Drum Corps Diary 2010: When in Rome

Rome, NY

The Pacific Crest baritone/euphonium section leader, Ryan Milligan, reflects on how his decision to “break ranks” and perform for just one elderly stranger became one of the most defining moments in his drum corps career. This story is the sixth installment in our summer 2010 drum corps diary series.

Rome started off like a typical drum corps day. We got corps breakfast (French toast, various cereals and PB&J), and the weather was hot and cloudy. I remember as we were eating, we had already begun to feel some small raindrops coming down. Obviously this wasn’t a good sign, BUT as we are a world-class drum corps, we brushed it off and continued on in the day. After breakfast we started setting up at the stadium to begin practice. And immediately when we got ready to set up stretch block, the sky opens up, and buckets begin pouring down.

Coping With the Crap

Instead of giving up and having everyone go back to sleep as the rain passes, we stretched in the gym and then found a space to do visual warm-up. It ended up being in a small theater/multipurpose room. We did A LOT of turret exercise (if you don’t know what that is, it’s where we stand still and rotate our upper bodies to the left, right and to the box in a predetermined count structure). After this we scattered throughout the space we had (four of us, including me, went on the stage) to work on the visual after the drum break in “Asphalt Cocktail.” At first we did the visual and a handful of people collided due to tight spacing and A/B visual structure. Overall we did an excellent job handling a bad situation.

In the Blast Zone

Now that visual was over, we had to set up the horn arc … in that same small space. Just to give you somewhat of a picture of how small the space was, we had to have the tubas sit in chairs in front of the arc just so we could fit everyone. If you haven’t experienced a drum corps warming up in a confined space, you haven’t heard loud. At first I was able to handle the playing, but the guy who stood next to me was playing directly toward my head, so I had to put in a headphone that had noise canceling. Nothing else too exciting happened in that hour except for a lot of loud playing in a small space.

Finally Rehearsing Outside

After our BYOB (Build Your Own Burrito) lunch we were actually going outside to rehearse. Rehearsal was typical. Warm-up in the end zone, and then repeat the same chunks over and over again. I remember for most of this rehearsal we worked on the beginning of “Turbine” to “the parallelograms of death,” otherwise known as “G.” The reason why this sticks in my head so profoundly is because near the beginning one of the reps, a LOUD siren started to blare. This thing sounded like a tornado siren or the siren that goes off near a nuclear power plant. It lasted almost the whole rep, but it didn’t seem to affect any of us as far as quality goes.

They Made Us Dinner, Not Them =P

I’m going to take a small step back to say that we were sharing this site with another drum corps who was rehearsing close enough so we could hear each other. With that said, the staff had informed us that the lunch we had before and the dinner we were about to have was provided by the booster parents of the school that we were staying at. And the other drum corps did not get the same treatment!

This made the meal better already. They had made us a delicious pasta dinner with bread and salad and dressing that was actually labeled! (It’s the little things at this point that make us appreciative) This would have been plenty to make us happy, but the students of the school then began to walk around with various ice cream snacks. This has been the best day of drum corps in my drum corps career.

Best Warm-Up Zone Ever

We had arrived at the show site and parked in a neighborhood in the middle of the block. So immediately I assume we have a long walk to our warm-up zone. I ask Chris Cowling (the visual caption head) where the line is going to start, and he simply responded, “We aren’t lining up.”

Confused I asked him why, and he said the neighbors requested that we warm up in front of their houses. I needed to go to the bathroom so I asked where the heck I was going to go. And again it was a simple answer, “Ask the neighbors.”

I was pretty shocked. So I went to them, and they took me into their house to use the restroom. Warm-up was slightly different due to the fact that we were in the yard of someone’s house, but we handled it well because we’ve been in weirder situations.

Post-Show Thank-You

I can honestly say that I don’t remember much about how this performance actually went. What I do remember is what happened afterward. After we got our post-show talk from the staff, the drum major found it fit to perform our corps song “Ave Maria” for the street that we warmed up on because that is all we had to offer as thanks.

