Starting from Scratch

Sustaining a drum corps can be hard; building one from the ground up can be even harder. Read about the journey being undertaken by the Desert Fire Drum and Bugle Corps.

When Executive Director Matthew Seltzer set out to create the Desert Fire Drum and Bugle Corps in Las Vegas, he understood that the business side of the coin would be important. Like many others working in drum corps, though, he overestimated the interest that his organization could accrue in a short amount of time.

“We started to see that money and interest were not as big as they could be,” says Seltzer who began the Desert Fire Youth Arts organization with a friend in early 2007. “The hardest part for drum corps, in general, especially corps that don’t make it, is getting interest. It’s getting your name out there. The corps that are more and more successful are the corps that you hear about more. Blue Devils—they operate an entire entertainment group that travels all over the world. That, for me, is why they come to mind when people say drum corps.”

Interest in Desert Fire in the Las Vegas area hasn’t yet grown to the level needed to start a drum corps as Seltzer had initially hoped, so he decided to start small, to create a winter program called the Desert Fire Winter Brass. Unfortunately after tryouts, it became clear that the group didn’t have enough members for even the winter program.

“It’s hard to find people that are willing to get in on the ground floor,” Seltzer says. “Fifty years ago, drum corps may not have been the number one thing people did, but people knew what it was. Now you say drum corps—people scratch their heads until you say marching band. It’s become such a narrow audience.”

Seltzer believes that one of the most important goals for drum corps today is exposure. With his experiences as a fledgling organization, he laments the fact that interest in corps has declined in recent years.

“[Our goal is] to make drum corps a little more known in Las Vegas, not just among people who watch drum corps or already know drum corps,” Seltzer says.

For Desert Fire, the future is uncertain. The organization hopes to continue its efforts at establishing drum corps in the Las Vegas area by establishing the winter brass and a drum corps program, but a decision likely won’t be made until after the current drum corps season.

Seltzer’s advice for others trying to start from scratch? “Make sure the business is in place,” he says. “Make sure that you have a business before you really try to build a program. Have a board of directors before you make a music team. It needs to be a fully functioning business; they won’t develop at the same time.”

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About author

Eddie Carden

Eddie Carden is an editorial intern for Halftime Magazine. He is a recent graduate from the University of Southern California (USC), with a major in public relations and neuroscience. He has been playing the trumpet since the fifth grade and served last year as the drum major for the USC “Spirit of Troy” Trojan Marching Band.

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