March Forth

Posted March 4, 2020 by Paula Monique

This morning, I began seeing posts about “Marching Arts Day.” I was immediately filled with gratitude and appreciation for this activity and how it changed my life.

I thought about sharing a quick little something on Facebook or Instagram, but as I continued to reflect on my path and everything I’ve experienced in my life, I realized that a short blurb wouldn’t suffice. I felt compelled to do more; to share some things about my marching history that I’ve kept to myself until now. 

In the fall of 1998, I begrudgingly joined the marching band at my high school. The band captain had called my house a few times over the summer and asked if I was interested in joining the marching band. As an incoming freshman, I didn’t understand what that would entail, but it sounded like I would have to step out of my comfort zone, and at the time, I wasn't about that life. The third time he called, however, my mom decided that I was definitely going to band camp. She knew how much I loved the trumpet and thought the experience would be good for me. (Thanks, Mom!)

I came into camp on Wednesday, two days after the session had officially started, putting me a little bit behind the other band members. I remember being in a basics block, where everyone was going over commands such as parade rest, attention and horns up. I think we even did about-faces and flanks.

I was immediately overwhelmed and had trouble keeping up. Our band captain noticed this and pulled me out of the block. After introducing himself, he spent time slowly teaching me—and making sure I became comfortable with each technique. Not long after, I was back in the block and marching around—not very well—but at least I was moving my legs!

The fact that our band captain cared enough to take me aside and teach me himself made a huge difference for me. Just as I began to feel discouraged and self-conscious, he intervened and helped me understand that it was ok if I didn’t get a move or a command right away. I realize now that I might not have come back to camp the next day if he hadn’t been so patient with me. This is a friendly reminder that showing patience and kindness in everything we do can go a long way.

Looking back, from my elementary music teacher all the way through high school, I was blessed to have excellent band directors. My high school band director for my freshman and sophomore years was a big drum corps fan and made a point to expose us to that activity by showing us videos or playing recordings and then quizzing us afterward. For example, she would ask us to guess which drum corps we thought we were listening to and explain why we thought that. She also loved the Cadets and often pointed out their signature mellophone lines, explaining that those lines were what set the Cadets apart from other drum corps. (If I only knew then what my future would hold!)

I thought drum corps was cool but I didn’t really understand it. One of my best friends at the time, Patrick, was obsessed with DCI. His favorite corps was the Santa Clara Vanguard. While Patrick didn't end up marching drum corps, his influence is one of the reasons that I did. Today, he is a very accomplished orchestral trumpet player and certainly found his calling.

In the summer of 1999, our band took a trip to the DCI Orlando show. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. As it happened, the Cadets were rehearsing in the stadium and gave a clinic before the show. I remember April Gilligan-Martinez running the color guard portion, but I still had no idea what I was watching. All I knew was that I liked what I was seeing. I had no idea that in a few years, I would be marching on the field with some of those same people.

After the show, Patrick convinced me to buy the previous year’s DCI Finals CD set and promised it would be worth it. As we got back on the bus and I prepared for the 4-hour ride home, I took out my Discman. (Google it, kids!) I carefully removed my Ricky Martin “Livin’ La Vida Loca” CD and replaced it with the Drum Corps CD. I believe there were about 21 corps on that disc and I listened to every single show. Something about the powerful sound, intricate music and cheering crowd excited me. Immediately, I was hooked! A month or so later, I watched the 1999 PBS broadcast of the DCI finals and recorded it onto VHS to watch over and over again.

From that moment on, it was “all drum corps, all the time” for me. I ordered more CD sets from the ’90s to keep me busy until the 1999 DCI Finals CD set was released. 

The following school year, in April 2000, our jazz band was invited to do a European tour, where we performed in various cities around Europe. I believe in being in the right place at the right time, and for me, that couldn’t have been truer on this trip. While we were in London, England, “Blast!” was doing their run at the Apollo Hammersmith Theatre.

Our jazz director told us we were going to see a show about roller-skating kids in the ‘80s. When we showed up at the theatre, I remember thinking that the show’s title didn’t seem to match up with the theme he had explained. You have to understand, at this point, no one had heard about Blast! yet; we had no idea what to expect. 

