The activity of drum corps is something that few people know about. However, those that do know about it, can never get enough of it. This activity used to be a lot more popular (World Championships were aired on ESPN up through the 2007 season), but has sadly slid away from the public eye the past couple years. Drum Corps, put simply, is major league marching band, with shows performed on a standard football field. When phrased this way, however, I think people do not appreciate the level of difficulty of this activity.
In 2005, ESPN aired a short “documentary” detailing the athletic abilities of a drum corps member. In this video, a researcher from Indiana State University attached devices to a drummer to measure his heart rate and oxygen intake. The researcher found that the drummer was taking in as much oxygen as a well-trained runner halfway through a marathon, and had a consistent heart rate similar to that of a 400 yard dash runner. This is incredible, and definitely solidifies the qualification of drum corps as a sport.
Like any sport, drum corps has leagues. There are two main leagues, DCI (Drum Corps International, performers 21 years of age and younger), and DCA (Drum Corps Associates, all-age performers). DCI is the more intense of the two, due to the fact that members move in with their corps in mid-May, and practice 12+ hours everyday until mid-August, and DCA members practice only on weekends. In both cases, these are not your typical band practices. These practices are grueling. Performers must practice through rain, intense heat, and incredible physical fatigue. They all strive to be perfect in every single way – musically, visually, emotionally, etc. All of their hard work culminates in their final performance in mid-August and World Championships. Much like any other sport, there are corps that are consistently near the top of the pack. For DCI, these corps are the Blue Devils, the Cadets, Carolina Crown, The Bluecoats, The Cavaliers, Santa Clara Vanguard, and Phantom Regiment. These corps, along with all of the other corps in DCI, are from all over the United States.
So, what makes up a drum corps?
A drum corps consists of four groups: The Horn-line, the Percussion, The Color Guard, and the Drum Majors.
The horn-line consists of trumpets, mellophones, baritones, and tubas. The main role of the horn-line is to provide the lyrical and emotional aspect of the show, as well as a portion of the visual aspect of the show.
The percussion has two sections, the battery and the front ensemble. The battery is made up of snare drums, quad/tenor drums, bass drums, and occasionally cymbals. The front ensemble consists of typical concert percussion instruments – marimbas, vibraphones, tympani, concert bass drum, etc. The main role of the battery is to provide tempo for the corps in a creative way, and contribute to the visual aspect of the show. The front ensemble also provides tempo, but interweaves with the horn-line to add emotion and remains on the front sideline, thus rarely contributing to the visual aspect of the show.
The color guard consists of performers who play no music, but are the main visual contributors. They twirl and throw flags, rifles, sabers, etc., and put color and action to the music. These three groups also march to make shapes on the field.
The final group, the drum majors, directs the corps. These are the conductors of the drum corps, and they are responsible for maintaining tempo, and keeping the corps playing together.
The overall goal of a drum corps as a whole is to tell a story and evoke emotion out of their crowd. The amazing thing about this activity is that a show can move a whole stadium to tears with just music and motion. Almost every corps earns a standing ovation at finals, and they all deserve it. What these young performers do is absolutely incredible.
So, that’s drum corps in a nutshell. Next week, I will begin my analysis of this year’s DCI shows with the Blue Devils championship show, Felliniesque.
Here are links to the aforementioned video from 2005: