The Deserted Island of Marching Music

November 30, 2011
By rpm4real BRONZE, Tempe, Arizona
rpm4real BRONZE, Tempe, Arizona
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Oxygen rushed out of my lungs as my heart rate reached its maximum. My pulse was affected by the physical strain of the past twelve minutes of high intensity performance just as much as the emotional strain was—I appeared emotionless, but out of my horn came music. At the end of the performance, I snap my horn down to attention. Only after the snap do I realize that the performance is over, and that tomorrow is another day of rehearsal. Hours of repetition for minutes of performance: rinse and repeat.
Before I joined the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps, I was told it would be harder than being in the army. Naturally, I felt a certain amount of hesitation. Drum corps is essentially a fast-paced and competition-driven marching band with more intensity and precision, and though this may seem like an extremely fun and rewarding experience, the rehearsal and preparation for performance is incredibly taxing: physically, emotionally, and especially mentally.

Imagine being stranded alone on an island. One would experience a certain amount of freedom when stranded all alone—no limitations exist. Even survival is an option. Now imagine being stranded on an island with a large group of people. To survive, the stranded group would most likely assign responsibilities, such as starting fires, catching food to eat, finding water, attempting communication with the rest of the world, and so on. One’s entire day would be based around his or her task to fulfill the needs of themselves and the rest of the group. Many would have days where tasks would seem pointless or too difficult. Some might just laze around and eat coconuts—it’s demanding to do the same things every day on a strict schedule—but for those who respect the group as a whole and their means of survival, breaking their commitment is not an option. Whether or not they complete their duties does not just affect their own life, but the lives of the entire group.

This island analogy is precisely what touring with a drum corps is like: a large group where every person is dependent on every other person and the corps is only as good as its worst performer. Therefore, each person is driven to follow a strict schedule all day and to do exactly what they are told in order to perfect the field show. There are no choices, no freedom, no individuality or independence: every choice and action affects the group. Drum corps is incredibly difficult.

During this summer, I would wake up in the morning and would rather do anything than rehearse with the corps. There were times when the only motive for getting out of bed was the peer pressure of everyone else getting out of bed and the hunger for breakfast. I knew that during the day I would have no control over my own schedule, no say over my own life. At times, the physical stress on my body would be unbelievably challenging—we would march at incredibly fast tempos for long lengths of time, while playing our instruments. Meanwhile, my mind would be racing about all of things I could be doing with my summer, the places I could be going and the people I could be seeing. Aggravation would course through me in doubt of my experience with the Santa Clara Vanguard.

However, there were advantages to being in such a self-sustaining group: people that could cheer you up, make you feel better, or motivate you through rehearsal. Fellow corps members could also consistently get on your nerves, demean you on a regular basis, or act better than you. These social struggles contributed to the attitude of the group. If the general consensus of the corps was a bad mood, then rehearsals seemed menial and pointless; if a good mood existed, rehearsals had a better work ethic and were more enjoyable. This correlates precisely with each individual's commitment to the group as a whole: if one is truly committed one can help the change the attitude of the rehearsal. In parallel, if the members of the island have a positive attitude about living and being rescued, much more work can be done on the island to further the possibility of rescue.

On the island, the work helps forward the goal of eventually leaving. In drum corps, the goal is an extremely successful performance through visual precision and musical catharsis. As far as competition, there is always the possibility of winning Drum Corps International World Championships, but the most important part is that the group is satisfied with the months of work put in. When the tour is over, every corps considers his or her satisfaction and wonders, “Did I put in all the work I could to make the rescue as successful as possible? Did I fulfill my responsibilities to the group?” The experience could haunt you for the rest of your life if you aren't satisfied with your work. If you gave in to the mental conflict, if you couldn't resist the urge to pass up your own responsibilities, you will not be content with the failure you've brought upon yourself and the group.

Drum corps brought physical and musical stress to everyday life while on tour. It challenged me to push my limits, avoid quitting challenges, and “get up early and work hard all day.” From here on, hardships of everyday life will seem insignificant when compared to the mental stress of touring with the Santa Clara Vanguard. Persevering through Drum Corps was difficult, and in that the most satisfying experience of my life so far.

The author's comments:
After marching in a world class drum and bugle corps over the summer, I had many revelations about the meaning of involvement with a ensemble like mine.

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