A way to increase how many young people participate

by Harry Heidelmark, DCW staff

While drum corps fans across the country enjoy competitions from June through August, marching members of the various corps begin competing much earlier. As early as September, young musicians scan the Web sites of corps looking for audition criteria and printing out musical selections they’ll need to play.

For most corps, the audition process begins in November at the first rehearsal camp. Students sometimes travel across the country in hopes of winning a spot in the corps of their dreams. Prospective corps members bring their musical resumés and instruments after spending countless hours rehearsing the music selected by the corps and often additional works selected by the student.

Many of the top DCI corps often have several hundred students trying out for as few as 50 to 100 spots, depending on the number of returning veterans. Unfortunately, due to inexperience or shortcomings in talent, too many are passed over for other students. Some of these “cuts” then try out for other corps they’ve heard had openings, but sadly, many elect not to march.

Some, instead of going back to their original corps and dealing with members who may chastise them a little, some see themselves as failures and choose not to march at all. Every summer, I see students from one of the many corps I’ve driven for sitting on the sidelines or in the stands. When I ask why they aren’t marching, I get scenarios similar to what I’ve just described.

I believe the auditioning corps, when choosing their members, could have a totally different impact on their “cuts” if they did two things:

• Communicate with the student the specific shortcomings that resulted in their being eliminated as a candidate for their program. Some corps do this, but I believe it should become a practice of all corps. More importantly, the student should be encouraged to march with another corps to hone their skills.

• In addition to counseling the student about their options for participating in drum corps, the student’s name and contact information could also be shared with specific corps chosen by the student that may then offer an invitation to check out their program. A phone call from a representative of a corps inviting an individual to a rehearsal camp is sometimes all it takes to keep them involved.

As the Major League of Marching Music, I believe DCI and its member corps could ALL benefit from a program which results in more students staying involved in the activity. If the division I corps could form alliances with open class (formerly division II/III) corps and offer a referral to one of these corps when a student is cut from their program, the individual would gain the experience they need to eventually march with one of the upper level corps and elevate the talent level of the division I corps in the process.

While I don’t see specific corps becoming farm teams similar to AA or AAA baseball teams, some form of communication and cooperation between corps should only benefit the students and the activity as a whole.

I’ve seen the effect an invitation from a staff member has on students who are actually asked to become part of a corps. A program for sharing information about students who wish to be a part of this wonderful activity, but lack the skills necessary to march in their dream corps would certainly help stop the exodus of so many talented young men and women.

Too often students who have been cut by one of the top corps decide to take a year off and try out again the following winter instead of marching another season with a corps, they’ve been with for a year or two. Some have told me they fear the harassment from other corps members if they went back to their original corps, but I believe with some encouragement from staff members, a student could learn to cope with such chastising.

However, if they take the year off and get involved with other summer activities or enter the work force, their desire to participate in drum corps lessens.

A program such as I am suggesting would involve time and logistical support, but investing that time would result in the corps and the activity as a whole in a win, win, win situation. In addition to honing his or her skills, a student who chooses to march with an open class or division I corps that finishes out of the top 12 could benefit by sharing their talent and experience with other corps members.

Most corps develop their recruitment programs, but give little attention to retaining current members. Some corps have financial incentives for students to remain with their organization, but financial considerations are often not the reason a student chooses to try out for another corps.

Corps and students at all levels of the activity would benefit greatly from a program that encouraged or even rewarded students to remain involved with the activity. Keeping students involved in drum corps, even if it meant marching with a smaller corps for a year and then making the move back among the elite corps in the activity could help the smaller corps to become stronger and increase the number of students marching overall.

Being cut from a group of several hundred individuals trying out for a specific corps should not be the end of a drum corps experience.

This article was originally published in the November 2007 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 36, Number 14), mailed to subscribers on October 25, 2007.