Over the recent years, I’ve noticed that many of us — by us, I mean those who are intimately involved in drum and bugle corps — have resorted to calling the activity “band” or “marching band.” I get it. At first, it was a funny and silly. The world champion Carolina Crown ran with it with their “purple pants band” meme in 2013. We were calling it band because we recognized the absurdity of the activity. If we reduced and rationalized the activity to its essence, then yes, it’s marching band. We chuckled at ourselves for working tirelessly for something that’s just…well…band. But by giving up on calling it drum corps, we’ve also given up on distinguishing it as an incredibly unique and different experience from all the other “band” activities. Calling it band is a discredit to ourselves and the work that we have done and continually do.
Everybody who has been involved in the activity share a common struggle of trying to explain what drum corps is all about to outsiders. But what outsiders do understand “marching band,” or to be more specific, the stereotypical paradigm of marching band. They picture the USC band with their sunglasses. They picture the Ohio State band doing the moonwalk (at an unbearably slow pace). They picture the movie Drumline. They picture the one high school band where all the sousaphones fell on each other as they marched backwards. They don’t see the endless rehearsals in 100 degree weather. They don’t see the logistical complexity of touring. They don’t see the injuries, which sometimes tragically end a performer’s season. They don’t see what instructors and performers sacrifice in time and finances to do this activity. And they especially don’t see the spectacular, creative, complex, and passionate shows. They just envision Pac-Man on the field. Is this the image we want them to see when we say “drum corps?”
I know. It’s hard work to explain drum corps to the uninitiated. As much as we explain it, it always feels they don’t get the gravity of the activity, especially when we use superficial analogies.
So what are we supposed to say about drum corps that doesn’t elicit confusion and wandering eyes? How can we avoid resorting to the “b-word?” Rather than describing the activity and the product on the field, which can never be truly describable in words, we would be better off describing the feelings of the experience–from auditions to rehearsal to touring–and then performance. In describing the feelings, we answer both the why and the what. We describe values that are universally resonant, such as camaraderie, teamwork, perseverance, passion, and adversity. This helps the uninitiated to move beyond the stereotypical paradigm of marching band. But describing the feelings also communicates the uniqueness of the activity. How your face light up when you speak about the drum corps experience should hopefully express that it’s a special experience that is shared only to a privileged few. It’s a brotherhood and sisterhood that comes together on Facebook during championship week and post pictures of themselves in uniform because we yearn to relive that camaraderie, teamwork, perseverance, passion, and adversity. It’s way more than just marching band.