DCI & The Power of the Crowd

This post inspired by /r/happycrowds, my new favorite subreddit. And also drum corps, because it’s one of my favorite things of all things.

Like most other people on the internet today, I have now seen a video of 1,000 Italians performing the Foo Fighters song “Learn to Fly” in unison:

Image from Stereogum
I especially liked the grid of drum sets.

The video reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a couple months ago, about how we both get overly emotional when sharing an experience with a group of people. It could be any situation, like the Giants winning the World Series or the day that San Francisco turned into Gotham City for a 5-year-old kid named Miles, or in my friend’s case, simply reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with his classmates in elementary school. It sounds weird, but I totally got what he meant: it’s about having something in common with all the people around you—citizens, fans, friends, or strangers—and that one shared thing is all that matters, at that moment. In most cases it’s a feeling of unity and cohesiveness and all-around warm fuzzies.

There is nothing that embodies this feeling more to me than drum corps, so excuse me while I geek out for a bit.

Rookie year, 2006

DCI (Drum Corps International) is what some people call “marching band on steroids.” I guess it’s necessary to compare it to band, but with a level of athleticism that rivals marathon runners and way sicker choreography. The people I’ve met through drum corps are easily the most talented, hard-working, and dedicated people I know. Even with full school schedules and part-time jobs, drum corps performers pursue the perfect show with the kind of insane devotion you see from kids who get full-ride scholarships to Berklee, or professional athletes who get paid to compete (except, the young adults in drum corps—and their families—pay thousands of dollars each season to do what they do). In return, they get to embark on a cross-country tour each summer, sleeping on buses and gym floors surrounded by an extended family of 150 people, performing for sold-out crowds in pro football stadiums.

I got to be a part of this activity for 3 years. Some people do it for a lot longer. But once you’re 21, you “age out” of being a drum corps performer, and suddenly that’s it: you never get to do it again. And the older I get, the more I admire how much blood, sweat, and tears a group of 15-to-21-year-olds can put into an 11-minute field show. It’s exhilarating just to watch, let alone be a part of it.

At any given DCI event, the crowd will be filled with alumni, proud family members, and hopeful band kids. Everyone has their favorite corps (after all, it is a competition), but there are always those shows that make you jump to your feet regardless of who you’re cheering for. The performers hype up the crowd, the crowd hypes up the performers. I’ve been lucky enough to experience it from both sides, and let me tell you, my eyes get misty and my heart swells up just the same regardless of whether I’m on the field or in the stands.

FAVORITE EXAMPLES, in varying degrees of video quality:

SCV ’04. The Vanguard yell gives me goosebumps EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. This was the first year I went to a DCI show. After that, I was hooked.

Phantom ’08. Whenever I watch this video, it makes me cry happy tears while fist pumping and yelling “I AM SPARTACUS” along with the crowd (2008 was Phantom Regiment’s first true championship).

Troopers ’13. Like Vanguard’s bottle dance, the Troopers’ sunburst is a classic old-skool DCI move – it’s too bad you can’t see the crowd when they do it in this video, but I guarantee you they’re going nuts.

DCI to me is what baseball or football or soccer is to some people: score-checking, forum-reading, and live-streaming (the Periscope app has been especially revolutionary). This post is appropriately timed because DCI Finals are next weekend in Indy, and if you’ve been keeping up, it’s been an incredible season. Additions to shows will be happening right up until finals night, and the corps in the first place slot has been changing daily. I can’t wait to see what happens, but most of all I can’t wait to see the energy at finals night. I won’t be there in person, sadly, but I’m going to try to go to the annual theater showing and get my face blasted off along with a bunch of other “strangers” who have the same love for the activity as me.

Thank you Foo Fighters and Italian musicians and drum corps performers/crowds everywhere, for reminding me of the pure physical and emotional power of music. I hope there will always be things that make me feel this way.

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