I Ran Away with the Drum Corps


Day 4

June 25, 2017 – Bus Breakdown in Massillon

Since we were returning to Crestview after the show, I chose to ride to Paul Brown Tiger Stadium on the staff bus. What a sight it must have been to see the entire convoy of busses, semis, and vans, many emblazoned with the colorful graphics “This Corps is Made of Giants” traversing the rural countryside of northeast Ohio. Once at the show the corps sections split off in every direction around the venue looking for a cool spot to go through a planned rehearsal regimen. I took the opportunity for a nice walk and ran into Garry, who I had met earlier in the day after breakfast at the school. I learned that he is a dedicated executive board member of Inspire Arts, the umbrella organization for the Corps, and a drum corps nut. He and a friend Doug were sitting in the park adjacent to the stadium. I learned that Doug is one of the founders of Carolina Crown. This was a great opportunity to learn about the skin ($) it takes to be in this game. For instance, this entourage has a very large number of paid staff including the top professionals in the activity. Add that to the cost of transportation, insurance, food, etc., and you have a number the is in the multimillion-dollar range. Some organizations field Open Class corps in addition to their World Class corps such as the Blue Devils B and C. As you can imagine, this is a winning organization with that kind of depth. Bingo!

Also during my walk around the lot, I stopped to visit with Paul, the horn repair guy who I had seen many times at other shows. I asked him how he could make a living, traveling the country just to fix a few horns. I knew he was into this for other reasons. He laughed and said that he has a small overhead. “See this is my overhead.”, he said pointing to his pop up tent. “It’s over my head.” We exchanged drum corps stories and realized we had some people in common back in Verona, NY. I went to school with his cousins. Small world.

The coolest part of the evening for me was being there with the corps to take the field. I was with the pit trailer that hauled the bass drums, gongs and other miscellaneous percussion pieces. These corps will bang on just about anything. Following us were the keyboardists tugging there rolling instruments. We passed the Troopers pit crew as they left the field. There is also a dedicated sound crew, who set up a high-end electronic audio system that plays a recorded sound track of voices and sounds underlying the theme. The rest of the corps members arranged and set up the props and took their place on the field at their starting dot. Marching drills is all about making it from dot to dot. Amazingly, this setup of one hundred and fifty marchers and props, instruments and sound system takes less than five minutes. There are penalties for delays both getting on and off the field, so prop failures or electronic hic-ups can be problematic. Have I mentioned how heavy and large the props are? Thankfully there is an army of members to move the heavy stuff. Large platforms, gallows, stocks, and other structures transform the field with the visual backdrop for the show. These props are not only for looks. The guard and marchers do some crazy moves on them. There is a mysterious system of lights and fans under the largest one that I observed.

The staff and volunteers watched the show form the sidelines. What a joy to see the show unfold in front of me at close range. Though I would rather be up high on the 50-yard line, this was truly an interesting perspective. The Boston Crusader had an excellent show. The scores were much higher than the previous years first show which is indicative of the hard work of the kids and staff and the quality of the show. The brass was outstanding, besting the Cadets. The guard performed beautifully, executing some very interesting drills. There were many moments when I looked over my shoulder up at the fans in the stands. These fans were seeing a brand new Boston Crusaders and they liked them. Once the cheering from the standing audience faded, the corps made its way off the field with the same smooth operation in reverse. What a night for the first competition of the season. This corps is earning its chops.

Today there is no competition and the corps is rehearsing and eating and rehearsing and rehearsing. ESL is at 7:00 pm with BIS at 9:00 pm. We are heading for the next housing site near Cincinnati. This caravan of four semis, six coach busses, a van, and a pickup truck hauling a trailer with an ATV, rolls at night as much as possible when it moves to new venues to reduce the traffic impact. This will be my first experience with decamping and encamping at a new site. Al, the head transportation planner and driver of the food truck, plans the route and manages the drivers using GPS and walkie-talkies. I have met several of the drivers including Paul who is from Vermont and Mike whose son used to march but he has stayed on over the years. Every touring corps has a bus breakdown. We had ours last night as we were to leave the lot – a broken engine belt. Miraculously, there was a nearby bus service where we were able to get the part at 10:00pm on Saturday night. Even so, it made for a long night and as we returned to the cornfields around 2:00am. It gave me an opportunity to experience sleeping the staff bus. I will be glad to be back in the Volvo for this next trip.

The corps members and staff are working their butts off in the hot sun. I have been walking the campus and finding the separate sections rehearsing, each their own little community within the greater community. During one of my breaks I was sitting in my portable chair along a mown path next to a cornfield off campus writing, when suddenly appeared Phil and Nora on an ATV. The sound of a drum corps travels across the open countryside pretty well. They owned the farm and were coming to investigate. It was a comical interaction while I artfully delivered my well-rehearsed explanation of drum corps and the reason for the two-day racket. They said I could stay and write and left with big smiles.

All in all, so far, this has been a great experience, especially meeting the people that I have met including parents who have come by to help out and see the kids. The corps members are starting to take note of me in the food line and around. They are very cool kids. I am starting to tear up as this is a rather emotional experience for me. The most indelible part of all of this for me is the feeling of hope that the dedicated young members instill in me as I watch them endure the rigors of drum corps. I will keep you posted as I head further into the Midwest with the Boston Crusaders. The next show is in Hamilton Ohio. This is the jump off point for me after the show. However, I am leaning toward continuing into Indiana for one more show.

Day 5

This personal reflection of my 10-day vacation as an intern-volunteer with the Boston Crusaders, a world class drum and bugle corps, started out as a daily blog. However, I have compiled my daily entries here into this diary-style essay.

Boston Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps percussion battery warming up next to an abandoned semi near Paul Brown Tiger Stadium, Massillon, Ohio