and marched mellophone with The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps from 2002-06. In her spare time, Paula enjoys teaching marching band, giving private lessons and spending time with her fiancé and two dogs. Learn more about Paula at www.paulamonique.com.