Students dedicate summer to Drum Corps International

Students dedicate summer to Drum Corps International

Students dedicate summer to Drum Corps International
September 01
12:51 2019

Working 12 hour days in the hot sun while lugging instruments and flags around is not everyone’s idea of a fun summer. Many UNT students, though, gave up sleeping in and their Netflix binges to dedicate their summer to music with Drum Corps International (DCI).

DCI began in 1972 and has been growing bigger ever since. It is a nonprofit organization that governs different corps comprised of brass, percussion and colorguard. DCI musicians audition for corps and typically range between 14 and 21 years of age.  Drum corps train and tour during the summer, meaning musicians dedicate their lives to the corps for the whole three months. 

Music education junior Emilio Pla said drum corps is such a unique activity that it is challenging to explain what DCI is to people outside of the band community. Pla has participated in DCI for the past three years. He marched the most recent season with the corps Phantom Regiment as a snare drum.

“Drum corps is like marching band on steroids,” Pla said. “It’s like selling your soul to marching band. You take everything about actual life and you put everything in a box and put it away for three months. Then you go and do band, every single day, all day long. It’s kind of insane now that I think about it. You pay $5,000 to put everything in your life away and do the hardest thing I’ll ever do for three months in the sun during the summer.” 

There are many students from UNT who participate in drum corps every summer. According to Pla, there were at least seven UNT students in his corps alone. Shouting “Go Mean Green” was an ongoing joke throughout the season due to the number of UNT students in the one corps.

Not only are UNT students involved in drum corps, but also UNT professors. Assistant percussion professor Paul Rennick is a member of the DCI Hall of Fame. Rennick was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017 and is still an active member of the DCI community.

The average drum corps show lasts about 12 minutes and involves marching, playing, choreography and a lot of physical activity. Most corps begin spring training in May and their season continues into August. During the spring training, the corps rehearse all day, every day. Music education senior Ally Lyons, said that spring training requires musicians to eat, sleep and breathe band. She said her corps, The Spirit of Atlanta, worked for 12 plus hours daily.

“Spring training typically lasts anywhere from three to five weeks,” Lyons said. “Some people also call this period “all-days” because you just go, all day. Each day is typically divided up into three blocks, each block is about four hours. It definitely takes a toll on your body, being up on your feet all day long and constantly moving. It’s a lot of strain. But, that’s where we put in a lot of effort and a lot of the work, that shows up later in the summer.”

After spring training, the corps begin their tour traveling all over the country. Members live out of charter buses and sleep on gym floors away from family and friends. Pla said that this causes DCI members to hit what he calls their “walls.”

The physical [wall] is usually during spring training,” Pla said. “You get there and you can never physically be ready to do drum corps because it’s so intense. So, your body hurts every single day you wake up and you can barely move but you have to go do it again every single day, over and over.”

Pla said that DCI can also take an emotional toll on its members.

“Toward July, there’s an emotional part to it because you’ve been away from home for so long. Sometimes it’s really hard. The mental part goes the whole way, but especially toward the end [of the season] it’s challenging because you’ve been working on the show for so long it becomes a little more difficult to figure out what we need to do to make it better.” 

Junior music education major Emilio Pla practices snare drum in the music annex. Rehearsals and practices for DCI begin during spring training, where members rehearse all day every day for several weeks. Image by: Meredith Holser

There are many people who go the whole summer without seeing their family and friends during the tour. Both Pla and Lyons said they were fortunate enough to see family during tour and also have other friends involved in DCI, allowing them to see familiar faces while on the road. 

While drum corps seems strenuous from the outside, Lyons said, there are many lessons and character building experiences that come from it. She is especially grateful for her time in drum corps and for the things it has taught her. 

“I’m capable of a lot more than I think I am,” Lyons said, referring to how much drum corps taught her. “Something [the corps staff] would tell us over the summer was ‘Once you hit what you think is your breaking point and you’re ready to give up, you’ve only reached 40% of your potential.’ It’s very true, within the activity and in life. There’s a really great take away from that.” 

Many members stay involved after their summer with DCI ends because of the connections they make with other members during the summer. Communications design junior Mai-Linn Lillard marched for two years in the Crossmen Color Guard and spent her most recent year as a social media intern for another corps, The Cavaliers. She said her favorite part of drum corps was the networking connections she made.

“Almost all of my best friend have been involved in drum corps, at least the marching arts in some way,” Lillard said. “I’ve gotten a lot of my graphic design gigs from drum corps and it’s really cool to know that I can be traveling the country and if I need help or I’m far away from home, there will most likely be someone from the drum corps community that could help me out. You get into the activity because you were inspired by the groups that performed, but you end up coming back because of the connections that you make.” 

Lillard said there is a special connection shared by all of the DCI members throughout this challenging, rewarding and consuming activity. Although members hit their walls and give up their whole summer for the arts, they come back for the connections shared and for the unanimous love for music. 

“I think UNT is a great place for the marching arts and specifically drum corps people,” Lillard said. “It’s amazing how many people have ended up here because of the music school. I am really grateful for all of the drum corps friends I have made here at UNT.”

Featured Image: Senior music education major Ally Lyons plays the baritone outside the music annex. She learned to play baritone to march for drum corps, and her primary instrument is clarinet. Image by: Meredith Holser

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Bayleigh Swanton

Bayleigh Swanton

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