Marching with Drum Corps Associates, you can be 20, 44, 59, or even younger or older; you can be a student, a business executive or a construction engineer; and you can be married with children. How does this activity draw such a diverse pool of participants, and how do they juggle their families, career and corps?
You can’t graduate, and you’ll never age out. For those who want to keep marching for life, Drum Corps Associates (DCA) is the place to be. DCA, the all-age drum corps competition circuit, offers its members a rewarding marching experience while teaching them how to work with people of all different ages and walks of life.
Three DCA members from different age groups discuss why they march, how they make time for drum corps and what they’ve learned from their experiences.
Minnesota Brass (St. Paul, Minn.)
20 years old
It couldn’t have been a more successful rookie season for Minnesota Brass guard member Rachel Graack as the corps won the 2011 DCA Championships and broke the Reading Buccaneers’ six-year winning streak.
“I think my favorite memory was just bonding with everyone, especially over winning championships,” Graack says. “That was, in its own, a great memory, and everyone was crying on the field in the rain.”
An undeclared junior at Minnesota State University, Mankato, Graack is now in her second year marching with Minnesota Brass. Previously she had been in color guard at Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minn.
“I was in color guard in high school and fell in love with it,” Graack says. “I knew about Minnesota Brass since I was in high school when they came to our shows. My other friends were marching and people I knew in high school.”
Graack balances her drum corps schedule with school, sorority and a part-time job at an assisted living facility. The last two weeks of the season, including championships, conflict with the beginning of her school year.
“It gets crazy once school starts because you have to drive back and forth and talk to your professors, but it ends up working out,” Graack says. “It’s a lot of time and effort, and there are many different factors, but you just need to be flexible.”
While Graack has considered marching in a Drum Corps International corps and could still qualify age-wise, DCA’s lighter schedule and monetary commitment make it a better option at this point in her life.
“I need to work and start paying off my student loans, which right now are more important to me, and being gone all summer is pretty hard, too,” Graack says. “Even if you can’t march a DCI corps, a DCA corps is always great because you still meet so many people. It’s just a little cheaper and a little less time consuming, but it’s still worth it.”
For Graack, the friends she’s made and the people she’s met are the most rewarding part of her drum corps experience. “There are quite a few people around my age or a little older but a few that are significantly older,” Graack says. “We all mesh really well, and it’s pretty fun. I love performing, so the chance to get to perform again is really great for me, and everyone’s really nice and laidback and easy to talk to.”
As she finishes college, she hopes to keep marching, maybe even for years to come.
“I want to keep coming back, but it just depends on what happens when I graduate from college and find a job,” Graack says “I’ll try to stay involved because it is so fun and very worthwhile.”
Reading (Pa.) Buccaneers
44 years old
She’s a mom of two teenagers, an executive working to provide the world with life-saving vaccines and drum major of the most decorated corps in DCA history. Andrea Gwyn is a veritable drum corps superwoman.
“I have a pretty serious career, and at times it is pretty hard to balance work and two active teenagers and drum corps,” says Gwyn, head of regulatory development for North America for Sanofi Pasteur, the largest company in the world devoted entirely to human vaccines. “Especially as the lead drum major, it’s not just the weekend rehearsals; I need to prepare updates, communication, and ensure that everything is ready for rehearsal.”
Gwyn marched in high school and with the Penn State University Blue Band, joining the Reading Buccaneers in 1987 for one year. She then marched two years with the Garfield Cadets where she aged out and then came back to the Buccaneers as a mellophone and then a four-year drum major.
After an additional year as drum major of the Bushwackers, she took a 15-year break to “have two little Buccaneers.”
In 2011 she returned as an assistant drum major and now lead drum major. Her two children— Connor and McKenna Cassady, who are 16 and 13 respectively —have now followed in their mother’s drum corps footsteps.
“When I left, I said I’d like to come back someday and have my kids march with me, and now it’s actually happening,” Gwyn says. “It was one of my bucket list items.”
Although the corps membership is relatively young—only five members are older than 40 with the oldest at 49— the varied ages still help the members learn from each other. Gwyn’s daughter, McKenna, is the youngest in the corps.
