What to Know Before Your Drum Corps Tour

Photo of the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps.
10 tips for junior corps members and their parents before the Drum Corps International season begins.

For many drum corps participants, laundry isn’t a chore to dread; it’s a social event and a rite of passage. “We love laundry days,” says Alayna Verduyn, drum major for the Colts.

Before taking the corps bus to the laundromat, Verduyn and her friends enjoy putting on nice shirts and denim shorts instead of normal outdoor rehearsal garb. “I’ve heard people say, ‘Why are you so dressed up to do your laundry?’” Verduyn says.

Photo of Legends Drum and Bugle Corps.Many performers involved with Drum Corps International see their first laundry day as a milestone. According to Ibe Sodawalla, executive director for Legends Performing Arts Association, the fourth, fifth, and sixth days of the first week are roughest to endure. “It’s the first time it’s not a camp weekend length of time,” Sodawalla says. “You don’t know if you’re going to get over that hurdle. I like to get them to the first laundry day to break away from the field, socialize, and enjoy one another’s company.”

Mundane tasks like doing laundry, exercising, and developing a sleep routine may not cross the average young performer’s mind when auditioning for a junior corps, but these responsibilities are important to consider before the season begins.

1. Create a Workout Plan

As soon as you receive your performance contract, you’ll want to start getting in shape. Being in drum corps takes physical stamina, and early training can protect your body from injury during the season.

“You really can’t start too soon,” says Lance Reutlinger, horn sergeant for the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps. He recommends that new members “create a workout that you can increase on.”

Endurance exercises like running or cycling would be helpful. “You may not be the kid that can run 10 miles, but get yourself used to it by starting with three-quarters of a mile and do it every day,” Verduyn says.

She also recommends looking on YouTube for tutorials on cardio workouts or ab circuits.

Some corps will have premade workout programs to help members train for the season. At Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps, members start their workout regimens in January and submit videos to prove that they’re sticking to the routine. “That’s just the conditioning phase that makes sure they’re healthy enough,” says Andy Toth, visual coordinator.

2. Pack Versatile Items

Packing the right suitcase for your travels begins with the choice of luggage itself. For starters, look for versatility. “Some schools say [not to] wheel luggage on gym floors,” Sodawalla says. “You see duffel bags that are light enough that they can feel comfortable carrying that.”

When deciding how to pack your bag, consider that most corps have laundry days only about once per week. “[Pack] things that are [hand] washable that you can wear [again] the next day,” Toth says. “Often, people will wear bathing suits or some sort of undergarment that can be washed in the shower and left to dry.”

When laundry day comes around, be financially prepared. While some laundromats take credit or debit cards, others are still coin-operated, meaning that you may want to bring some quarters. “I’ve always been comfortable keeping quarters in my bus box, a little box that goes under your seat in the bus,” Verduyn says.

3. Prioritize Physical Comfort

Your top priority for packing should be maximizing physical comfort. You’ll definitely need to take care of your feet. “Be ready to have a second set of shoes,” Sodawalla says. “[With] the amount of wear and tear put on your feet, you don’t want to have the soles of your shoes get so used that you … get blisters.”

In addition to quality sneakers, Verduyn recommends a pair of comfortable footwear to put on after practice. “I would have something you can throw on when rehearsal’s done, so you don’t have to wear your tennis shoes that are really gross and have been on your feet all day,” she says. “Let your feet breathe.”

Verduyn also stresses the importance of bringing nail clippers. “You do not want an ingrown toenail!” she says.

Include other small items that reduce physical pain. Definitely use lip balm to help moisturize raw lips. To prevent sunburn around the mouth, try “a bandana to wrap around your face during visual blocks,” says Dean Luke, baritone player for the Colts.

To stay functional in the heat, put on and continually reapply sunscreen. “You can’t be afraid of sunscreen!” Verduyn says.

 4. Protect Valuables in a Rehearsal Bag

Packing doesn’t end with a suitcase or a duffel bag; a rehearsal bag that accompanies you to all practices will protect you and your valuables.

