Drum Corps and its Impact on Young Adults

Beyond the notes and dots that make up the entertainment purpose of drum corps, the impact that this niche activity has on the lives of young people/students/performers is pretty hard to comprehend unless you have either done it yourself or have seen first hand its effects on someone close to you. Many people can relate to the general idea that extracurricular activities, such as art or sports, can mold people from a young age into a much more well rounded person. Supporters of the youth arts love to evoke the concept that art instills a sense of wonder and creativity in young minds. Likewise, it can be argued that physical activities, such as sports or other team based ventures, are other ways for young people to push their own physical boundaries and reach for competitive excellence all while having fun. Drum corps is a very unique opportunity for those fortunate enough to participate in it because it accomplishes all of the above and more. I wrote an article a while back that touched on how music shaped me in particular, but since our mission at Gigantic Cranium when we undertook this enormous project is bringing drum corps to the uninitiated, I’d like to specifically highlight aspects of drum corps that make it an awesome and unique opportunity for young adults.

Dann Spring Training Meeting

Madison Scouts’ Corps Director, Dann Petersen addresses the members during a meeting. (Still from “Scouts Honor: Inside a Marching Brotherhood”)


Living in a Smaller World

At the beginning of our film, there’s a great scene where Corps Director Dann Petersen speaks to the entire corps. Aside from the fact that Dann is great on camera, his speech about ‘the rare opportunity’ that each member of the Madison Scouts has in front of them gives the audience a glimpse of what the corps members will learn throughout their journey documented in our movie. In a nutshell, Dann points out that drum corps are essentially micro-communities filled with people from extremely different walks of life. There are people from each region of the United States, as well as from different corners of the globe all sharing in the effort toward a common goal. It may seem that the few months out of the year these members share together is a short period of time in the scheme of things, but speaking from experience, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows are spent in some very long hours every single one of those days. Before you know it, strangers become family and lifelong friends almost overnight. You see members from the deep south form bonds with members from Boston, Wisconsin, California, Great Britain and Japan. People who you might have never had the opportunity to grow with before, whether they come from different social, political, religious, cultural, or economic backgrounds are now a part of your immediate circle. It is an unforgettable experience to see your world grow exponentially by living in this ‘micro-community’, and it opens your mind to hundreds of new perspectives when you share this common moment.


Becoming Young ADULTS

It is sensible to reason that this grand experience contributes much to the personal growth of the young adults that perform in the drum corps activity. While most people would agree that formative years in high school and college especially are times of self-discovery, it simply cannot be overstated that drum corps forces you to grow and learn more about yourself at a surprisingly fast rate. Ask anyone who has marched before, and they will probably have a story about how they came out of their first summer a different person. In my experience, I remember coming home at the age of 17 from my first summer with the Scouts to shocked parents at how much my demeanor changed, and consequently, to a high school where I felt completely out of place. Spending a few months with dozens of college guys makes high school seem smaller and part of a past life you should have grown out of. This was a great thing for me, because performing gave me a new sense of self-confidence.?The educators and leaders I looked up to gave me examples of the type of man I wanted to become. Drum corps also helped me decide for myself the path of life I wanted to pave for myself by showing me what I was and was not personally capable of.

In Scouts Honor, Dann specifically talks about how an important goal of the Madison Scouts organization is helping men become better men. I remember on tour, when Dann was my director, being told that drum corps may very well be one of the hardest physical things I may have to deal with in my life. Now, don’t get me wrong, life never gets really easy for an adult, but that thought helps put things into perspective. The hardships and joys that go with a summer tour can bring out the best and worst of any person, and true character is often found in these moments. However, when you have an insane goal like perfecting a 12 minute show every day for 4 months, things usually work out well enough and performers more often than not are able to dig up the good in them to finish the season. What makes the final recorded performances you see on DVDs and Blu-Rays so important isn’t so much the program itself, but rather that it is the summation of the efforts of 150 individuals becoming the best version of themselves who were able to come together for 12 minutes of perfection.


Crossing Generations

I don’t intend to stir up any arguments about age?generations, but there isn’t any doubt that the generation currently marching in today’s World Class level drum and bugle corps is by far the most different than any other group before it. These young adults are better connected, better educated, and much more distracted than anyone who marched before me. I actually saw first hand the transition between a corps where a few people had cell phones to a corps where everyone had internet capable smart phones.? Drum corps has gotten even more competitive, and sadly even more expensive. The local kid who grew up around the corps and was more ‘physical worker’ than musician has almost completely been phased out, often replaced by the music major or upper-middle class band geek. In fact, I remember in my second year with the Scouts having a sit down meeting with my brass staff about how our generation has a different understanding of what true “hard work” really is, and how when they marched it was commonplace for many members to come from working class or farming families. The drum corps culture unsurprisingly has changed too, and while many (especially the weirdest) traditions seem to have survived, the members who partake in the new traditions are reflective of our ever changing world. Yet, and though the most seasoned veterans are apt to remind you that “it ain’t what it used to be,” which is true even outside of the drum corps activity, this idea of coming together to strive for a common goal of excellence is something that has never changed.


When I marched the Macy Parade last Thanksgiving, regardless if the person next to me was 50 years old or a 19 year old current member, the atmosphere just felt right. It was amazing to see decades of separation seem irrelevant once rehearsal started and the metronome was ticking. We shared funny and horrific tour stories on the bus, and kids got to see first hand that the legends they had strived to emulate were really just mirrors of themselves from years past. In a sense, the long established tradition of this marching activity helps connect young adults with history and stories of a shared experience that have been around since before they were even born. I am not going to pretend that this is an aspect completely unique to the activity, but the shared experience and tradition of reaching for levels of excellence most people will never see is one that few other activities can rightfully say they can match. To be honest, I probably would not have ever met this amazing team of people at Gigantic Cranium had it not been for a shared passion in the drum corps activity. Likewise, I have seen others discover their career calling because of the relationships and experiences they build while on tour.


Share Your Story

In the end, I really am painting with broad strokes, but Mac asked me to write on a really broad topic (lol). It is a topic I really love talking about, though. Drum corps really is a big-small world, so as I mentioned initially, it’s really hard to do the topic justice when trying to explain how life-changing the activity is for those who have been lucky enough to be a part of it. Anecdotes and stories are really the best tool that we have to spread awareness of our little niche and what it means to us to the world. We really hope our movie can help do just that. We encourage?that those of you have already been a part of this world to please share your stories with the rest of us, since I, along with the rest of Gigantic Cranium, can only hope to scratch the surface.


– Garrick


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