April 13, 2008

Life Lessons of Drum Corps

I just came across this old article of mine that I had published in the May 2000 edition of Drum Corps World, and thought I would repost it here:

In the mid-70s, I marched in the baritone line of the Mark Twain Cadets.  The Cadets were a mid-sized corps from Elmira Heights, NY that competed primarily in upstate New York and Pennsylvania.  Like other corps, then and now, we had our share of volunteers.  Most of those volunteers were parents of fellow corps members.  "S," for example, was the father of "D," a fellow baritone player, and "K," a guard member.  S was a large, muscular man who drove Bus 6.  His was a familiar face to all the corps members.  While there was a constant turnover of drivers for Bus 5 (the bus I rode), S was the bus driver for Bus 6.  Week in and week out, for at least the five years I was involved with the corps, S helped get us to where we needed to go.

While S was accepted and respected by the corps members, "Z" was not.  Z was our equipment truck driver, and she received her malicious nickname because of her weight.  Despite the fact that she put in as much time as S (perhaps even more), she wasn't respected by the corps members.  One year, the corps started asking for dues.  The amount was nominal, being only one dollar per week.  When some of the corps members realized that it would be Z who would collect the money, they told others to bring their dues in pennies.  By this, they wanted to make Z's collection bag to weigh as much as possible.  Had everyone in the corps done that, the weight of all the pennies would have been considerable.

One day, my dad overheard me make some disparaging remarks about Z.  (Back then, I talked and acted just as stupidly as any other teenager in the corps.)  That day, my dad drove home an important lesson:  Z wasn't working for the corps because she had to, but because she wanted to.  That lesson was reinforced in the summer of 1978.  By this time, the Mark Twain Cadets had merged with the Grenadiers of Broome County, NY to form the Empire State Express.  The night of July 27, we traveled from the southern tier of New York to Lynn, Massachusetts to compete in the World Open.  We were the very first corps to perform that morning, in the Open Class prelims, so there wasn't any opportunity for us to prepare for the show, other than to get into our  uniforms and warm up.  (Despite this disadvantage -- or perhaps because of it -- the Express scored high enough to be in the Open Class finals that night.)  After our prelim performance, I was struck by the sight of Z, putting our equipment back into the truck.  There she was, working very early on a Friday morning, after driving several hundred miles in the dead of night.  She didn't have to be there.  She could have been home, sleeping in her bed, back in Elmira.  It was then that I truly realized her dedication to the corps.  She had sacrificed her sleep, her time with her family, her vacation time, and her money to be with us on tour.  How many other parents were working with her to help the corps?  Damn few.  And yet we treated her with a lack of respect few other adults would have put up with.

I would hope that the corps members of today already realize the need to respect and accept others as they are.  I can see where it would be easy, while attending camp or during the grind of tour, to take the non-marching personnel of the corps for granted or to treat them with less respect than they deserve.  For the non-marching personnel of each corps, whether they be the corps management, the instructional staff, or any of the volunteers, are just as important to the corps as the marching members are - and maybe even more so.

I haven't seen Z since 1978, and I have no idea if she's still involved with the drum corps activity.  However, should she read this article and recognize herself in it, I hope she will forgive me for any pain I may have caused her when I was an immature teenager who should have known better.


Ray Sword said...

I must say you deserve props for 'stepping up' in your article. We all look back at some time and say "I wish I could have changed that". So my hat is off to you.
The Corps builds values in all of us in one way or the other. Thank you for posting a valuable lesson.

Kenneth 'Ray' Sword Jr

JDsg said...

Ray: Thanks for your comment. Yeah, there are a couple things in my life that I'd definitely like to change if I could. This was only one of them. This was one of several life lessons that I learned when I was of high school age and, of course, various steps I needed to take for becoming more mature. As for the various values I learned through drum corps, as many people have said - and I wouldn't be surprised if you agreed - I wouldn't be the same person I am today if I hadn't gone through drum corps.