Wednesday, June 30, 2010

First Audition with a World Class Drum Corps Pt2

After finally settling down and trying to understand what I possibly got myself into, I was able to fall asleep on the gym floor with all the other guys who were auditioning. As short of a night it was, actually got a good amount of sleep, but in the early morning, you could hear a few of the older members starting to stir and take their showers. This actually became a thing I would learn to listen for as the earlier you got your shower, the hotter the water was. The later your shower, the colder it was!

If you didn't wake up early enough, then your other 'alarm' was the *click-click-buzz* of the gym lights being turned on. I would use this as my back-up wake-up call later in the summer, and immediately go shower before grabbing breakfast. Many people chose breakfast before shower, but the lines to take a shower were always long, and some guys took longer than others.

Breakfast consisted of something hot, like eggs, or french toast, along with cereal. Once we were all done with breakfast, we would have to clear the gym at Rosemont school because this morning we would be learning the Cavaliers way of standing at attention, and posture. Of course, we would take about an hour to stretch. (This was before the Cavaliers hired a fitness guru. He taught the corps palates, and I'll be honest when I say that I'm glad I wasn't around for him! LOL)

After our stretching, it was a few hours of learning how to stand, heels together and toes at fists length apart. The instructors would be walking around our block and help us new guys with posture, often correcting us. Many would be leaning forward, some leaning backwards, some with their toes together, and others just not grasping the concept at all.

I can't imagine how difficult it is to re-teach all of these tentative marchers the style the Cavaliers want. You have many great musicians from all over the country, with so many different styles of marching, and now to teach them to properly stand. Once they felt we had decent posture, then it was time to take that first step.

Taking that step soon became something like a baby taking their initial step. It wasn't just move your left foot forward and then your right foot, we had to learn the step by breaking it down into counts, from placing the heel, rolling all the way through to the toe. The count would be sub-divided. Starting with 1-2-3-4, then 1e&a, 2e&a, 3e&a, 4e&a then start all over again with the next foot. All this while maintaining your posture and holding your horn. So many things are going through your head while extending your spine from the tips of your ears to your tail bone. Speaking of which, you'd be amazed at how much taller you become when you stand in place, take your hands and place them on the tips of your ears, and lift. This allowed you to grow at least an inch, if not more for those who often slouch.

Even though the picture above is on a lined field, we were doing these steps in a gym, trying to remember that it's 8 steps per 5 yards. When someone would mess up, we all had to stop, think of our posture, size of the step we were taking, how to roll through the step, extending the backs of your calves, pushing your foot down planting the heel of your foot while lifting your toes, rolling forward, lifting your back heel until your knee bends and all your weight is centered on your forward foot, while the back foot only has it's toe's planted.  Truly there is a lot to think about in just one step, but the instructors are trying to teach their style of marching.

One of the other top drum corps has a different style. They teach everyone to step off with the opposite foot than normal. Instead of stepping off with your left foot, they teach their members to step off with the right foot. As hard as it was to learn to follow through the marching, I just couldn't imagine stepping off with another foot, opposite from the one I was always use to.

After a while, we would stop with the marching, but then would learn how to hold the horn properly. In the attention, at-ease, as well as carrying the horn in our right hand only. This made sure that we wouldn't clunk the horns together while standing in warm-up arcs.

Finally after a full morning of learning how to march, we would break for lunch and enjoy something that the wonderful volunteers would make.

The afternoon consisted of going back over to Triton College and going over our music. It would be a full hour of warming up, then trying to learn some of the music. During this time, we would be doing our auditioning and one by one, guys would be leaving and entering the band room and playing the best they could. When it was my turn, I was nervous as all could be. Thankfully, I was told to just relax, the instructor knew that I was a Trombone player, and told me to watch his fingers as I was going through my audition. He was more concerned about my tone quality rather than what I knew of the baritone. I messed up a few of my notes due to not knowing the fingering combination, but he assured me that I did fairly well.

Before I knew it, we were taking a break for dinner. After dinner would be more horn time trying to learn more of the music. I was not use to warming up or warming down as we never really did this in high school. Sure, we did a scale, but we didn't take the time to open our throats in order to make a fuller, broader sound. Same thing with warming down, we would play notes that would relax our throats from playing, and to relax the lips from buzzing all day. That night, it was another light snack back at Rosemont school, then lights out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

First Audition with a World Class Drum Corps Pt1

What do I remember about heading to Chicago, IL to audition for a top World Class Drum and Bugle Corps? In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday, while other times I feel like it was so long ago.