Once we walked in and heard the samba music playing in the lobby, we knew something was up. I remember sitting down and seeing the lone snare drum under the spotlight. It felt like something special was about to happen.

From the moment the performance began—and well afterward—our minds were completely blown! At intermission, I bought the CD and decided to make it my mission to get it signed by “the bald guy,” Ben Harloff (not knowing that years later, we would cross paths again)! 

After seeing that show and its incredible cast, I said out loud, “I’m going to march drum corps, and then I’m going to perform in Blast!” (Sure, kid….) 

I was serious and determined. I didn’t know how, but I knew it was going to happen.

Naturally, after that experience, I wanted to march drum corps even more, and I assumed that making it into ANY corps would be extremely difficult. Toward the end of that school year, I approached my band director and told her I was interested in marching drum corps next summer. “Why not this summer?” she asked. 

Uh oh.

She did some research on my behalf and discovered that Carolina Crown was looking to fill a few spots. I, along with three of my friends, auditioned over the phone in our band director’s office and landed the spots. To this day, I’m not sure why my parents allowed me to go, but I’m glad that they did. It was the year 2000 and I was 15.

My memory of our trip to Fort Mill is vague. I’m pretty sure we drove up, although I can’t remember if someone’s parent drove us or one of the older kids did.

We arrived at spring training late and had a lot catching up to do (including figuring out G bugle life), but within a few days, we were in the show and about to head out on tour. I was thrilled to be learning the drum corps ropes and pleased to be sharing the experience with a few of my friends. I didn’t have the tan-line game figured out yet, but everything else was coming together! 

I enjoyed living the drum corps life and performing at shows. Back then, there used to be a retreat after EVERY show; sometimes we performed an encore with the Cadets and Crossmen. I have fond memories of the crowds going crazy as Spirit of Atlanta played “Georgia on My Mind” and the Cadets performed their show, “A Millennium Celebration.” 

We performed at DCI Orlando, where I had been a spectator the summer prior, and I remember seeing all of my band friends and family and how proud it all made me feel. I was finally part of the activity I had aspired to and dreamed about.

Everything was going great until I caught a cold in the middle of July. My condition worsened and after a visit to the emergency room (Urgent Care wasn’t really a thing then), I was diagnosed with bronchitis. My parents didn’t enjoy receiving that phone call and insisted I come home. I had just turned 16, so I didn’t have much of a say. However, the Corps assured them that I was under good care and I promised them that I would take my medicine and rest inside until I was better. 

After a couple of days, I was feeling much better so I went back to rehearsal for circle drill. I was happy to be back out there with the horn line and the fresh air was much appreciated. Unfortunately, my parents weren’t having it.  

I tried to state my case but before I knew it, they bought me a plane ticket and arranged for me to travel home with the Corps. I was extremely disappointed and upset. I didn’t want to leave my friends or the experience but I have to be honest, a small part of me was looking forward to my warm bed and my family. 

Not finishing out that summer haunted me for years. I felt like a failure who had given up. I never talked about the experience or mentioned that I had marched that summer because I honestly didn’t feel like I did.

Hindsight is 20/20, though. Over time, I realized that everything happened as it should have that summer. If I had stayed, I probably would have marched Crown until I aged-out in 2006. While there’s nothing wrong with that—and things probably would have turned out just fine—the entire course of my life would have been different. I couldn’t see it then, but the experience of leaving Crown that summer is something that happened for me, not to me. And that experience was only the beginning.

Stay tuned: Part Two of this story is coming soon!  

Paula Monique resides in South Florida and has been involved in the marching arts for many years. Paula is on Brass staff at The Cadets for the 2020 season. Her past teaching experiences includes Brass staff for the Blue Knights (2018), Carolina Crown (2015-2017), 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 2007-2012 and marched mellophone with The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps from 2002-2006. Paula was the Assistant Directory of Bands at North Broward Preparatory School from 2017-2019, before transitioning to her career in event marketing. In her spare time, Paula enjoys teaching and adjudicating marching band, giving private lessons and spending time with her fiancé and two dogs.