Drum corps in winter

by Mario Navetta

January… the snowstorm that keeps you out of school for two days has nothing to do with rehearsal — that was school. This is drum corps! For “city corps,” the subway is always running. The precarious trek to the corner station under the shadowy glare of incandescent streetlights half-hiding the emerging, weary faces of the daily subterranean communicants, means little more than the possibility of finding an abandoned seat for yourself and your horn case — drumsticks are much easier to conceal. The long-ago memorized station names appear and vanish in tempo with the drowsy, dwindling denizens. Not far beyond the screeching wrench of metal wheels now freed from the confining tunnels, lies the approaching snow maze of the “El.” Standing at the soon-to-be-open doors, the forgotten remnants of Christmas lights are errant, colored dots on the black and white nightscape. The church bell summoning the faithful to evening prayer is an unnecessary, but still welcome, beacon to the devoted in the adjoining church basement who will offer their musical prayers for late spring and summer judgment.

There are always the faithful faithful and pseudo-faithful who, whether by resolute conviction, or for lack of anywhere else to go, or anything else to do, are invariably early and never miss rehearsal. Everyone else must be waited for. Paradoxically, it is especially on snowfull, school-less nights, that there is an almost visceral need for gathering. Everyone is here. Perhaps it is a desire for a communal ritual of freedom that only the young can be a part of. Whatever it is, it is that special night when everything seems to follow a divine plan that must seemingly be credited as much to our nearness to the supplicating voices in the next building, as it is to the skill of our instructors and our own unsophisticated, yet masterfully manipulated talents.

For seconds at a time, we are in ingenuous, child-like trances as we wonder to ourselves and, half-covertly with our eyes, to each other, the how, and why this is happening to us. Lead sopranos are hitting upper register extremes with a clarity and brilliance that ignores the fact that this is the culmination of a night begun more than three hours ago with a new exit piece that calls for intricate dynamics that may not be realizable so late in the show. Baritones and lower voices are defiant now, then reticently placid. French horns soar seductively in a coquettish challenge to any voice that would dare approach them. Tonight the drum line is a wayward, multi-personality Broadway/New York Philharmonic ensemble. And we hear far more than we hear, believe more than we’ve ever believed.

And then it ends. The unwilling or willing suspension of disbelief yields to a Cinderella-reality, and we are once again a muddle of city kids realizing that it is late, and that there might be school tomorrow. There are quick words about a next rehearsal and unpaid dues, but these are ignored. It is time to go home.

Outside, the recollection of the night’s magic is little more than a vagrant thought that feebly warms the icy wait on the exposed “El” platform. The train, like the indifferent inner city darkness that dispassionately embraces it, is nearly lifeless now. Sprawled at random intervals are the triaged odds and ends of its self-engrossed community searching for solace, sanctuary, or eventual escape from the depths. There is a last desperate stare at the haphazardly glistening snow-track labyrinth before all are consumed by blackness and tunnel clamor. For a short lived instant, in yet another paradox, the pandemonium contradictorily conjures the night’s magic. January.