After arriving to the O'Hare Airport Terminal 1 on United Airlines, we had to go to the departure level, last door, door 7. This was the easiest spot for the corps to pick up the guys traveling on all the different airlines. Now, they pick up at all the concourses. I don't know how excited (and nervous) of seeing the Cavalier bus pull up to pick us all up.

Thankfully, I was traveling with a friend from High School who knew the ropes. Even though I was nervous, he assured me that as long as I did what they asked, then I should be ok. Friday night was the start of auditions for all sections, the Horns, Drums, Pit, and Guard. You would think that the returning members would have a shoe-in for a spot, but it was assured to the 'new-guys' that each spot was in fact available.

After getting to the Rosemont school in Rosemont, IL, the home for The Cavaliers, we off-loaded our luggage, got into the school, signed-in, then immediately were told to hop a ride with those who had cars to Triton College the horn-line would be practicing for the weekend. The drum-line and guard would stay back at Rosemont for their warm-ups and auditions. Here is where I was completely nervous.

Fortunately, I was introduced to my high school friends seat-partner from the year before and he took me under his wing. We got to Triton College and got into the band room where there were horns lined up in the hall-way. There weren't that many guys there yet, so I was able to get a horn and start warming up with everyone else who was there. I think over-all, there were approximately 40 guys, but it's been so long ago now, I can't remember. Today, there are close to 500 guys coming to the auditions just for the horn-line. I do remember that everything we did was in fact being 'tested'. Now, it's more a clinic style to where you are learning how to play, or work on your technique. Even though you may not get a spot, you know what to expect for the following year, or when you do audition.

Coming from high school, we never did full, complete warm-ups. We literally would do pedal tones, and learn how to breathe, instead of doing a scale and then play. The weird part that I remember was when you were playing these low notes, it would expand your throat to allow more air to pass through. This often would cause you to yawn, and as weird as that sounds, it was a good thing! This meant that you were doing the right thing.

If you have been following my trip down memory lane, you know that I am a Trombone player. In Drum Corps, there are no Trombones, so the low brass consisted of Contras, Euphoniums, and Baritones. I was shooting for a Baritone, as it was the closest to the Trombone in clef. However, I would have to relearn the music as these 'Bugles' were all in the Key of G, not B flat that I was used to. Thankfully, they had charts to follow to help us new guys understand which key was for which notes. The one thing I can still hum today is the wonderful Clark Study that we had to learn.

Around 10pm, it was time to head back to Rosemont school and get a snack and go to bed. Once we got back to Rosemont, we all got some sort of snack, then we would have a quick meeting for the new guys with the Corps Director. Of course I don't remember everything that was said, but basically if there were new guys who marched any other corps, they had to be financially paid in full with their previous corps before they could march with another, as well as be sure to keep up with dues to help offset the food and transportation during the camps.

After our meeting, we were then taken into the gym and sat down with the rest of the folks there for the audition weekend. We sat down to listen to the what was expected of us, as well as the possible music that we were going to play, which would follow along the musicality of composer John Rutter. The pieces they played for us were clips of music and it got everyone excited for the not only the next day, but the summer as well.

Then it was lights out! What a first night it was, and definitely an exciting one to think, "Here I was, at a top seeded drum corps audition camp". (of course, I still didn't have any sort of spot, but I was still there!) The only problem I could see for myself was learning how to hold this G Bugle. Even though it was only 8 1/2 pounds, it was much different than a Trombone, but hey, I know I'll learn!!!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Why Sluggo loves Drum Corps

Ever since I can remember, I've always been involved with band and/or music. My dad was a high school band director back in the late 60s at Eastern High School in Glassboro, NJ, then in the early 70s, became assistant band director at Handley HS in Winchester, VA, then became Band director at Daniel Morgan Middle School, in Winchester.

I can remember running around the band room at Handley, and going on a few band trips with the band, as well when he was the director at Daniel Morgan. I can remember going with him on the trips to solo and ensemble festival, as well as the Festivals in the spring for the Virginia Honor Band.

His teaching was very unique as he made everyone earn certain criteria through-out the year. He never worried about marching aspect since he taught middle school. His theory was kids needed to learn how to play first, let the high school worry about marching. It was a shame that the director didn't follow this practice at the city high school.

Luckily for me, in a sense, dad retired from teaching in the mid 80s. Since he taught in the city, and we lived in the county, this meant that I would be transferring to the county schools, and to their music programs. This was actually better for me since both the middle school I would be going to, and finally the high school music programs rivaled my dads, in teaching not just marching, but the musicality of music.

