Friday, July 1, 2011

My New Favorite Sport

In my personal opinion, a sport is something that gets you moving and makes you sweat. Dancing? That is a sport. Sitting on the couch? Not a sport. Cheerleading? Yes - I believe that is a sport. Playing an instrument? Well, it depends. If you're in a chair in an orchestra hall, no, that is not a sport.

What I saw last night involving instruments definitely would be included as a sport in my book. Last night my friend took my to my first Drum Corp competition. And wow! I think I'll be going to more of those shows!

Drum corps are a summer sport involving teens and college students, roughly ages 13-22 (they "age out" if they are 21 that summer). The "drum AND bugle corps" consist of brass, percussion, and color guard. But if I were to say that was it, I would be missing out on the majority of the corp. There is brass of all shapes and sizes - trumpets, euphoniums, tubas, baritones, and probably more. The percussion section is huge, too. Not only do they have the marching drums - snare drums, quads, and cymbals - but they have a "front percussion" with electronic instruments and a variety of orchestral instruments like vibes and marimbas and other smaller percussion (my area of "expertise"!). Finally, the color guard has various types of dancing, but they also have to learn flag spinning, and working with/throwing in the air and catching mock rifles and sabers.

When you put all these elements together, it's hard to watch. Hard, in fact, because so much AWESOME stuff is going on and your eyes can't keep track of it all! First the color guard is dancing crazily, and then the front percussion is going nuts with their mallets, then the brass suddenly breaks out into a giant chord of amazing, and then the flags appear, then this guy throws a mock rifle 20 feet into the air and catches it on the beat! How do they do that?

Most of these performers are full-time high school and college students who join a drum corp in their area and train like crazy for days on end. They compete against other corps in competitions like I was able to see in Whitewater, Wisconsin last night. It was the Whitewater Classic, brought to you by the local drum corp, the Madison Scouts (who, ironically weren't there last night - they are on tour on the East Coast right now). But the eight participating corps were wonderful to watch - especially the last two: the Blue Stars (from LaCrosse) and the Cavaliers (from Rosemont, IL).

For the inexperienced viewer, you could say that watching a Drum Corp competition is basically watching a three-hour halftime show. But once you start getting into it, you realize that there's so much more to it. Firstly, everything gets judged. The Cavaliers won last night's competition with a score of 81 out of 100 possible points. I don't know the exact judging requirements, but I'm guessing it gets pretty crazy trying to keep track of formations and saber throwing drops.

Secondly, the drum corps don't have any woodwinds (clarinets and flutes). It really allows for the brass to really shine. (Sorry, clarinet and flute players.)

Thirdly, this isn't a retro trip to the best of the Beatles that you're watching. This is artistry! Some of the pieces picked ("Nature Boy" by Eden Ahbez, or "Symphony No. 5 in D Minor, Op 47" by Shostakovich) wouldn't be found in a football halftime show. And the color guard has to help the drum and bugle sections convey the storyline of the songs, through costumes and acting.

I haven't mentioned the uniforms yet! Those were some of the coolest band uniforms I'll probably ever see. Some look like standard marching band uniforms, but the Troopers' (from Casper, Wyoming) uniforms are actually modeled after the Union Army's 11th Ohio Cavalry during the Civil War. Plus the Drum Major (who directs the whole show - and also is in the age range of the other performers, which is awesome) of the Troopers has a sword strapped to his belt! I am a conductor too - can I get a sword?

I really got a kick out of watching this competition, and I look forward to seeing more. I'm a little sad that I didn't hear about this until I was in college, and one of my close friends alerted me to it. But now I can anticipate each summer with thoughts of seeing another Drum Corp show.

(By the way the World Championships are going to be a movie theater near you on Thursday, August 11. Plus there are a ton of Drum Corp shows before then. You can go to dci.org to find out more! Please do - you won't regret it!)

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