Corps interns do just about anything to earn experience

by Mike Ferlazzo, DCW staff

This article originally appeared in the February 2008 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 36, Number 17).

Many college-age students typically use this time of year to search for summer internships. Those with future plans in music, the arts or related career fields will find internship opportunities abounding for the right student in drum corps, with openings from among the touring corps, Drum Corps International and its corporate sponsors.

Through these positions, the intern gains valuable life and career experiences while building their résumés and developing professional contacts. The organization gains some high-energy, low-cost manpower to assist in managing the sometimes daunting tasks that often accompany the summer schedule.

But just like how drum corps isn’t for every musician, some of these summer internships require a special student, too. They may not have to practice in the hot sun for countless hours all summer, but drum corps interns can be the first ones up and the last ones to bed as they are literally asked to do just about anything.

They do so in a stealth fashion, often blending in with management, the corps members, the creative team, the drivers, the maintenance crew, the marketplace staff and the stadium operations team, among others.

Students who performed three very different internships last summer — one with the Blue Stars, one with DCI and one with Yamaha — told stories about their experiences at last summer’s DCI World Championships in Pasadena, CA. These stories may give this year’s applicants an idea of what they can expect this summer.

Blue Stars’ intern Alan Endler

Upon first glance, Endler looked like the regular salesmen, working the Blue Stars’ souvenir stand in the DCI Marketplace. But that was just one of the many hats he wore last summer.

He also drove the corps van to show locations, to the hospital when anyone from the corps experienced a medical emergency, and out on supply runs. When he wasn’t selling or driving, he was given other tasks like helping to build the multi-colored sideline “wall” used in the show.

“I did all sorts of various odds and ends,” Endler said. “Basically, anything that anyone needed me to do, I was a go-fer.”

And in that role, he was almost always on the go

“If we’re in a location for more than one day, we actually found a little time off,” he said.

“But more often than not, we’re in a location for one day and we’d ship off to the next one and it’s very fast-paced. So, the only real time off we got was sleeping and meals.

Otherwise, we were basically working or on-call. So anytime anybody needed anything, we were back to it.”

“It” could be a nine-hour drive, or juggling multiple tasks all at once to keep the corps rolling. And the daily hours of his internship were as long as it took to get the jobs done.

“When you’re up for seven, eight, nine hours in a row driving solid, it can wear on you. So the drives can be extremely difficult,” he said. “The other tough thing is when you’ve got an hour or hour-and-a-half break and there’s nothing to do and then all of a sudden, three or four people all come to you with tasks at the same time. You have to try to help all of these people out. You finally get everything done — you try and prioritize them, but get them all done in one trip — and you come back and they ask you ‘why did it take so long? What happened?’

“I wasn’t assigned to just one job, so it got a little stressful when people were demanding that their job needed to be done right now and you’ve got four of those all at the same time,” he said.

A senior marketing/psychology major and member of the marching band at Iowa State University, Endler learned about the Blue Stars’ internship from a classmate who also interned with the corps last summer. He jumped at the chance.

“I said ‘Let’s see, I’m going to be touring around the country with a drum and bugle corps, seeing all sorts of crazy places, meeting interesting people and I’m going to end up at finals in Pasadena. I think I’ll sign on,’ ” said Endler, who is from Rosemont, MN.

The Blue Stars pay their interns a very small stipend to help out with some food expenses, according to Endler. And they certainly earn their meal money.

But the experience was ultimately valuable for his life after college. He now knows that he can work under pressure, improvise and change things on the fly. He also said he learned greater patience and some leadership skills through the experience — not to mention all the contacts he made in the activity.

And it wasn’t all work and no play for Endler.

“The coolest thing I did was probably when we pulled into San Diego,” he said. “We got in about two hours ahead of the busses and the housing site was maybe 20 minutes from the beach, so at 5:45 in the morning, Alex (another intern) woke me up and said, ‘Hey, we’re at the beach — let’s go.’ And at 5:45 in the morning, we were standing in the Pacific Ocean. So that was a lot of fun.

“Otherwise, the coolest thing would probably be all of the free drum corps I got to watch. I got into shows and watched the changes of the corps from the beginning of the year up until now. I think that was really interesting to watch.”

Endler also had his friends beat when they compared what they did last summer.

“They (his friends) can say, ‘Hey, I went to this place for a week or I went to that place for a week. I could just start naming off places,” he said. “We had 30-odd shows, so there’s 30 different cities that I stayed in. All the various things I got to do, like standing in the Pacific Ocean in the morning. All the places I’ve seen, all the people I’ve met, all the various experiences I’ve done.

“It’s definitely a war story you could talk to people about.”