“Our drum corps is really pretty young, but it is interesting to see the high school kids and how they approach things,” Gwyn says. “They get some experience with the older college kids and the working life people to see how they organize themselves and approach rehearsals.”
Regardless of any differences, Gwyn is most in awe of the Buccaneers’ similarities. “That’s really part of what attracts me to Reading and to drum corps again,” she says. “You get to surround yourself with people that are working really hard on the same 10 minutes of show all summer. Drum corps people are a unique breed, and I like to surround myself with people of similar values. We have the same goal and work hard to get there.”
Gwyn’s husband, David, also helps out as a roadie and photographer for the corps. Being able to do what she loves while surrounded by her family is what Gwyn loves most about her drum corps experience.
“Sometimes I see them sharing this fantastic experience with me, and I get goose bumps,” Gwyn says. “I’m extremely proud of how hard they work, and I watch them push harder. Having the time with them and knowing that they’re learning the same things I did and will be able to apply that to their lives as they grow up is certainly a lesson that I think is good.”
Hawthorne (N.J.) Caballeros
59 years old
In his 47-year-long drum corps career, Blaise Castaldo has truly seen it all. Forty-three of those have been spent devoted to the Hawthorne Caballeros, where he marched as a mellophone player and then transitioned into visual and support staff.
“I like all the music, and I find redeeming qualities in everybody’s program no matter how big or small the drum corps is,” Castaldo says. “It’s a passion. I love the camaraderie. I get a big kick out of the kids, especially the college kids; they remind me so much of how we were when we were younger.”
Castaldo grew up in a time of drum corps history very different from the one today.
He began playing in a firemen’s junior corps and then the Envoys Drum and Bugle Corps in his hometown of Newburgh, N.Y.
“It was so good back then; there were so many regional drum corps in the Hudson Valley,” Castaldo says. “All of us young guys back then, we were all kids from the neighborhood, and in the 60’s if you didn’t do sports, you got interested in music. Anyone who could walk and chew gum at the same time was in. You didn’t have to be formally trained.”
In 1970 he joined the Caballeros and never left. Over the years he’s helped out as an instructor and/or visual staff. He has also worked with smaller corps and as a judge during marching band and winter guard seasons.
With the Caballeros, he’s worn so many different hats, he can’t even remember all the roles he’s filled. Currently he is listed as equipment coordinator and rehearsal facilitator.
“Any way, shape or form I can help, I try to help,” Castaldo says. “If you ask me why, I don’t even know for sure. I look at the drum corps as a group of people that needs things done, and somebody’s got to do them. I’m doing it for us; I’m not doing it for me.”
Castaldo’s favorite memories include times when his wife and one of his three children marched in the corps, championships and undefeated seasons, as well as the many high-profile trips and events he experienced with the Caballeros in the 70’s.
However the bittersweet memories of hard-fought seasons particularly stand out to him.
“You watch the corps struggle in the beginning of the season and then improve; it’s so satisfying to know that you had a part of that and had some kind of input,” Castaldo says.
After overcoming difficult times in the past, Castaldo says that the Cabelleros will stay strong overall. “The corps can endure through anything,” he says. “You can have some really terrible years, but as long as we keep having good people who care on the staff, the corps will endure.”
Between lining the fields, shopping, and providing water and lunches for the corps (to name just a few of his responsibilities), Castaldo still works hard at his day job as a construction engineer operating heavy machinery, requiring him to leave home at 3:30 a.m. daily.
Castaldo doesn’t see himself leaving drum corps any time soon. “Drum corps is my passion,” he says. “Maybe I‘m trying to recapture my youth. I am getting older, and I am getting slower, and I just don’t want to throw the towel in. Maybe I’ll get my fill, but I don’t think so. I think I’m just one of those habitual people that will keep doing it because it’s what I do. It’s just what I do. I just do drum corps.”
About the Author
Elizabeth Geli is the assistant editor for Halftime Magazine and a freelance journalist and communications professional in Los Angeles. She marched flute at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the University of Southern California (USC) Trojan Marching Band, where she now works as a teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.