By the time i became a freshman, I was a descent trombone player. Sure, I could have been better by practicing more, and trying to learn the darn circle of fifths that I could never figure out, but I loved playing. Not just playing, but performing too!

I was excited my freshman year if high school that I was 2nd chair, beating out many upper clansman. I could either think this was because I was good, or they weren't as good as I thought, but either way, I was in the James Wood Marching Band!

The JW Band was one of the top, if not the top, band in the entire state of Virginia (at the time). Here I was, 2nd chair out of 8 Trombones (or at least I think it was that many, been so long!)

My first taste of drum corps was in August of 1987. We are at Band Camp in Hedgesville, WV, learning our show for the fall competitions. During breaks and meals, we would all be watching videos of the previous years Drum Corps International Finals, so I was watching 1986 Finals and was amazed at how awesome these corps were performing. If I remember, there was one corps that changed their uniforms through a tunnel, it was amazing.

I wouldn't see my first live drum corps until August 1990. It was Drum Corps East Championships in Allentown, PA at J. Birney Crum stadium. WOW is all I could think of during the first few corps. However, some of my other friends were telling me that the night is going to get better, and it did! We saw the Troopers, Magic of Orlando, Freelancers, Boston Crusaders, Dutch Boy, Crossmen, Madison Scouts, Phantom Regiment, Blue Devils, and Cadets of Bergen County.

Pretty much everyone was rooting for the Cadets, but my favorite for this show was the Blue Devils! I just got goose bumps during their show as they performed the rock selection Tommy. Even though the Cadets won by .30 of a point, I knew that I wanted to somehow be a part of drum corps.

I went home that night amazed at what I saw. I saw classical, Broadway, and Rock all on the field! Never would I think that just a year later, I would (or could possibly think) I'd be one of those people marching on that field entertaining a sold out crowd!

In October, while riding back from a high school band competition, I talked with a friend who graduated from my high school the year before, and who marched with The Cavaliers, about the drum corps activity. He told me how much fun he had during his short two years marching, and thought that I should make the effort and audition in November.

I went with him to the Camp, and with over 100 people for 64 positions, it was going to be a competitive audition. Some of the "holes" would be filled by returning members, the other holes, would be filled by "new guys". I don't know how many other people were there that weekend auditioning for the drum line, guard, pit and the horn line, but boy was the gym floor crowded!

During that November camp, the newly appointed Drum Major, Rob Wis, came to me and said that I looked like Sluggo, from the cartoon "Nancy and Sluggo". The nickname stuck and everyone called me by this new name the rest of the weekend. As soon as my friend learned of my nickname, he said that I was a shoe in for the corps. I was also lucky enough to take a horn home that weekend and practice. This helped considerably because I'm a Trombone player and really didn't know how to key for the notes on a valve bugle. Luckily, the instructors assured me that as long as I was willing to learn, practice hard, I might get a spot for the next year.

During my audition, one of the instructors, who was the previous years drum major, helped me out with the fingering for the horn. This helped me out tremendously, but I had a LONG road ahead of me. At the time, there are three camps designed for auditions. November, December, and if needed, January. I did take a horn home when I got the chance and practiced hard the next few months.

I had a LOT to learn. Even though I was in one of the best high school marching bands in the state of Virginia, I still had plenty to learn. I wasn't prepared for the strict marching style and fast tempo's that drum corps is known for. My muscles ached from marching on your heels, toes from goal line to goal line, then going from the backs of the heels to the tips of your toes in counts that were broken down.

Learning this technique would give the effect similar to watching people on a moving sidewalk. It would look like you were gliding. We would practice for hours and hours, perfecting our walk/marching technique. Of course, we still had a long road to go since finals was over 2 1/2 months.

One of the reasons to perfect this marching technique was to help with the transitions of the designs we made on the field. We would work on how many steps, what size steps, and the direction the steps we would take marching from set to set. Each individual had their own 'dot' co-ordinance to learn. It was only around 80-90 sets, however today there are around 200 sets to learn. All of this for a 10 minute show. We would practice the different moves over and over until it became second nature to march nearly flawless (or close to it).

During the summer, we would have contests against other corps' and would be judged. Depending on what the judges would feel, or the actions of the crowds from the formations we made, or the music we made, we may have to change sets and re-learn new ones.

