Marching Music

Are You Wasting Your Life?
February 26, 2009, 7:15 pm
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps, heavy on the philosophy, life lessons

No matter how you feel about George Hopkins, if you’ve actually spent any time around him you know he’s got some great things to say about life.

I was lying on a gym floor in the summer of 2006 (the summer that I wasn’t a field liner).  As was the case every single night of that season, I had spent the entire night dreaming about being in rehearsal.  I tossed and turned all night.  My aching muscles seemed to ache even more.  My brain was so full of coordinates, notes and suggestions that I thought it might have to dump the simple knowledge like addition and subtraction.  I had finally come to the stage in my nightly ritual where I could get some rest…that time where I was almost awake but still asleep.


I barely heard one of the drum majors yell, “Good Morning Cadets!  The time is 7:02.  Breakfast today is biscuits with sausage gravy.  Stretch and run is at 8.”  I kept my eyes closed.  I wanted to enjoy the 15 minutes that I could rest, and if I ate sausage gravy I would no doubt have to taste it twice.  (Acid reflux+drum corps food=gross)  The next thing I heard was George’s voice, “Wake up.  You’re wasting your life.”  He kicked a couple of air mattresses and bothered a couple for sharing one.  I was glad to have chosen my sleeping bag and the cold, hard floor early that morning.

At the time  I didn’t give it much thought.  I folded up my sleeping bag, put my shoes on, grabbed my backpack and was out the door.

Now, as a 22 (23 this Saturday) year old middle school teacher (and it’s important to note that I am not teaching instrumental music, which was my life’s ambition) I’m starting to give more weight to those words.

What does it mean to waste one’s life?

This post is far from over.  I plan to add a second edition when I’ve gotten some answers.  Here are my ideas so far:

You’re “wasting your life” if you’re…

-Passing up options that you only have when you’re young (drum corps, sports, a good education, family, etc.)
-Choosing not to do the work that it takes to accomplish what you want in life
-Doing something that you hate for the sake of having a job
-Creating drama for the sake of making life interesting

Please feel free to add…


Marching Styles Part 3: The Straight Leg!
May 30, 2008, 4:11 pm
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps, marching band

I know that you’ve all been waiting for this one, so here is the final installment of my marching styles series: the straight leg!

Though I have marched in all different styles, this is the one with which I have the most experience. 

The advantage of the straight leg technique is in its sleek, polished look.  The spectator or judge does not see the jerky, distracting movements of other styles.  The legs move smoothly from point A to point B.  This smooth movement also eliminates the proverbial “ground in the sound.” 

The disadvantage of the straight leg technique is its difficulty.  Most drum corps do a technique that is some variation on the straight leg.  They also have the time and resources to get their members into shape.  This technique is more physically taxing on the legs.  The bottom line: it takes more effort.

Do not be discouraged.  I have successfully taught and used this technique with high school bands.  It works if you have a sense of pride within your band which drives the students to work hard.

How does one execute/teach the straight leg technique? 
Before we get too far, you’re going to need some vocabulary:

edge: the back part of the platform/ball of your foot
platform: the part of your foot which you would stand on if you were standing on your toes
tripod: synonym for platform: you will basically equalize weight between your big toe, big toe “knuckle” and little toe “knuckle

As with any technique, you’ll want to start with the very first step. 
Starting with and keeping your legs straight, push with the edge of your right foot until you must put your left out to catch yourself.  Catch yourself with the left heel, left toe up.  Notice that you are doing all of the work with your back leg.  This technique does not lead, but instead it pushes. 
Do this until you feel comfortable.  If you are bouncing or changing height when you catch yourself, then you are probably pushing too far past your edge.  Back off just a bit and your technique should be just perfect. 

Step 2: Train your hip flexors.  Swing your leg from front to back like a pendulum.  This is one of only two movements which your front leg will do.  The other is the dorsal flexion (toe up) of your front foot. 
Now, the trickiest part of this technique to explain is the transition from step 1 to step 2.  At the end of step one, shift your weight to the front foot, rolling down.  At the same time, bring your back foot in and begin to flex your foot for the next step.  On the “and,” which is where we are at this point, you should almost look as though you are standing still.  All of your weight should be on your left platform, your ankles should be in line and your right foot should be just barely off of the ground.  When you actually do this in context, your knee will bend SLIGHTLY.  You may want to choose not to tell this for your students for awhile so that they get used to the technique and are careful not to put too much bend in the knee.
The second half of step two is just like step one, but with half of the effort.  Push with your left edge and catch yourself with the right foot, toe up. 

