You’ve seen a show, and you’re pumped at the thought of auditioning. Getting excited is only the first part. Now you need to consider some things that will help you choose which winter group or drum corps is best for you.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself:
What’s your dream group?
Without a goal, you can’t score. If you could march any drum corps or indoor drumline, where would you go? When you watch the shows live or on YouTube, which group makes you think, “Oh my god, I want to do THAT.” For some people, it’s about winning a championship. Others may choose a group because the music and style just speaks to them. Maybe they have a friend, sibling or parent who marched in the group, or their teacher is on staff there, or it’s the local group that they’ve grown up watching. Whatever the reason may be, pick a target so you can figure out what it’ll take to get there.
Self-awareness time – Do you have the goods?
Are you playing at the level consistent with the group? If not, what will it take to get there, and are you willing to put in the hours to make it happen? This means having an accurate read on your strengths and weaknesses and being able to realistically gauge how long it will take you to close the gap. Some are lucky enough to march their dream group right away, while others first gain experience by starting with a different group before moving on to their dream group. Often times, having a friend or teacher who has more experience than you is a tremendous resource for providing an objective perspective. You need all of the ingredients before you can start cooking.
Pro Tip: Write down in a journal your target areas for improvement and what actions you’ll take. Turning intangible thoughts into something concrete will inspire action.
Who teaches and designs for the group?
The design staff writes the music and drill, and the instructional staff will be spending hours and hours working with you. Are you a fan of the approach and style? Are you able to move and play like them? If you don’t know their names or haven’t seen any video samples of their work, you need to do some homework. You need to be informed about the group you’re auditioning for prior to dedicating so much of your most precious commodity to them – your time.
How many spots are open?
Most teachers I know give the spots to the best players, which means that on occasion, vets unfortunately do get cut. However, vets possess an inordinate number of practice and performance hours compared to most rookies, and with that comes familiarity and confidence. If the entire marimba line is aging out, that might be a good year to try earning a keyboard spot. If 8 of the 9 snares are returning, or 4 of the 5 basses are returning, it’s going to be a lot tougher to win a spot. Having some contact with the vets and staff can be very valuable in finding out more about this.
Where is the group located?
Have you thought about how you’ll get to camps and rehearsals? Plane tickets and bus tickets get expensive and take time. However, don’t let that discourage you. Consider contacting the group and asking about any leads they may have on carpooling options. Connect with other people who are driving, and offer to pay for gas. There are lots of ways to travel, but take into account the monetary and time investment you’ll need to make, and understand how it will affect the other parts of your life (personal, academic and professional).
How much will it cost?
One of the recurring challenges all groups face is going through the audition process and offering contracts, only to find out prospective members haven’t planned ahead for their financial responsibilities. Don’t be the person who throws up a Go Fund Me page at the last minute and sits there with their fingers crossed. Donors, alumni, and sponsors are already working at full throttle, so as a member, you have to do your part and pay your fees for the financial health of the group. Create a budget for all items: tuition, gas, car insurance, plane tickets, supplies, member dues, FOOD, etc. Formulate a plan, get creative on how you can generate more streams of income, and make a timeline on how and when you’ll be making your payments. It’s a lot easier to raise $1000 over 10 months than scrambling to figure it out the month before pre-tour. People are counting on you, so don’t put them or yourself in that situation.
When are auditions and rehearsals?
Look at the schedule. Does it work with your academic and work life? Probably not. That’s normal. But what that means is you have to plan and work things out in advance. Of course emergencies come up, but if possible, you want to communicate with both sides about any potential conflicts well in advance. Doing so shows you are responsible and can think ahead. You may also be able to move some things around and work out the conflicts in advance.
Talk to your support network.
Being in any winter or summer group takes a tremendous amount of time and money. People in the activity, members, staff, volunteers, admin, etc. choose to do it because they are incredibly passionate about the work. That being said, you should talk to your loved ones, family, friends, and significant others, and communicate what you’re thinking and how it will affect you. We all know that communication is a central part to any successful relationship, and because of the grueling physical, mental, and emotional nature of making it through a season, having healthy relationships in other aspects of your life can either make or break how your performing season goes.
Question: Have you blocked out your practice times for the semester?
I have all my students map out their weekly schedules at the start of each semester: school, rehearsals, and most importantly, practice blocks.
Saying that you’ll practice “when you have time” is setting yourself up to push your practice aside when something urgent is presented. True professionals understand the importance of prioritizing, and the first step is to make a plan.
Passion and excitement are great, but sitting down and investing some time up front with some thoughtful planning can go a long way before you begin this journey.
What are some other considerations for choosing a winter group and summer drum corps? I’d love to hear from some returning vets and alums – share your thoughts below with a comment.
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About the Author
Huei-Yuan Pan is a Los Angeles based musician via Chicago, originally from Houston. His drum corps experience includes performing with the Phantom Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps (Snare, 2001) and The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps (Snare, 2002-2003; Front Ensemble, 2004). From 2008-2011, Huei served as Director and Arranger for Green Thunder Percussion, and in 2012-2013, Percussion Caption Head with Regiment. He is currently the Director of the Jumpstart Young Musicians Program at The Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles. For more on Huei, click here.