Hearts pounding, sweat bursting through pores and the sun unmercifully beating down while hundreds of feet march in sync to both the beat of the drums and the movement of the drum major’s hands. This is no longer high school marching bands under Friday night lights; this is Drum Corps International.
While most students spent their summers taking classes, working odd jobs or taking on internships, this summer many students in Sam Houston State University’s music department took on the very time-consuming, challenging and worthwhile feat known as DCI.
Junior mass communication major Kei Harvin, senior music education major Cori Reebenacker and junior criminal justice major Zach Gagner were three of those musicians.
“I decided to join because I have a strong passion for drumming, and getting to only focus on drumming every single day of my summer was something I was really looking forward to doing,” Gagner said. “DCI is called by many ‘marching music’s major league,’ and I really wanted to get out there and compete at the highest level possible for this activity.”
Gagner performed his first season with the Oregon Crusaders this past summer as a snare drummer, while Harvin, another rookie percussionist to DCI, played quads with the Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps, the third oldest division in DCI.
“I decided to march in a World Class Drum Corps, because I felt like I had reached an extremely advanced level on my instrument,” Harvin said.”I wanted to audition and march with a group that was going to push me to the edge and my skills to the limit with players of similar capabilities.”
From the other side of the field, Reebenacker who primarily plays the clarinet, served as one of the drum majors with the brand new division of DCI, the Guardians Drum and Bugle Corps.
“I decided to join DCI because I felt it was an important contribution to my music education career,” Reebenacker said. “I also joined because it was a great and unexpected opportunity that came up, especially since this was my last year to participate in DCI. It’s a good learning experience and you truly learn a lot about yourself both as a person and as a musician.”
DCI regulations only allow musicians under the age of 22 to compete, disqualifying Reebenacker for future seasons with the company. Fortunately for her, however, the Guardians have asked her to join them as a staff member for the upcoming season.
The audition process for every corps is both extensive and time consuming, beginning usually in Nov. of the previous year. According to Gagner, the process starts with deciding which groups you would like to audition for and then after receiving the materials and music from each group, the prospective musicians begin learning and preparing for auditions.
For Gagner, this meant spending his fair share in plane tickets and camp fees to travel to and from Oregon, where his corps was based. After a musician has been selected or “contracted,” they must travel to their corps headquarters on a monthly basis for practice.
One the actual DCI season begins in May, the members of the group move to headquarters and spend three weeks learning the entire show prior to their performances which take place across the country, throughout the entire summer.
“The hardest part was probably halfway through tour when you realize that you still have a month left of sleeping on gym floors, [taking] cold showers, waking up early, and busting your butt in the heat of the summer with 50 pound drums on,” Harvin said. “You realize how well we have it in our day-to-day lives with running hot water, beds, and climate control right at our fingertips. It teaches you to be more humble because you know there are people that live even more uncomfortably than we did this summer.”
On average, each corps practiced 12 hours per day at four-hour blocks with one hour meal breaks in between. After some calculation, Gagner said he estimates roughly 850 hours of preparation for a 12 minute show.
“The thing that surprised me the most about DCI was how many people out there actually appreciate what we do,” Gagner said. “I couldn’t tell you how many towns would shut down when DCI rolled into town. With all the corps staying at different high schools, the students from those schools and schools from around that area would have their kids in the stands just to watch us rehearse for the show that night. There is just so much fan appreciation for the performers.”
Harvin estimated that after traveling to over 20 different states, his corps performed for roughly 300,000 nationwide. More importantly than the fans they performed for however, were the fellow musicians they performed with.
“I can’t really express into words the huge amount I have benefitted,” Harvin said. “I’ve already gotten several job offers to go teach different drum lines at different high schools. I’ve also gained a family of 150 other people that I can call brother and sister for life.”
Harvin is not the only one who concurred with this mentality.
“I have made so many new friends and connections with band directors and other music education students,” Reebenacker said. “The drum corps world truly is a small world. I learned how to work with several different personalities and different rehearsal techniques. I’m so excited to start working with them as a staff member and continue to see this organization improve. I’m also excited to see what the future holds as far as my career is concerned.”
For Gagner, both the memories and friendships he has made through DCI this summer will forever remain in his heart—especially the conclusion of his entire experience.
“All the hard work, sweat, tears and pain are all for this one last performance,” Gagner said. “It’s an emotional ride the whole season; nothing else matters but that moment. Walking into the stadium one last time knowing I won’t get to perform with that same group of people ever again and that I put in so many countless hours and hard work for that one moment of happiness. It feels like I truly have accomplished something amazing.”