Drum Corps International intern David Armstrong

When the Blue Stars pulled into a major DCI event site, chances are that they passed Armstrong. He was one of DCI’s event operations interns last summer, where he helped prepare the stadium for the event and assisted in keeping things running smoothly.

“I did anything that goes into running a major DCI event, like the set-up, the tear-down, the actual operation of the event,” Armstrong said. “Obviously, I worked along with the other DCI staff members and made sure everything happened and ran properly.”

Armstrong marched in his high school band at Homestead High School in Ft.Wayne, IN. While an ankle injury kept him from participating in a drum corps, he’s always been a fan and he found the internship position while visiting the DCI Web site.

Unlike life on tour for Endler, Armstrong worked regular business hours at DCI’s Addison, IL, offices during the week. But during DCI major event weekends, he was one of five DCI interns who were typically the first ones at the site and often the last ones out.

“But it’s a good time,” said Armstrong. “With the drum corps show, time really flies when you’re watching shows and getting a chance to see all these kids coming in and out. It’s really not too bad.

“During the show, it’s more just maintaining the status quo — making sure things run properly, making sure fans are happy and making sure everything’s taken care of for our invited guests,” he said. “And of course, just making sure the corps have the best experience they can, on and off the field.”

An Indiana University business management major with a music minor, the DCI internship was also the best possible experience for Armstrong.

“With my two areas — business management and music — I wanted to combine something, so DCI was the perfect opportunity to combine the business side of things with the music side of things,” he said. “It was a great opportunity for me to work on communications, networking, just being in the real world.”

The real world experience got him “up close and personal” with the activity.

“It’s great to see the corps members’ faces as they’re coming out onto the field,” Armstrong said. “It’s great to see them as they’re coming off the field and they’re real excited. It’s great to see them when they win awards.

“What made me happy was seeing the fans. You could tell when they were excited from a great show and then you’d see the corps members come off the field and have that look on their faces like they were rock stars.”

Of course, the summer wasn’t always that fun. Armstrong said that the hours traveling often required some early flights. But he wasn’t complaining. In fact, he was quite   complimentary of the experience and the people he worked with.

“I can’t say enough about the DCI staff,” said Armstrong. “Everybody, top to bottom, loves this activity and that’s why they’re here. There’s this common bond that unites everyone.

And it’s just great because you can feel that when you’re in the office. You can feel that when you’re at the shows. Everybody is just terrific. They couldn’t be better.”

Yamaha intern Eric Woodhams

Since Yamaha is one of DCI’s corporate sponsors, Armstrong probably had a hand in displaying its banner in more than one stadium. And while Yamaha officials were present at DCI’s major events, Woodhams was back at the company’s Buena Park, CA, headquarters helping to hold down the fort.

Since the DCI World Championships were so close last summer, he got his chance to get out of the office and work the Yamaha stand in the Rose Bowl Marketplace during the week, taking in division I semifinals and finals in the process.

“This is my first show and it’s been fun,” said Woodhams, who is pursuing a master’s degree in arts administration at Indiana University. “There have been quite a few conventions over the summer that people have gone out to. But interns, usually at those times, stay home and man the ship.”

Like Armstrong, Woodhams also found his internship online. It required him to move to California and work a regular 40-hour-a-week schedule during the summer, with some compensation.

“It’s paid, but moving from the Midwest and having to find a place to live in LA, it kind of evens out,” he said. “The cost of living’s much higher.”

But it was worth it because of the level of creativity Woodhams got to explore.

“I dealt with lots of stuff (digital media), from podcasting to recording a lot of new slide shows for training programs. Yamaha’s really on top of things from a technological aspect,” he said.

“We had a very interesting final intern project. Because Yamaha has over 20 years’ history with DCI, and we just came out with a commemorative timeline poster, the intern project that we had to do was develop a Web site based on the poster. It’s a Web site that people can use for information about what the corps are playing, the notable wins, etc., with lots of media, including images and links to Yamaha podcasts about them.”

While Woodhams never marched in a drum corps, he was aware of the activity and learned a lot more about it from his project. But that was just part of what he learned last summer.

“It was a wonderful experience just working with lots of fun and creative people,” he said.

Regarding the specific experience working at the Yamaha headquarters, “currently there are at least seven former interns working for Yamaha full-time, with many more in other parts of the industry as educators, working for dealers, etc.,” said Troy Wollwage, percussion marketing manager, Band and Orchestra Division, Yamaha.

“We usually have three a year — one each for winds, strings/accessories, percussion and trade show services. The internships are paid and we have had kids from all over the country.

“Many music dealers are interested in those kids because they end up being fantastic sales support staff for dealer stores.”

Ultimately, working and experience are the two common words in any internship.