At first, this is going to look extremely jerky.  With practice, it will smooth itself out.  Just remember that everything in this technique is SMOOTH.  If you are moving up and down, then you are probably doing one of three things:

1. you are pushing too far, past your edge
2. you are pointing and/or flexing your foot at the wrong time
3. you are moving your hips too much rather than using your hip flexors (remember the pendulum)

This technique takes a long time to master, but it is completely worth the effort.  Straight leg technique, if done correctly, is guaranteed to make your band look and sound much more graceful than you ever thought possible.

A special pre-move-ins edition: Tour Relationships!
May 19, 2008, 5:26 pm
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps

It’s hard to believe that it’s move-in time already!  My sister’s corps moved in last weekend and all of my friends at the Cadets move in this weekend!  Here’s something to seriously think about before you leave for the summer: tour relationships.

I’ve been in a decent number of such relationships and I’ve learned a lot.  Here are some helpful hints!

1. set the terms.  there’s nothing worse than saying goodbye on finals night and having misconceptions about how to proceed from that point.  if you intend to go the “what happens on tour stays on tour” route, then you both need to be thinking that.  at the same time, if you intend to make it a long term thing, which is definitely going to take a lot of work, then you both need to be on the same page as well.

2. keep it professional.  when you’re on the field, your significant other cannot exist.  in order for the corps you’re with to be successful, you need to make a distinction between play time and work time.  that sounds like common sense, but trust me.  it’s not.  DO NOT TAKE YOUR DRAMA/AFFECTION ON THE FIELD WITH YOU!  rehearsal and pre-show must be focused and reserved for hard work.  post-show, bus time and meal time are acceptable outlets for your relationship needs. 

3. have an escape plan.  hopefully it won’t happen to you, but you need to think ahead of time what you might do in certain situations.  if (and this happens more often than you might realize) you should break up on tour and end up on bad terms, how will you remove yourself and not let the situation affect your performance?  it might seem attractive now to be on the same crew as your significant other or to be “seat partners.”  make sure that you have other friends to fall back on if things go awry.  if you “hang out” exclusively with your significant other, then you will have few to no friends if and when the fun is over. 

4. hope for the best and plan for the worst.  this doesn’t happen too often, but what if your significant other is sent home sick or injured on tour?  this is extremely upsetting.  again, it is for this reason that you MUST have friends other than your significant other.  this actually happened to me and i was incredibly thankful that i had other friends to lean on.  no matter how upset you are, you absolutely must eat!  again, common sense?  if you’re burning a few thousand calories a day, you need to eat or you’ll seriously mess yourself up. 

5. (this one goes for everything on tour, not just relationships.)  no matter what happens, in August it will be over.  don’t dwell on stupid things and don’t be overly dramatic.  it doesn’t help anyone.  in fact, it hurts everyone!

I really hope that this is helpful for anyone who reads it!  If you don’t believe it now, you will soon.  Hind-sight is 20/20!

Good luck!


RE: How do I get there?
April 4, 2008, 11:09 am
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps, marching band, Percussion

I’ve deleted the previous post because some people took offense to it.

Those people completely missed the point.

I was serious when I said, “if you want to march drum corps, then DO IT!”

I’m sorry if you made excuses when you were young enough to participate.

For the rest of you, learn from their mistakes and get out there if you want to.
Don’t be that guy in thirty years who says, “thanks jerk, I COULDN’T!”
Do you think that any 15-21 year old can really afford to spend $2000 on tour fees and not work all summer?
(if you’re still wondering, the answer is “not very many”)
This post was for eligible students/individuals who have been sitting around, saying “geez, i’d like to do that”
Corps still have open spots! It’s not too late! It’s even cheaper now because you missed many of the pre-season camps!
Take your horn, sleeping bag, and a boat load of confidence (and you might want to email to make sure that the corps of your dreams still has open spots first) and go try out! You never know.

Again, I apologize to anyone I’ve offended by making this sound so easy.


Making the Switch: Drum Corps to Marching Band
September 10, 2007, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps, marching band

This post is more for band directors and students who do both, than it is for the average reader, but it can be educational for either:

Cadets 06 Denver

Drum Corps International provides an extracurricular (marching) music experience like no other for thousands of dedicated students every year, so why is it that many band directors discourage participation?  I believe that this occurs because participants have a hard time making the switch from the highly competive, extreme high intensity of drum and bugle corps back to their high school or college bands.  The two are completely different worlds, as they should be. 

I’ll start off by sharing my sister’s present story with you.  She marched with Southwind this summer at the age of 15.  That is quite a feat in itself.  She fell in love with the people, the atmosphere and the intensity.  Now she is back in high school, marching around a parking lot 2 days per week.  Her high school program is good, but it is certainly not a drum corps.  She is still struggling with adjusting to working with the kids who just don’t care the way she does.  She has even developed an attitude about it…that is what I want to caution against.  Many times band directors discourage drum corps participation because of the attitudes with which their students return.  Admittedly, students who return from drum corps have done something on a higher level than the typical high school marching band.  It is when these students return with a superiority complex that they hurt, not help their band mates.  I would like to caution high school age participants against giving the drum corps community a bad name.  Please use your experience for the good of the group and, if you have to, take the group for what is.  Have fun. 