During his first year in drum corps, Reutlinger made the mistake of leaving his phone behind during a rehearsal. “My rookie year, my phone [and two others] got stolen,” he says. “We found the phones later on, but for that amount of time, it was rough.”

Leaving behind phones and valuables can pose a risk, says Dr. Donald Flaherty, executive director for Gold Drum and Bugle Corps. “One of the things we notice is the kids leave their backpacks and their phones in places, and then they go missing,” he says.

Toth has adopted the mantra, “Everything all the time,” which he says to emphasize the importance of keeping everything valuable or necessary on your person at all rehearsals. “What is in your backpack? Is it everything you need for the day, no matter what?” Toth asks the members. “If the bus broke down for some reason, instead of taking half my things to another bus, I’d have everything packed and ready to go. … Everything all the time.”

5. Fuel Up!

During the season, get ample amounts of food, water, and sleep. “Make sure that you’re eating every meal,” Sodawalla says. “Food is fuel for the day. If you’re not getting enough nutrients, it … allows [you] to potentially get sick on tour.”

Physical trainers are always looking ahead toward hot days and recommending extra water for corps members, Verduyn says.

Sodawalla also recommends drinking Gatorade or other beverages that replenish electrolytes.

Throughout the excitement of a drum corps tour, members may want to stay up after rehearsal to call or text family and friends back home—but make sure to get enough rest. “Sleep solves a lot of problems,” Flaherty says. “I need my eight hours of sleep. … If I want to function, I have to be protective of my sleep time.”

For a good night’s sleep, make sure you have a comfortable sleeping surface even while staying on a gym floor. A self-inflating air mattress or a battery-operated air pump come in handy when a housing site has a shortage of electrical outlets.

“I use a self-inflating air pad,” Verduyn says. “It is on the more expensive side; however, I’m on my third summer, and it’s still in great shape.”

To get your rest, block out distractions. Noise-canceling headphones can be helpful for members who require a quiet atmosphere to fall asleep. “Just in case the lights don’t turn off, I would strongly recommend a sleep mask,” says Zach Nichols, a mellophone player for the Troopers.

 6. Know Your Resources

Photo of the Colts.Corps staff and administration will often take extensive precautions to keep members safe from injuries, weather conditions, and other threats. Corps members should seek help from staff members when necessary.

During the first night of move-in with the Colts, Verduyn remembers a tornado warning interrupting rehearsal. “Thirty minutes into the block, we had to go to the locker room,” she says. “Look to be told what to do. Don’t try to be a hero.”

When unexpected weather rolls in, corps staff will often have backup rehearsal plans, including reserved gym or auditorium space. These experiences are about “learning how to make the most of [the unexpected] as a member, not zoning out because you’re not outside.” Verduyn says. “There are still things to learn. Trust the staff on what’s going on.”

Corps members shouldn’t be afraid to ask staff members for help, especially in the case of physical injury. Many corps will have an on-staff athletic trainer, who can be a useful resource.

“People seem scared to go to [our personal trainer],” Reutlinger says. “They’re like, ‘I don’t want to get taken off the field.’ But you don’t want to get forced off the field by an injury. Don’t be afraid to talk to the personal trainer.”

Nowadays, many corps also provide policies, manuals, and youth protection information online, so familiarize yourself with those procedures.

7. Develop Relationships

The friendships built in drum corps can be one of the most rewarding aspects of the experience. For some members, forming new relationships might require coming out of your shell. “I was a pretty shy person before the season; I didn’t make friends easily,” Luke says. “What helped me is to walk around and talk to as many people as possible, small talk like, ‘Where are you from?’”

Verduyn agrees that the process can be intimidating but worthwhile. “It can definitely seem scary and overwhelming at first, especially if you don’t know anybody at all,” Verduyn says.

She recommends “remembering that there are so many people in the same boat as you who have never been through it before.”

Looking back, Toth regrets not reaching out to more people in his first year as a corps member. “The mistake I made my first year was being afraid to meet other people,” he says. “I stayed very close to my section.”

