Marching, music, medicine and science

by Fred H. Olin, M.D., DCW staff

On October 19 and 20 at Auburn University in Alabama, a conference titled “Marching, Music, Medicine and Science” was convened to discuss the health evaluation and health maintenance of marching musicians.

Co-sponsors were the Auburn University College of Education, Department of Health and Human Performance, the College of Liberal Arts, Department of Bands, and the Cavalier Medical Group. Participants included drum corps medical personnel, marching band directors and teachers, and academics in the fields of physiology, biomechanics, kinesiology, psychology, athletic training and music education.

The conference came about when Auburn Professor David Pascoe, Ph.D., who is writing a book on the subject of the thermal physiology and regulation in marching band members, discovered the drum corps activity. He contacted DCI, who referred him to Craig Bales M.D., lead physician for the Cavaliers Medical Group.

Speakers discussed the unique requirements of marching performance, not only physical, but psychological, dietary and physiological. Specific topics included the need for off-season physical conditioning, evaluation of the physical and physiologic demands of practice and performance, problems with injury, the psychological profiles of performers and the environmental needs and   controls which should be considered.

The program was chaired by Dr. Pascoe. The first day was split into two parts. The morning consisted of a series of presentations, first from the drum corps side. Dr. Bales led off the discussion by giving an overview of the drum and bugle corps activity for those who were unfamiliar with it. He described stresses the summer tour puts on marching members, volunteers, etc.

Tom Freeman, D.P.M., a Cavalier alumnus, spoke on The Cavaliers’ experience with foot and ankle injuries and what has been done to prevent them. Becky Parker, M.D., a Trooper alumna and medical director of the Blue Stars, discussed the problems she has experienced in setting up a medical program for the Blue Stars and some of the solutions which have been found.

Dr. Rusty Logan, band director at Auburn High School and father of a Cavalier alumnus, posed several basic questions about dealing with the unique problems of managing students (and their parents) in the secondary school environment. Then came discussions on the “Relationships of Dietary History and Cardiovascular Health in University Marching Band Members” by Dr. Jill Bush of the University of Houston, presented in her absence by Andy Lorino, Dr. Bush’s doctoral student; “Personality Predictors of Health and Well-Being in Musician Athletes” by Jake Levy, Ph.D., Cavalier alumnus and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee. [Publisher’s note: Jake Levy’s article on “Personalities of drum corps participants; development and use of the Drum Corps Personality Inventory” appeared in the November issue of Drum Corps World on page 4.]

Danielle Wadsworth, Ph.D., of Auburn, who is an Exercise Behaviorist, spoke on “Health Assessments and Band Members.” Ramon Vasquez of the Auburn Trumpet Studio gave his observations on brass instrument performance in drum corps, based on his experience as both a marching member of Phantom Regiment and staff member for several corps.

Chad Abrams, A.T.C., an athletic trainer, gave his analysis of how a trainer could contribute to the prevention and treatment of musculoskeletal injuries. Wendi Weimar, Ph.D., Auburn University kinesiologist, enlightened and entertained us with her paper on “Biomechanical Analysis and Marching Bands.”

Dr. Pascoe discussed his ongoing research into the problems of dealing with the fluctuations in body temperature which occur in marching musicians who must practice outside in varying climatic conditions.

The afternoon was spent in an informal setting in the “Eagle’s Nest,” a comfortably furnished room on top of the Education Department’s building. After a buffet lunch, we spent the next several hours in free-form discussions about the problems which had been elucidated during the morning session. The interplay of disciplines and ideas was extremely stimulating.

During this session, Michael Davis, who retired from the directorship of Disney World’s music activities, gave a demonstration of the products being promoted by the Institute of Health and Human Performance (IHHP). These items are being sold with the thought that they might help prevent injury by increasing the strength and flexibility of the performers.

The researchers among the attendees expressed interest in doing controlled trials with IHHP’s equipment to see if it would hold up to the Institute’s claims. [IHHP was featured in two articles on DCI’s Web site during October, 2006. You can find those articles by typing “IHHP” into the search box on DCI’s front page.]

On Saturday, conferees spent the day with the Auburn University Marching Band and that’s their name. We were told they don’t need to be called the “Marching Tigers” or anything of the sort. They are justifiably proud of what they are, a university marching band.

We started out by attending their morning rehearsal, on their own dedicated field. Practice started with sectionals, as each group gathered in a circle and warmed up under the direction of their section leader. This part broke up after 30 minutes or so when the trombone section, which I, as a reborn trombonist was observing, suddenly took off at a dead run, surrounded one of the auxiliary groups and played (very loudly) at them.

Because the game that day against Tulane University was homecoming and had several ceremonies integrated into pregame and halftime, the band did only a relatively short presentation, acting as accompaniment to the presentation of the football team’s graduating seniors, who walked on with their parents before the kickoff, and the announcement of the homecoming queen at halftime.

The teaching methods for the morning practice were reminiscent of watching a drum corps staff do their thing: start, stop, do it over, with the usual comments, criticisms and commendations. Most impressive was the high-speed, high-stepping entry. Seeing more than 300 people doing that essentially perfectly impressed me, at least!

Auburn’s football games are surrounded by huge traditions. We were guided by Dr. Pascoe and his folks to be at excellent vantage points for the hoorah that occurs outside of the stadium before the game. First on the schedule was “Tiger Walk.” This involves the football team being delivered by bus to the top of a street near the stadium two hours before game time

They then walk between barricades down the middle of the street for a couple of blocks surrounded by cheering fans who reach out to shake their hands, trade high-fives and generally whoop it up.

Next, the band does what they call “Four Corners.” They have been split into four more-or-less equal parts, each of which approaches a street intersection near the stadium from a different direction, playing all the while. When they all arrive, the drum major stands on a podium in the center of the intersection and directs them in several of Auburn’s fight songs. The whole thing is very stirring, even for those of us who didn’t know where Auburn was until we made our air reservations.

Once the band makes its way to the stadium, it does a full-band walk around the periphery, stopping to play several times for the rapidly filling stands. It then exits and prepares to re-enter for the pregame festivities.

Although the Auburn teams are called Tigers, one of their favored traditions is called “War Eagle.” For the full ramifications of this, I’d suggest you plug the phrase into your favorite search engine . . . anyway, during the pregame, a falconer released a huge, beautiful Golden Eagle named “Tiger” from the upper reaches of the stadium. She flew around the stadium and descended to another handler down on the field. It was a spectacular moment. To see a close-up of Tiger and photos of a few of the participants in the conference which were taken during our visit to Auburn, go to this website:

On Saturday evening, a dinner was held at the home of Dr. Rusty and Betsy Logan which allowed everyone involved, along with their wives and husbands, to socialize, watch football and generally enjoy each other’s company.

The conference wound up with plans to meet again in five or six months. In the meantime, a full-day session on caring for the marching members of DCI corps will be held at the time of the DCI winter meeting in Atlanta in January 2007. It is hoped by all participants that these meetings will result in better care for marching musicians at all levels, from junior high to DCI.Oh, yeah. Auburn won the football game, 38-13.

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Publisher’s note: This article originally appeared in the December 2006 edition of Drum Corps World, mailed to subscribers on November 16 (Volume 35, Number 15).