Making a drum corps comeback

by Paul Mordorski

The drum and bugle corps activity is multi-faceted. From division III to division I in junior corps, the all-age corps with class A, open class, mini-corps and alumni, to parade corps for all, there should be a place for everyone to get the experience.

But what if you haven’t marched in several years and have the desire to march in an all-age corps that has aspirations of excellence? How difficult could it be?

The simple answer is, very. I am attempting a comeback with Minnesota Brass, Inc., a corps I have been affiliated with for over 30 years and have marched 15 seasons with. My last season was 2000, when the corps placed fifth at DCA, performing music from the rock group Chicago.

My personal goal has been to march in every decade in every uniform. Since the corps changed uniforms in 2002 and this is its 60-year anniversary, I felt this was the perfect         opportunity to come back.

For Brass’ 50th Anniversary in 1996, about 10 alumni came back to take part in the extensive activities that were planned. Although many came to the open house and considered marching in 2006, only a few are committing to the season. Why is there such a big difference from only 10 years ago?

Not only has the activity changed, so has the corps. The amount of commitment has increased significantly; the corps is now starting sectional and marching rehearsals beginning in early winter. For people who want to experience drum corps, but don’t have the time or inclination, mini-corps and alumni corps are available for those who can’t afford all the time, or would rather adapt to a less-disciplined style of marching.

During early-season marching rehearsals, I learned that several stylistic aspects had changed since 2000. Even our basic marking time, which changed to toes together, is different and very difficult to adapt for an old dog now needing to learn new tricks. Other marching aspects like sliding in one direction with your body facing a different one, is challenging. That left arm just doesn’t want to stay back and trying to bend it makes me feel like a fairly rigid pretzel.

The difficulties of coming back and the reasons why vary for different individuals. Another seasoned MBI veteran, Skip Olson, who has marched many years as a soprano and recently on mellophone, is coming back after being out for the past two years. He is returning because he still likes to play and have fun doing so.

Unlike me, he hasn’t had too many difficulties. “Maybe I need to be in a little better shape physically, but that will come with time,” said Olson. “With drum corps, you have to prepare for changes, not be too stubborn to adapt and go with the flow. I’m just going to have fun and enjoy it and try to be as good as everybody else playing and marching.”

Kevin Redmond, another MBI vet who last marched in 2003 — the first year MBI won high drums in corps history — is coming back for totally different reasons. “My decision was based on who was returning in the snare line, primarily, and drum line, in general,” he said. “In my opinion, the MBI drum line this year is going to set the standard for all drum lines in DCA with regard to quality of music and sound produced.

“The challenges in returning this year pale in comparison to making my return after 11 years away from the activity in 2003. Obviously attempting to return to the activity with the best drum line in the DCA activity was a daunting task. Mentally, I was pretty sure I could do it, but re-connecting all those neurons that had gotten rusty over the years was the biggest       hurdle to overcome. Re-developing my chops and focusing for lengths of time were also skills that required lots of time on my own to re-acquire.”

The most difficult part of coming back for Redmond is the level of commitment required to be a member of a very successful DCA corps. “With family and work and the multitude of other factors that draw on your time, it takes a disciplined person to juggle the responsibility of competing at the highest level of an activity as difficult as drum corps,” he noted. “It is          especially difficult in the drum line because there is no place to hide; you are either playing perfect, or you are holding the whole line back.”

Ed Bruneau hasn’t marched in the activity since the late 1960s. Marching again has been something he has wanted to do for many years, and now that he has the time and finances, he is attempting a comeback after 30 years. Aside from the years of rust and style culture shock he needs to shake off, he resides in Leed, SD, which is 644 miles from the Twin Cities.

“Luckily, I have friends in town who let me stay with them and get me to rehearsal, which helps a lot. Lately, it’s been cheaper to fly than drive, so it’s really nice to have people who          support me and help me get around.”

His learning curve has been steep; since the last time he marched, when there was a high leg lift, squad formations and turns, and piston-rotor bugles. He is determined to persevere and       continues to work toward earning his spot in the show.

“I had serious doubts at the open house that I could handle it, but now I see that I’m not the only one working toward getting in shape,” Bruneau added. “I’ve made a commitment to myself to do this and, as long as they don’t throw me out, I’m sticking with it.”

Should one attempt to come back and participate in drum corps after an extended layoff?
Absolutely! If for no other reason, you can prove to yourself that, in the words of Robb Schneider’s character in the movie “Waterboy”, “You can do it!”