College band is a little different.  I don’t think that I have ever met a college band director who discouraged his students’ participation in drum corps.  Maybe this is because many college students who are in drum corps do not participate in their college marching bands.  I am one of the few individuals I know who do participate.  It took me 3 years to, as we say in the corps, “figure it out,” but I think that I’ve finally gotten it.  College band is much easier to adjust to than high school band because it is the most different.  You don’t have to worry about competing on a lower level because most college bands never compete at all.  College band (and I really never thought that I would allow myself to use this cliche about ANY band) is all about having fun and getting to know people.  It is what it is.  Have fun with it.

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with this (and coming from a Cadet, this is going to sound farmiliar.)
Everything that you do is a choice.  Choose to have a good time in your high school or college band.  Bring back the wealth of amazing knowledge that you were given this past summer and share it as much as you can with your director.  Engage in civilized, intelligent conversations with your band staff so that they can see what an amazing product the drum corps community really puts out. 

This I Believe: a lesson in good sportsmanship
August 17, 2007, 2:29 am
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps

I’ve just returned from an amazing summer, performing across the nation with the Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps.  This being my last summer of eligibility (at the ripe old age of 21), I really tried to push my limits physically, emotionally, etc.  The passion that the other 134 marching members and myself put forth on that field was absolutely amazing!  I could not have asked for more.  Thank you to all who made my 2007 age-out season so spectacular!

Now I would like to share something with you.  Our 2007 production was entitled “This I Believe,” after the NPR radio show of the same name.  It was a controversial choice, using voice-overs to convey the show concepts and reaching top speeds of 214 beats per minute at the end.  I will include a link to a youtube video of the show so that you can get the idea. 

Ultimately, according to the opinions of 8 people on the final night, the corps was awarded second place in the world.  That’s nothing to scoff at.  The real story, however, came about 2 nights before in the quarterfinals competition.  As the corps entered the field, we quickly realized that there were no hash marks between the 40 yard lines.  Now, when you’re moving around at one step spacing and speeds upward of 200 beats per minute for a good portion of your show (or even if you’re just trying to get 135 people not to run into each other), you need field markings.  As a result of this, our director (George Hopkins) pulled us off of the field and had the hashes re-marked.  As we left the field, the crowed booed very loudly and rudely.  Snide remarks went on for the rest of the championship competition week. 

I guess that I wasn’t really surprised by the crowd’s reaction.  I can understand that they were probably confused.  Maybe they thought that we were refusing to perform at all.  I was, however, taken aback by the fact that people would be so rude as to boo a group of young adult artists/performers such as ourselves.  I mean, when you take a step back and examine the situation, we are not professionals.  We do not get paid for our art/athletics like your favorite pro football team.  Basically, we are a bunch of kids, paying to perform for you.  Would you boo your local college musical?  What’s the difference?

On a more positive, less whiny note, the booing from the first night motivated us to push ourselves to new levels of intensity in the two days of rehearsal that followed.  Thank you, rude people, for making us stronger.

Please remember that good sportsmanship is a choice, and that everyone whose competition you observe deserves your respect. 

This, I believe.

watch the show at:

Marching Styles Part 2
April 24, 2007, 7:00 pm
Filed under: Drum & Bugle Corps, marching band

In order to explain corps style marching, I am going to split it up into 2 different sections: bicycle and straight leg.  There is a whole huge spectrum to be explored here, but for the sake of understanding, we’ll generalize.  Let’s discuss the Corps style technique: bicycle.


Definition: Each member has his/her own dot for each “set” of the show.  Step size varries for each member in each set because no two members have exactly the same commands to execute.  Steps are taken in a “bicycle” style, picking each foot up, bringing it to a certain point, and then extending to the next step.  The steps can be taken in a “tightrope” style, meaning that one foot is placed directly in front of the other, or in a “ski line” style, meaning that the paths of the feet may never cross (like skis).

This is the one which I have the least experience with, so feel free to correct any errors in my definition.

Advantages: This works very well in high school bands because it provides members a way to move fairly quickly without taking the time to teach a more strenuous and rigid technique.  It is the easiest for students to master as well as to hide small variations. 

Disadvantages: At slower tempos, it looks silly.  When its opposite, straight leg technique, is polished, this looks sloppy  and flaily by comparison.  Control is key.  It may also be harder to keep the movement from affecting your sound (ground in the sound) when using this technique.

Related Concepts: tight rope, ski line, precision/dot drill, high school marching band