Side note: It began to rain at this point. So instead of walking back in our usual way (back in sections), we walked back in twos, so we could set up the arc efficiently. As we were walking back, I noticed an elderly lady on her porch watching us walk by with a look that I can’t describe in one word. She looked as if she were watching her children graduate from high school or getting married. That look of being proud, happy, sad and so many more emotions put together in one. I turned to a few in my section and pointed her out. We wanted her to hear us perform “Ave Maria.” So I broke away from the ranks (which isn’t usually allowed) to go invite her. But before I could even say anything, she gave me a gentle hug, then kissed me on the cheek and proceeded to tell me that she had been involved with drum corps since the beginning. When they would have shows at that school, she would make the corps dessert-type foods and take care of everyone. So I invited her over to listen to us, but she said she was simply too old (90 years old to be exact), and her husband was sick inside, and she had to take care of him. I had to leave at this point, so I didn’t miss playing for the rest of the street.

The Corps Song Heard ‘Round the World

This had really got me thinking. This is my last year of Pacific Crest. This is my last WEEK of Pacific Crest. It also really got me thinking about Zach [Headden, drum major for the past two years who died in a car accident in 2009; this year would have been his age-out year] and how at any moment all of this could end: for me, for my friends and even for that old lady standing on the porch. These thoughts led to the most emotional run of “Ave Maria” I have ever played.

The beginning was fine, but as we played further into the piece, I lost it. I couldn’t stop thinking of that lady, who had put SO much time into drum corps, and who could not share this moment with us. We finished up the piece, and the neighbors enjoyed it very much.

It then came time for a section talk. At first I could tell that everyone wanted to ask why the lady couldn’t come out to see us, but they waited for me to talk. I told them why she could not come and how it made me realize that this is it. After this week, we were done. Sure Pacific Crest will still be there; we will still be friends. But THIS baritone/euphonium line will never exist again.

At this point I could barely get words out because I was crying too hard until we came up with a decision to bring the corps to her. This was the moment where I saw all the work I put into leading this group of adults come together. They kept me up when I began to break down, and I love every single one of them for it. We sent a few people out to gather everyone that wanted to perform for her to meet in front of her house to perform “Ave Maria” for her. The performance was beautiful (minus the fact that it was unbalanced because not everyone was there). She was lost for words and loved every second of it.

Conflict Arises

Just before the downbeat of playing, I got a tap on the shoulder. It was our drum major wanting to know what was going on. Now for anyone who doesn’t know, the drum major is supposed to be the only member allowed to conduct the corps song, at least for Pacific Crest that’s how it is. So with that said, the drum major was livid to say the least. And he had every right to be because nobody had looked for him to conduct this. So when I got that tap on the shoulder and looked over to see his face, my stomach dropped. Afterward, he pulled the person who conducted to the side to have a serious talk about why what he did was incredibly wrong.

All Fingers Point To …

A majority of people are giving me credit for what has happened here on this day. I’ll admit; Yes I broke ranks to see if the elderly lady wanted to watch us. If that didn’t happen, there was no possibility of us going to play for her. There’s no way that we would have known that she had been involved with this activity for so long. But in the end, there is no single person to point to, to give recognition to, for this final event of the night. If I was to give anyone credit, it would be my section for giving me the confidence to break off and ask her initially, my section who brought out my emotion after “Ave Maria” and my section for coming up with the decision to do this.

Day’s at an End

Now that I look back, I was glad that we went through that. Even though I felt like a cheated a great leader out of a great opportunity to conduct a piece he deserves to conduct, we made someone extremely happy. And that is what I marched for. That moment had taken the story I’ve created through the five years that I marched and had given it the definition of why I did it. I never cared about scores; I cared about giving people a reason to watch drum corps all together.

About the Author

Ryan Milligan is a fifth-year ageout with Pacific Crest and is the baritone/euphonium section leader. He goes to Cal State Fullerton and is majoring in music education. He attended Aliso Niguel High School and was a member of the drum line throughout his high school career.

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