Drum and bugle corps taught me about teamwork, how to manage my ego to become better, and how to be a leader.
What is drum and bugle corps, you ask?
Drum and bugle corps are independent youth organizations made up of approximately 70-135 members. They spend the summer rehearsing and performing an 11-minute show playing a variety of horns and percussion instruments, spinning flags, rifles, or sabers, all while marching around a football field.
Drum corps begins rehearsing in November. Then, spend approximately three to four weeks in everyday rehearsals starting in late May or the beginning of June, before heading out for roughly eight weeks on tour, doing nothing but drum corps, day in and day out.
I first heard about drum corps while in marching band in high school. However, it wasn’t until my freshmen year of college, when some friends were going to try out for a local drum corps that I decided to give it a try. I quickly realized I was woefully unprepared for the audition. Ultimately, I decided not to march that season.
The following year, another group of friends were going to audition for the same corps. This time, I was committed. Before I knew it, I was marching.
Over the winter and spring months, we learned the music and drill for our show. Then, it’s June and we have a week long camp to prep the show for tour. Next thing I know, we’re on the road. Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York. Traveling by charter bus. Sleeping on gym floors. Rehearsing for hours in the heat and humidity with a 30-pound instrument on my back. Performance at night, before getting on the bus and heading to the next town for the next show. My first season was a blur. Just like that, it was over.
For the next season I was even more determined. Now I knew what to expect. My second season would be different. Indeed, it was.
The staff learned a lot from the previous year. They made several changes to their approach. They worked us. Hard. Late in the season, they brought in additional staff to push the battery and the front line. The first day they arrived was pure hell.
The hard work paid off. The percussion section tied for first place in our division. We were Champions! A great reward for months of effort.
I learned so much during my experience. Sure, I learned I could push myself physically and mentally far beyond what I thought I was capable of. Also, I learned about the value of hard work and determination. More importantly, I learned the true meaning of teamwork.
I was with the same people every minute of every day while on tour. I learned to ignore a lot of things that would otherwise bother me. If I was truly annoyed with someone, I was quick to address the issue. Discord within the ranks leads to disharmony in the performance. I was part of something bigger than myself. Individual grievances are tiny when seen from the larger picture.
I also learned to keep my ego in check. In striving to be my best, I needed to be humble and willing to accept criticism and responsibility. I cannot be afraid to make a mistake or try to hide a mistake. In doing so, I never address my faults. When I do play out, play strong and make a mistake, it is exposed. It can then be addressed, and I can work to make sure I don’t make the same mistake again. I never beat myself up over my mistakes. I never give up. The goal is to be better each moment, each day. Progress, not perfection.
Finally, I learned what it meant to lead. I had to make sure I was squared away; that I had my music and drill memorized. Then, I could help others in my section and ensure they were squared away. My actions need to match my words, otherwise, no one would willingly follow my lead. Throwing a rope to help others is useless if I do not have a solid foundation with which to anchor the rope.
I learned all of this, and so much more, through this activity. I would encourage anyone to give it a try. The primary age group is 14-22, but there are corps for all ages. It’s not for everyone, though, and you do need to know more than a little bit about music. However, the lessons learned, and the memories made, last a lifetime.
For additional information check out Drum Corps International, here:
You can also check out Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood. This is a fantastic documentary that expands on some of the aspects of the activity discussed in this post.