Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's A Sport, Damnit!

An old friend has descended on Bloomington. Something that hasn't been seen in this town since the mid-90s. A spectacle that has involved months of rigorous training from hundreds of young men and women. A sport, played between the lines of America's (and Canada's) football stadiums, where injury and fatigue are a real part of the danger. One of the most difficult things a human being can bring themselves to do: Drum and Bugle Corps.

Yes sir, the DCI World Championships rolled its way into town this afternoon and has serenaded the north side of Bloomington with beautiful music and the sound of raucous cheering for the last 7 or so hours.

Oh, and tonight was just the quarterfinals. Tomorrow, for the semifinals, the crowds get even bigger and the competition gets even tougher. Then the crowds become bigger still (close to 30,000, I would guess) for Saturday evening's World Class Finals: the show where the best marching music ensemble in the world will be crowned.

By the way, you may have notice my mention of the word "sport". Yeah, I stand by it, and I'll be damned if you tell me otherwise.

See, for those of you uninitiated to this particular activity, you should really try to experience it somehow -- there are plenty of videos on YouTube if you don't have to opportunity to make it to a show. These groups, generally about 100 members-strong, come together in late May after a rather grueling audition process, live as a group, train outside for eight-to-twelve hours a day, and go perform their art in front of thousands two or three times a week. They travel on buses across the nation for about ten weeks, entertaining crowds from Allentown, PA, to Pasadena, CA, without taking any breaks from their training. There are people who enter the May camps weighing 275 pounds and come out in August weighing 200.

That sounds kinda like a sport to me.

Plus, lets look at football players. Football players do similar training, but their sport involves standing around for 30 seconds, running into each other for 6 seconds, then standing around for another 30 seconds. Baseball players? Some of those guys hardly count as athletes. Basketball? Okay, they're athletic, but they don't have to deal with 95-degree heat and beating sunshine.

These drum corps kids (and they are kids, really -- the ages allowed by DCI rules are 14-21 years-old) have to learn how to coordinate their legs, their feet, their upper bodies, and their arms, all while playing a musical instrument (some of which can weigh up to 50 pounds). That means they also have to control their breathing in order to get the best sound possible out of the instrument. They also have to move in such a way that the concussion of their feet hitting the ground doesn't translate up to the instrument and hamper the sound (try humming while jumping up and down, and you'll get the idea of what they're trying to avoid). It requires a level of coordination and fluidity that many dancers would be jealous of.

I almost forgot: they don't get paid. In fact, they have to pay roughly $2,000 per member just to keep the corps running. They do this not for the money, but because they love what they do.

Don't tell me I'm just mindlessly defending this stuff without really knowing either. I tried three times to get into one of these World Class drum corps and failed. Just watch a video on YouTube, and you'll understand what I'm talking about.