During the summer of 2001, I had the opportunity to be a member of Spirit Drum and Bugle Corps, playing timpani in the front ensemble. For those of you not familiar with Drum and Bugle Corps, think of it as professional marching band, or marching band on super-steroids. To summarize, we spent one month practicing 16 hours a day in the Alabama summer heat, preparing for our tour. Then, we launched off on a tour which took us through approximately 25 states in 50 days. Every day involved practice, practice, and more practice. Even on the days we had shows, we practiced. We spent some nights sleeping on gym floors, and others sleeping on our buses. Most days, I didn’t even know where we were – all I knew is that we had a show to perform and that I needed to do my best.
There are many great memories I could discuss of my summer with Spirit: long rehearsals at JSU, experiencing my first show, meeting percussionists from other corps, interacting with alumni and vets, visiting some beautiful parts of this country, seeing Niagara Falls, and my experience at DCI Finals in Buffalo, NY.
I don’t remember the exact date or time, but we were scheduled to play a show in Hershey, PA. Like every other day on tour, we woke up and practiced until lunch. After a short lunch break, we practiced some more. In the middle of the afternoon, we loaded our equipment into the truck, took showers, packed our belongings, loaded the buses, and went to the show site. Then, when it was our turn, we took the field.
The show was going smoothly until something happened. I don’t believe anyone ever took fault, but the show “broke.” The timing was off and melodies and rhythms clashed. We were able to finish the show, but it was an overall disaster, a huge setback for a corps seeking to rebuild and rise to the ranks of champions.
We left the field and made our way back to where our trucks were parked. Everyone was disappointed. We were discouraged. And, we were all waiting to be reamed by our instructors. But, that would not happen…
Our drum major, Thomas “Pinky” Whitten stood up and called us all to attention. He would not let us be beaten. He told us that one bad show was not enough to stop us. He encouraged us. As drum major, he truly rose to the leadership position which he had earned. We would not be defeated, but we would declare to all that could hear that we would continue to seek perfection. Then, the corps circled up and played our corps song, “Georgia on My Mind.”
We played that song many times before that night and many times after. However, I don’t remember it ever being played with such passion. In the midst of a huge failure, we did not stop, but pushed forward. I’ll never forget the contra line flipping their horns onto their shoulders, the sopranos hitting the high notes, or the look on Pinky’s face as he conducted. All were inspired, all were dedicated, all would persevere til we reached the end of the season.
It was a great night.
Here is a video of Georgia on My Mind played by Spirit of 2012. I don’t have a recording from 2001, but not much has changed since then. The corps members may change, but the song doesn’t.