Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Drum & Bugle Corps?
(Used with permission)
This essay pertains mostly to the junior drum corps movement. However, it does answer the question.
Drum and bugle corps is very difficult to explain to the uninitiated. At first glance, many comparisons can be made to a marching band, but if you look deeper, you will find significant differences. This is a sore point with many drum and bugle corps (drum corps, for short) members. Most of us do not like to be called "marching bands," not out of any disrespect for that activity, but because of a yearning for an understanding of what we do and how it is different from the marching bands you will typically see at high school and college football games. Trust me on this...it is very different.
Unfortunately, not all of us (me included) find it easy to explain corps without somehow belittling marching band. As a matter of fact, for many years, my favourite explanation of drum and bugle corps came from one of my good friends. Whenever he was asked what a drum corps was, he would reply: "You know how in marching band there's like 200 geeks and maybe one or two cool people? Well, those one or two cool people all get together during the summer and do drum corps." I always got a kick out of that phrase, and truth be told...I still do. But I realize now that not only can it be misconstrued as an insult to marching band members, but it also does not do our activity justice. In this page, I try my best to explain what this activity is all about, as well as provide links to more information, articles about drum and bugle corps, and even some sound clips of corps in action.
A drum corps is a marching musical unit, independent of high school or college affiliations. It is a private, non-profit group that exists solely for the sake of competition. Along the way, it provides life-long friendships, vast and powerful memories, a sense of deep pride, and a wicked tan. Drum and Bugle Corps are comprised of brass instruments (no strings or woodwinds please), a percussion section, and a color guard (Auxiliary if you prefer, but call them a "drill team" only if you like having your eyes gouged out like Oedipus).
The drum corps season begins in the summer time with a series of shows and regional competitions, leading up to the Finals, typically held on the third Saturday in August. ((Webmaster's Note: The DCA Championships are always Labor Day Weekend. The DCA South Championships are in mid-August. GCS participates in both.)) The Finals site revolves around different stadiums in the U.S. and Canada; this year it is slated to be held at the University of Maryland's home stadium. Last year it was held at Madison, Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium. In the past it has been held at the Florida Citrus Bowl, the Dallas Cotton Bowl, Foxboro Stadium in Boston, and Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
"Who would come to see a band perform?" you might snidely ask. Bite your tongue, lad. First off, it's a drum corps, not a band. And secondly, a LOT of people come to see corps perform. Finals in 1991 (in the Cotton Bowl) and 1992 (Camp Randall) attracted over thirty-five thousand people each. What do you do that attracts that many folks (and no, college marching band does not count...I don't care what you believe, most of those people are there for the football game, not the band). The drum corps season actually starts as early as November, when many corps hold their audition camps. From there, once-a-month camps spanning one weekend are not uncommon. Most corps require the member to be in town and ready for full-time duty by Memorial Day weekend.
'Where are these drum corps?,' you ask. Well, chances are there is a drum and bugle corps near you. There are drum corps in Florida, California, New York, Colorado, New Jersey, Illinois, Georgia, North Carolina...get the hint? Many corps members travel far from home to march in a drum corps, it all depends on what style of music you enjoy. If you like Jazz, maybe the Blue Devils of Concord, California are right for you. If you like contemporary music, the Cavaliers of Rosemont, Illinois might be your gig. I, for example, marched with the Phantom Regiment based out of Rockford/Loves Park, Illinois. And yet I live in Florida! So why did I choose to travel over a thousand miles when there were three corps in my own state? Well, because Phantom plays romantic-era orchestral music, and that is what I like to play. I feel I made the right choice...I marched with Phantom Regiment for four years before aging out. (Aging-out means that you are marching your last eligible summer. When I marched, you could be no older than twenty-one. The rule has since been changed to accommodate those that turn twenty-two during the season.) ((Webmaster's Note: Gulf Coast Sound is an "All-Age" Corps. You can never age out, only get better every year))
Nor is drum corps strictly an American phenomenon. Over the last decade or so, drum and bugle corps have popped up in Japan, England, Germany, and Holland. Indeed, many corps march members that are from overseas. While the activity has suffered from a decrease of popularity recently, it is still an incredibly tough yet rewarding way to spend your summer.
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