Each summer, students across the country participate in competitive drum and bugle corps, honing their musical abilities and having fun in the process.
This year, South Dakota State University had five students involved with Drum Corp International competitions—Matthew Avenson (tuba), Alex Barthel (baritone), Brady DeBelts (percussion), Madelynn Hotchkiss (percussion) and Kaitlin Niles (color guard).
Students get involved for a variety of reasons, but, according to Hotchkiss, many continue to participate until they “age out” after turning 21 because of the positive impact the experience makes.
“I wanted to go back to Spirit because of the family environment I had found,” said Hotchkiss, who played for the Spirit of Atlanta. “The people were truly my brothers and sisters. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. The experience lived up to my expectations—I had a new group of people to call my chosen family.”
However, it’s not just the participation that draws people back. In fact, Niles spent time with the Music City Drum Corps (Nashville) and Troopers Drum Corps (Casper, Wyoming) before aging out, but being too old to compete didn’t stop her from staying involved with DCI.
“The overall experience has changed my life and made me who I am today,” said Niles, who has spent the past three summers teaching color guard. “After I aged out, I wanted to continue to be a part of Drum Corps, so teaching was the next best thing. I go back every year because I love the activity and all that it has given me. I love the friends and family-like aspect of Drum Corps. I just can’t get away from this activity.”
Niles’ teaching experience has been with the River City Rhythm Drum Corps of Anoka, Minnesota, the same group to which Avenson and DeBelts belong. Barthel marched with Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps based out of La Crosse, Wisconsin.
"To perform in a DCI corps is an incredible achievement,” said Kevin Kessler, SDSU’s director of athletic bands. “Oftentimes, dozens of people are auditioning for only one or two open spots in the ensemble. Those who are selected put themselves through mental and physical rigor similar to that of a marathon runner. Having so many from SDSU participating in DCI activities speaks to the quality of the student as well as the quality of the musical training they are receiving here."
Above all, most competitive Drum Corps participants agree participation is not easy, but the rewarding relationships and memories make up for any and all hardships.