Overcoming that initial fear and reaching out to another member can make all the difference. “You should be comfortable sitting with someone else at a meal and striking up a conversation,” Verduyn says.

8. Stay Motivated

Long rehearsals can be mentally and physically draining. To stay motivated, adopt an open mindset. “You’re coming into a community of people from all over the place [who are] also very good at their craft,” Toth says. “Even if you’re the best where [you] were, you might not be the best where you’re going. Be open to learning as much as possible.”

Verduyn says that she found long rehearsal blocks mentally strenuous at first. Getting used to those grueling rehearsals was an adjustment. “If you’ve never been in a rehearsal environment similar to that, you don’t know how to handle yourself,” Verduyn says.

To get through those tough rehearsals, members can view each day as an opportunity. “This will probably be the last time in your life that you don’t have to make decisions,” Toth says. “Every morning, you’re told when to wake up, your food is provided, your schedule for the day is provided, and all you have to do is master your craft. … Be the best you can possibly be, and share that experience with the other performers.”

Even with an open mind, burnout is still a risk. Some corps members refer to feelings of burnout as hitting “the wall,” which Reutlinger defines as, “the point when you’re like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to go home.’ What got me through it was thinking about how much support I had back home, … how they’re proud of me and want me to succeed.”

During her first year, Verduyn stayed motivated by writing a message to herself inside the bill of the cap that she wore to rehearsals. “I wrote something as simple as, ‘You can do it,’” she says. “It’s nice because it’s there just for you. You’ll see it at the worst times.”

If all else fails, remember that you’re not alone. “If you’re having a hard day, there’s probably somebody else having a bad day,” Luke says. “Keep pushing.”

 9. Get Parents Involved

Surrendering their child for an entire summer can seem like a daunting task to parents, whether their child is in high school or college. Parents have multiple ways to stay involved, from social media groups to volunteer opportunities.

Karen Nichols, a parent and volunteer for the Troopers, highly recommends that all parents join the Troopers Facebook group. “There were a number of times a parent put on there, ‘Hey, my kid needs this. Is there anyone at this show that could help them out?’” Nichols says.

Annette Luke, a parent and volunteer for the Colts, agrees that the Facebook group is a necessity. “That gives you so much information,” Luke says.

After getting to know other Colts parents, Luke felt welcomed during her first volunteer stint serving food to corps members. “The minute I stepped into that kitchen [for] the first time, there were people there to help me,” Luke says.

Flaherty encourages parents to attend corps events whenever possible. “We do a lot of meetings,” Flaherty says. “All our rehearsals are open, so parents can come. We want them to be around in their kids’ lives.”

10. Say Goodbye and Hello

Whether or not parents choose to volunteer with their child’s drum corps, saying goodbye for the summer can still be difficult. “I work on the food truck,” Nichols says. “When the paths crossed at meals, they were eating, and I was working on getting the food out. You’ll see them, but know that it’s a very busy summer for them.”

Communication between parents and kids over the summer will be limited, but families can still make it work. “It’s easy [for corps members] to do calls at night or to shoot a quick text over lunch or dinner,” Verduyn says.

Reutlinger says that “calling is hard over spring training”; however, he recommends that members still stay in contact with their parents. “An occasional text saying, ‘Hey, thinking about you guys, love you,’ that helps my mom,” he says.

We featured high school students participating in drum corps in August of 2019. Read the article here.

Photo of the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps courtesy of Karen Nichols.
Photo of Legends Drum and Bugle Corps courtesy of Mackenzie Bush.
Photo of the Colts courtesy of Rick Zoellner.

About author

Savy Leiser

Savy Leiser is a Chicago-based author, journalist, and freelance editor. In addition to writing for Halftime Magazine, she is the author of the “Furever Home Friends” children’s book series. Savy graduated in 2015 from Northwestern University, where she was a member of the Wildcat Marching Band. She is currently pursuing her Master’s in Writing and Publishing at DePaul University.

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