Why is Drum & Bugle Corps NOT a Marching Band?
(Used with permission)
Let's get one thing straight...a corps is not a marching band, no matter how finely you slice and dice it, and no matter how much certain factions in our drum corps community would like it to be (yes, I am talking about you, GH). In the past, drum corps were very much different than marching band...they still are, but the gap is closing. While corps are now allowed to use any-key instrumentation, drum corps instruments have traditionally been in the key of G. Corps use no woodwinds and no strings, only brass and percussion. Certain members of DCI have lobbied hard in the recent past to get woodwinds and electronics allowed on the field of competition, and have thus managed to get amplification passed into drum corps, though woodwinds are still held at bay. I hope for the sake of our activity that their goal always falls short.
Drum corps may look like a marching band, but there are some differences. Drum and bugle corps are regulated by alphabet soup organizations (DCI, DCH, DCA, DCM, DCAS); marching bands, whether they be college or high school, seldom have to answer to anyone other than their own school board. High School and college marching bands are generally there to provide entertainment for the football half-times, whereas the sole purpose of a drum corps is to compete. Drum corps members tend to be on the older side, as well. You can march in a DCI junior corps up until the age of 22, when you "age-out" of the activity (but you can still march senior corps). A marching band can have any number of members from ten to four hundred. A drum corps is allowed no more than 135 members, and is limited to the following instrumentation:
Soprano Bugles (Similar to trumpets and cornets)
Alto Bugles (Mellophones, French Horns, Fluegelhorns)
Tenors Bugle (Baritone/Euphonium bugles)
Bass Bugles (Contrabass)
Multi-Drums (tenors...tris, quints, quads)
Cymbals (some corps)
Percussion: (The Pit)
Gongs, Bells, Chimes
Other Visual Props
"How can they play decent music with only those instruments?" you might ask doubtfully. You would be surprised by the creativity of drum corps show designers nowadays. In the past few years, corps have played such ambitious music as Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celeste," Ginastera's "Estancia," Shostakovich Symphonies, and Walton's "Belshezzar's Feast." And they have played these works extremely well. Chances are that unless you live in Hawaii or Alaska, there will be a drum corps show near you this summer. Why not check it out in person? You can get all the tour information you will need by checking out the DCI Web Site. Now then, back to the debate:
Because drum corps can pick and choose its members according to talent level (and because they beat you into the ground during practice), the average drum and bugle corps achieves a higher level of excellence than does the typical marching band, although I'm sure there are exceptions. Many directors of band feel hostility toward corps for a variety of reasons, ranging from jealousy, to fear of losing an excellent student to the corps mentality, to a pure animosity toward competition in music. In fact, this is one of the most hotly contested (no pun intended) issues in music education today. Many purists feel that there should be no competition in musical events, and that we all should strive to be better through ourselves and not because of the need to compete. What do I think of all this? Relax, guys. Have a beer or three. I view drum corps as an activity that is fun and just happens to provide learning and adaptation. Classic case of "transfer", for you education majors out there.
Competition drives us to excellence. Sure, it can get out of hand. I hate it when I hear about band directors who push their kids to be just like drum and bugle corps, and have "hissy fits" when the kids don't perform to expectations. But let's not blame the activity, let's put the blame squarely where it belongs: On the band directors who make such unreasonable demands of their students. A marching band will never be like a drum corps. Learn the difference, appreciate the difference, and if you want to be happy with your band (and more importantly, if you want your kids to have a good experience with band), realize that there is a difference and revel in it. Likewise, if you are a corps member, don't look at marching band as an "inferior" trade, it is not. If it wasn't for marching band, where do you think corps would get the majority of their members? And let us also not forget that over the last few years, the marching band has grown in complexity and creativity, and in some cases rivals drum corps in these areas, although performance quality is still lagging slightly behind (due to a lack of practice time, not talent).
All in all, we have two wonderful activities to enjoy and revel in, but let us preserve our traditions and understand that they are separate and distinct entities bound by one common thread: A love of music and marching.
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