How does it feel to lead a World Class drum corps? Find out from Carolina Crown’s drum major, recipient of last year’s Jim Jones Leadership Award, as he shares his passion, his experiences and his legacy.
For the past eight summers, I’ve been sleeping on gym floors, showering in middle school locker rooms and spending most days in the blistering heat of the summer, all while being pushed to my limits by some of the best music educators in the country.
For some people, the choice to spend my summers enduring these hardships can be somewhat baffling, especially when I tell them that, no, I’m not being paid to do this; in fact, I pay about $3,000 each year for this experience.
So what would drive a sane individual to consciously put himself in this situation? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been faced with this question. However, I can pose a similar question to any high school marching band member. Why, in the hustle and bustle of high school, when you’re busy balancing classes, a social life and usually several other extracurricular activities, do you join the marching band, where you pay money to join and where you are worked extremely hard by your teachers?
These are difficult questions to answer. All I can tell you is that the individuals who make those sacrifices do so because they love the activity.
I fell in love with drum corps at the ripe old age of 3 while watching my father, DCI Hall of Fame member Donnie VanDoren, teach the Star of Indiana. There, I witnessed the passion and drive of the members to achieve excellence at the highest level and the intensity and power of the musical and visual product.
For these reasons and more, I wake up every day energized and proud to be the drum major of the Carolina Crown Drum and Bugle Corps from Fort Mill, S.C. I’ve been around music in both marching and concert forms for most of my life. Beginning in elementary school, I performed in choral, instrumental and theatrical ensembles. I am currently entering my senior year at Butler University in Indianapolis, where I will be graduating in the spring of 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in instrumental music education. I hope to begin working as a middle or secondary school band director the following fall.
Without a doubt, my family has been a major influence on my interest in music. Nearly every family member, including my mother, father, uncles and sister, has marched in drum corps. My father went on after the conclusion of his marching career to teach some of the most legendary brass lines in drum corps history.
My personal experience in corps began in 2001 with the Lehigh Valley Knights Drum and Bugle Corps from Allentown, Pa. Then in 2004, I became a member of the Carolina Crown. I came to Crown primarily because of the outstanding reputation of the brass faculty, many of whom spent their marching careers in my father’s brass sections.
While at Crown, I played trumpet for three years, becoming the drum major in 2007. This year I am proud to have the opportunity to march alongside my sister during her rookie year in Crown’s color guard. I am privileged to be spending my final year as a DCI marching member with such an outstanding organization and with such close friends.
Taking the “Throne”
Like other leadership positions, being a drum major can be an extremely rewarding experience. The rush felt at the conclusion of a show when thousands of audience members applaud for the ensemble you are leading is, no doubt, exhilarating. Feelings like this are only magnified at events like the DCI World Championships, where we perform in front of crowds of 30,000+.
In all honesty, no words could describe the way it felt to conclude a successful show at DCI finals. Even more than in the audience reaction, I found my reward in the passion and precision of the performance itself. It was an honor for me to receive the Jim Jones Leadership Award at the 2007 DCI World Championships.
It certainly made me happy to represent my organization and Jim Jones himself in such a positive way.
However, the position does not come without difficulty and stress. As drum major, I facilitate communication between the membership, administration, faculty and volunteers. The most challenging aspect of the job is dealing with the unexpected. Plans can change in a split second, and I must coordinate my organization’s personnel, so that we can continue down the road and onto the next housing site or show.
Being on tour can be … well … challenging, to say the least! As the drum major, I also coordinate many of the details surrounding the day-to-day lives of the membership.
A typical day begins with an early wakeup, full corps stretch and conditioning, and breakfast. Next, we begin rehearsals, usually starting with a visual focus.
After lunch, music sectionals commence, followed by a full corps rehearsal ending with a full run of the show.
Then, we “eat, pack and load,” during which the corps prepares to travel to the show. Our tour duty crew completes a variety of tasks, and each corps member is responsible for a specific assignment during this time. Upon arrival at the show site, the corps warms up before heading to the stadium for the performance.
Following the conclusion of the night’s events, the corps loads the buses, and we depart for our next housing site, typically arriving early in the morning to get a few hours of sleep, only to wake up and repeat the entire process.
I feel strongly, and can say without reservation, that drum corps is hard. As the drum major of the Carolina Crown, I’ve been pushed to my mental limits and have come out on the other side a stronger, more level-headed individual with the confidence to attack any task. If someone asked me if it was worth it—worth it to give up eight full summers, to give up earning money for tuition payments, to leave friends and family behind—I would undoubtedly say yes!
Photo by Jolesch Photography, www.jolesch.com. All rights reserved.