Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Here we are in the middle of the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, where most of the locals don't even know what a bugle is, and think that you pronounce it "drum and bugle corpse." And yet the Valley is host to one of the best drum and bugle corps competitions in the country.
Each year in August, the Drum and Bugle Corps International (DCI) East Championships are held in Allentown, bringing over 1000 performers to compete at J. Birney Crum Stadium. The event is an amazing spectacle of music, motion, choreography and timing; this year's show was no exception.
Let's not dwell on who was there or scores or such things. If you're a die-hard fan you already know, and if you're not, then the facts and figures will be meaningless to you. The important thing is that kids come from all over the country to compete, all summer long, at these drum and bugle corps competitions. The sleepy little stadium in Allentown hosted corps from California, Florida, Wisconsin and just about everywhere in between. To watch the boundless energy that drives these kids when they're on the field, you'd never believe they'd spent a grueling summer aboard buses, training and competing.
A drum and bugle corps routine is similar to a theatrical performance, in which many of the performers dance and supply music at the same time. They're the "band." Then there is the "band front," sometimes called a color guard. These people don't play any instruments; they dance, twirl and spin both themselves and a variety of props, such as rifles, sabres and flags. Hey, it's a little hard to throw a xylophone 60 feet up, spin around twice, and catch it -- so they stick with rifles.
As far as the "band" goes, you can forget your images of high school friends that played for the football team. This is a highly trained squad of brass players and percussionists that never miss a beat. Literally.
The competitions are judged on musical performance, originality, choreography and visual effects of movement. As an audience member, though, you needn't worry too much about any of these things. If you're interested in the technical aspects, there are plenty of fans eager to regale you with every detail. My advice is to sit back and absorb the sights and sounds of the performance.
The precise beauty of a drum and bugle corps show isn't something you get to see every day. So if you're looking for something new to do, instead of yet another concert of theater show, take a stroll to a DCI competition. They shouldn't be hard to find; drum and bugle corps are more popular than you'd think -- and with good reason.