Summer Snapshots: DCI

It's official. I am an enormous nerd. 

In case my extensive monthly reading lists and little trips down Marching Band Memory Lane didn't tip you off, this will cement it for you. I watch competitive youth drum-and-bugle-corps for fun. 

Hal, one of my good friends from Notre Dame and now Minny, introduced me to the wonderful world of Drum Corps International, or DCI, the summer after I graduated college. Founded in 1972, the organization provides a competitive venue for drum and bugle corps composed of members under 21. Making it into a corps is a huge deal, and the schedule is grueling...think "an entire summer spent on a coach bus and sleeping on gym floors while practicing or performing for 10 hours a day." It's basically like every day is gameday for them...I know I couldn't do it, but I have so much respect for the amazing and talented kids who do. 

Hal, Steph, and I road-tripped down to Rochester, Minnesota early this summer to take in one of the first DCI competitions of the season, the River City Rhapsody. It featured seven out of the 22 World Class corps, and was a great, cheap way to get a marching band fix outside of football season. Hal takes DCI as seriously as a religion...that weekend alone, he had seen two other shows with plans to take in another the following day! I felt lucky to get to tag along and soak in some of his expertise. 

During the show, I took rough notes on both what Hal said about each corps and what I thought of their performances. I also discovered the "Panorama" feature on my iPhone camera, which was perfect for the wide use of an entire football field (and the gorgeous sunset-lightning storm combo we were treated to later!). The shows themselves are so intricate! There are costume changes, multiple sets of auxiliary flags and banners, and props ranging from small and portable to massive, moving set pieces. It was overwhelming in the best way imaginable. 

First up: The Pioneers. Their show's theme was "Joy," and my crib notes tell me their show was heavily Irish-driven. I remember they had a really cool section that fused Handel's "Messiah" with "When the Saints Go Marching In." And they closed with "Danny Boy," which made my Irish eyes smile. (Also, their lady-drum-major had a sick cape-skirt thing that she swirled around. A lot.) (Final place: 7th, with 56 points)

The Colts, per my notes, had a hot drum major that for some reason I didn't take a picture of. Their show was a cool post-apocalyptic take on "The Wizard of Oz," where the Scarecrow has taken over. The show was gorgeously sinister, but not a standout compared to later ones. (Final place: Sixth, with 65.2 points)

The Troopers' show spoke to my nerdy little heart so was called "To Build A Home," and featured Aaron Copland's music, particularly the Lincoln suite. Their sound was incredibly lush and beautiful, and every movement was choreographed to just be stunning. Plus their drum major WAS hot and I DID take pictures. One of the highlights: mid-show, their auxiliary unfurled banners that, held together, made the iconic Lincoln portrait...and the woman behind us asked "Who's that?" Her companion answered, "Ulysses S. Grant." And I died inside. HA. (Final place: Fifth, with 68.5 points)

This is when Steph and I made the mind-blowing discovery that there are laceless marching shoes. Revolutionary, folks. I also read in the program that the average DCI corps member eats around 4500 calories a day during the competition season, and found out about the gym floors. That's when my regret that I didn't get to be a DCI kid died. Well, then, and when I found out they don't take piccolos. 

The Cavaliers' show was called "Immortal," and struck me first and foremost for their insane athleticism. They're one of only two all-male corps, which made their show aggressively full of motion. Even their pit drums were mobile...there was a mind-blowing section where their marimbas formed a circle and they were jumping from drum to drum like demented, demonic monkeys. I was blown away. (Final place: FIRST! With 78 points)


The Madison Scouts, the other all-male corps, are the first corps to have used trombone, for their "Time Trip" show. The whole auxiliary started out dressed in black and white, and by the end of the show, were wearing this insane neon rainbow of colors. The show is a time travel look-back at the music of Stan Kenton and Duke Ellington. I liked, but didn't love this show, but did note that "their held notes were such rounded blasts of sound that they could stop your heart." (Final score: Third, with 74.5 points)

The Phantom Regiment! They did "Swan Lake!" And it was stunning. To quote Hal, "They're the storytellers, the orchestra of drum corps. They're just so elegant." And I agree entirely. Their low brass was so rich, and their all-female auxiliary was like watching a true line of ballerinas. Just so visually engaging and classic. (Final score: Second, with 77.6 points)

Finally, the Blue Stars, a local group out of Lacrosse, WI, closed the evening down with their show "Where the Heart Is," an homage to the concept and feeling of home. To my novice eyes, it seemed like they had a LOT going on with auxiliary and props, but their sound was really good for so early in the season. Their closer, an a'cappella sung riff of Phil Phillips' "Home," was near tear-inducing. (Final score: Fourth, with 72 points)


Aaaaand if you're still reading, please be still my nerdy beating heart, I love you so. Call me up and let's discuss marching bands for hours and hours, okay?