With all the practicing and running around we did, we averaged 21-24 miles a day. This wasn't limited to just us, many of the other corps went through the same things. On an average day, we would wake around 7am, have breakfast and shower, and before 8 be ready to stretch and exercise. Around 9am, we would stretch, jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, and run approximately 1-2 miles. Between 10 and 11a, we would often work on our marching with our posture, holding the horn up and/or down, marching back and forth on the field. If you know about marching band, then you know about 8 to 5. This is 8 steps per 5 yards. We would then do 6 to 5, 4 to 5, and sometimes for kicks, try 3 and 2 to 5 yards. (that was hard, but towards the end of the summer, we got better at this)

Lunch and/or rest was generally between 12 and 1p, and then we would start on drill work for about 2hours. From 3-5p, we would start working on music with warm-up, opening our throats to blow air, and then what ever music needed to be learned, or re-learned, and last 30 minutes was a quick warm-down.

Five pm is dinner, then the rest of the night would generally be the full ensemble together. Before the end of the night (or lights out) we would do 2-3 complete run-through's of the show.  If there was a contest on a particular night, then the day would be slightly different.

It has been roughly 18years since I've marched, and I'm writing this from my memory. Back in 2003, I got laid off from work and was able to volunteer on the administrative staff. I helped out mostly driving one of the support vehicles, driving between show sites, or practice sites, as well as help the corps on and off the field.

It's very possible that if you see a show in early June, it's going to be very different at the end of July or by the time the Finals rolls around in Mid-August. There's always the possibility that the drill didn't fit the music, the music didn't sound right, so there is constantly rewrites in both music and drill.

You do see a lot of the country while on tour, well, mostly high school gyms and football fields. Corps generally travel in a caravan. For the Cavaliers, they have four charter style buses, two semi trucks, a souvenir truck, and a support car. Of course, there are some problems that arise while on tour, a flat tire, a truck that won't start, a bus whose breaks don't work, or even a fire break out from one of the generators.

Despite the long days, long rides, and low times of being away from family, the experience of it all has been by far the best I have ever experienced in my life. The long time friends I made from marching, and the people I've met on-line through drum corps over the years is second to none.

I'll finish by saying the two years I marched with The Cavaliers have been the best two years of my life so far. I often wish I could devote more time to the corps, but my full-time flying job calls.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

More issues with Carry-On bags...

Yes, here I am talking about carry-on bags...AGAIN. If you remember, I talked about this issue with Carry-Ons could clog Holiday Travel last year. Now that airlines are charging for checked bags, passengers are starting to bring more and more bags onto the aircraft.

The only problem is, there isn't much room for the added bags. Sure, airlines have tried to expand the overhead bins to accommodate the carry-ons, however, the airlines don't have the  money to keep up with the demand, and besides, many people don't listen to the many announcements from the flight crew requesting to place smaller bags under the seat in front of them, while reserving the over-head bins for the larger bags.

On the left is what can happen when passengers actually place their small carry-ons under the seat in front of them, while reserving the bins for their roll-aboard, AND place them wheels first into the bin. There are many bags that may be too long to fit this way, but it does help to at least try. Don't worry about your handles sticking out, when the bin is closed, the bags will roll down into the bin itself, and will fit just nicely.

Too often, I see passengers place their small purses, pocket-books, laptops, backpacks, or other small bag that can be placed under their seat, into the overhead taking up valuable room. If you have a small bag, please, just place it under the seat in front of you like this guy did on the right. I have a tote-bag that is part of my crew bag, and I always put it under the seat in front of me, not because of my computer or my In-Flight Manual being in it, but to save room for the larger bags in the bins.

After boarding is complete, and you see a bin that still has plenty of room in it, feel free to place your smaller bag into the bin, but all we ask as crew members is just be courteous to your fellow passenger and place that small bag under the seat, no matter what the duration of your flight is.

Now, don't place your bag behind your legs for take-off and/or landing. Remember, FAR 121.589 is a safety regulation that is designed to "prevent carry-on items from slowing an emergency evacuation and to prevent injury to passengers by ensuring items are properly restrained." Behind your legs is not properly restrained. Don't wrap your strap around your leg either, as this may cause you to trip during an evacuation and get trampled. Place your bag completely under the seat in front of you, making sure you have clear access to the aisle at all times.

The same is true if you are sitting at a bulkhead seat. All carry-on items must be properly stowed for taxi-out, take-off, turbulent weather, landing, and taxi-in. Some airlines will allow those sitting at bulkheads to board first to allow you to stow all of your bags, while at others the cabin crew will often try to keep the overhead bins available for you. Just remember: for take-off and landing, since there isn't a seat to stow your bags, all bags must be in an overhead bin.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What's going on in the world of Drum Corps?

