Marching to the Beat of their own Drum (Corps)


Courtesy Everett Henrie

By Kristen Fan and Cathy Wang

For most, marching band isn’t something to get excited about. As teen movies and Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” would put it, they’re the “kids on the bleachers” in their funny uniforms blowing into funny little instruments. But inside it, living it, the experience is something wildly different than the tropes of the peculiar band nerd that we so often see.

For junior Emily Cocking and seniors Michael Vronsky, Timothy McAfee and Everett Henrie, marching band is a passion. So much so that they all participate in Drum Corps International, an organization consisting of 46 elite marching bands that train, perform and tour the country, all summer long. Simply put, drum corps is, as Emily said, “Marching band on steroids” with the other three each echoing similar sentiments.

“Marching band on steroids” it is indeed. While anyone looking to participate in Los Altos’ band is automatically accepted, each kid hoping to participate in Drum Corps must either sign up for a three-day camp to audition for Vanguard or spend a whole day auditioning for the Blue Devils.

While Los Altos’ band is just that, simply one band, every band within Drum Corps is split into two or three sublevels dependent on skill. Michael and Timothy march the trumpet and baritone in the Santa Clara Vanguard Cadets (SCVC); Emily and Everett are in the Blue Devils B-Corps (BDB). While Los Altos’ band has two-hour practices four days a week and occasional Saturday rehearsals, BDB and SCVC have 12-hour days, seven days a week, typically from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and usually stretching beyond that. Each of the some-odd 150 members spend their summer days on the hot turf fields of varying high schools and their nights sleeping in the gym. All these hours go into putting on one stellar 12-minute show.

With 46 bands to choose from, it’s safe to say each has developed its own unique style and stereotype that appeals to a vast pool of potential members. SCVC is known for its more serious persona, staying largely emotionless during awards and holding closer to tradition. BDB’s more laid-back vibe, meanwhile, drew Emily and Everett to audition for the band. Although they still put in the same hard work as other students in different drum corps, they both realized Blue Devils’ style was more fitting for their less serious attitudes.

“The Blue Devils are really chill and I can relate to that, but at the same time they know how to be serious and be the best that they can,” Everett said. “The fact that they appear more chill than other corps’ is what drew me to them, because I don’t like to be serious all the time like a lot of the other corps’ do.”

Although each student joined Drum Corps for slightly different reasons, they all share the same passion and commitment for musical ensemble. More than pushing better technique, Drum Corps has inspired personal growth and created close-knit relationships. These aspects make the experience worth it despite the grueling work, pressure and immense time commitment.
“You get better musically and visually, but you also learn how to become a better person and a better teacher, at least in my case,” Everett said. “The time commitment is a really really big thing, but how I think about it is that I get to spend a lot of time getting better with my friends doing something that I really love.”
With both Drum Corps International and Los Altos’ seasons over, these four are looking into the future. Three out of the four have already decided to continue marching until they age out at 21. They’re also hoping to make it to the highest level in their respective bands, the Santa Clara Vanguard (sans the Cadets) and the A-corps of Blue Devils instead of their current lower-level B-corps.

“My future in my mind [is] shaped around Drum Corps and I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Timothy said. “I plan to march the next five years until I age out because I enjoy the experience so much.”

Marching band and the people dedicated to it can easily be written off — just the “kids on the bleachers” — but for these four, it’s more than that. They’ve dedicated thousands of hours to this activity and many plan on dedicating thousands more.

“People like to say, ‘There are no bench players in marching band,’ [and] it’s true,” Michael said. “Everybody has to be working their hardest and I think that’s really cool. It’s a tight-knit community and I just enjoy the activity. I love music, I love marching and I love the people.”