Blue Devils
On Saturday, June 5, System Blue and the creative entertainment firm Aerial Experience Productions will help launch the CHOPS National Percussive Arts Competition, a brand new series of drumline contests. Contestants will be judged on creative expression and artistic styling along with technical ability.
Boston Crusaders
On Friday, June 18, the Crusaders are hosting their 11th annual Spring Fling, performing at Nonatum Post 440 in Newton, Mass. The Spring Fling will feature a preview of the corps’ 2010 production along with dinner, auctions, prizes, and a performance by the Crusaders Senior Drum and Bugle Corps.
The Cadets
Alumnus Dave Shaw had lots of positive feedback about the Cadets’ Memorial Day events. He blogs about the weekend from a memorial mass in honor of Cadets and military veterans, to a special alumni reception, to the corps’ Evening With the Cadets performance.

Carolina Crown
Crown is teaming up with York County Music Association and the high school music community for a PINK OUT for cancer awareness. The drum corps event, FirstBEAT MMX 2010 will be held 7 p.m. Sunday, June 20 at the Fort Mill High School stadium, and those who attend are encouraged to wear pink.
The Cascades wrapped up a successful rehearsal camp over the Memorial Day weekend. As reported on the corps’ website: “The stronger maturity level of this year's members was very evident to the staff as the corps went back to the beginning of the show and added a ton of movement to enhance the visual program.”
The Crossmen are still on the lookout for a few dedicated volunteers for the summer season. Help is particularly needed with the food crew, night driving and uniforms.

The newly-approved Open Class corps will be using King horns this summer for its debut season. Brass Caption Head Andrew Lee is pleased with the sound quality and durability of the instruments and says the new horns will help make the corps competitive this summer.

Check out a new video on the Mandarins’ website showing what corps members were up to at their recent Memorial Day weekend rehearsal camp. The group’s first competitive performance will be on Friday, June 25 in Clovis, Calif.

Oregon Crusaders
Oregon Crusaders reports having a productive, though rainy, Memorial Day rehearsal camp in the Northwest. Spring training will begin on June 18 for corps members as they get set to hit the road for the summer tour.

Pacific Crest
Pacific Crest posted a list of June rehearsal sites. The corps will be at Diamond Bar (Calif.) High School on June 5 and 6, Irvine High School on June 12 and 13 (with a sneak preview on the 12th), and finally, they’ll be at Damien High School June 14-20. 

Phantom Regiment
There’s more than one way to get your Regiment fix this week. On Sunday, June 6, the corps teams up with the Leaf River Lions Club for the “Summer Daze” parade in Leaf River, Ill. And on Tuesday, June 8, Phantom continues its Music in the Park series, joining special guest Harry Watters, jazz trombonist. Watters serves with the U.S. Army Band and has performed with other famous artist like jazz drummer Peter Erskine. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Music Shell at Sinnissippi Park in Rockford, Ill.

You can follow the latest Tweets from Pioneer on the corps’ website. The corps is using Twitter to keep fans updated during its spring training rehearsals in Milwaukee.

Racine Scouts
The Racine Scouts will kick off their all-day spring training rehearsals the weekend of June 12.

The Raiders celebrated their 20th anniversary on May 23 with a banquet in Pompton Plains, N.J. According to a press release, the event included a showcase of memorabilia from past years, stories from Raiders alums, and a group sing-along of the corps song “One More Time.”

Santa Clara Vanguard
Santa Clara Vanguard recently posted its complete summer tour and rehearsal schedule, including a list of mail stops so friends and family can keep in touch with corps members on the road.

Spartans posted their rehearsal schedule for early June, which includes a June 5 concert at Greely Park in Nashua N.H., and June 12 parades in Warwick, R.I. and Quincy, Mass.

Spirit of Newark/New Jersey
Spirit of Newark/New Jersey posted its summer schedule of rehearsals and performances which will include tour stops in Connecticut, Virginia, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio before the corps heads to the DCI World Championships in Michigan City, Ind. on Aug. 10.

Les Stentors
The Stentors from Quebec, Canada were featured in “The Tribune,” a Canadian newspaper, reporting on the corps’ May 19 lobster dinner fundraiser.

Memorial Day weekend went well for Thunder members as they get set to make their return to the Drum Corps International Tour after a one-year absence. Despite some inclement weather, members accomplished the goals set at the start of the rehearsal camp.

Sluggo's blog is not endorsed or sponsored by DCI (Drum Corps International), nor any drum corps. I am not in a position to answer particular questions regarding anything involving drum corps or the corps'. The pictures you see have been borrowed only for the sole purpose for pleasure, and to promote the Drum Corps activity. If you have any specific questions about drum corps, you should go to the DCI website and contact them there. If you have a specific question on the audition process for a particular corps, please go directly to that corps' website.