A ‘Borg and a Baritone #11: “Age”

Someone posted an interesting question on the Facebook page for Drum Corps Planet: (paraphrasing) “is DCA (Drum Corps Associates) now feasible for anyone over the age of 40?”

I’ve mentioned this before, but to review: there are 2 main Drum & Bugle Corps circuits in North America: DCI (Drum Corps International) and DCA. DCI is a big-budgeted marching circuit, for ages 14-21. DCA is an all-age circuit. Both circuits have Winter Camps (generally, November – February) and Spring Camps (March – April). DCI then goes on their Summer Tour: rehearsals at their home bases, then competitions and rehearsals from late June to the 2nd week of August, 3-6 days a week (depending on your corps’ class). DCA corps, on the other hand, do not do full “tours”: instead, they generally rehearse on weekends (some add 3-4 hours on 1 weekday). Their season starts in late June and ends on Labor Day weekend, with competitions on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

In recent years, the average age of the DCA corps has steadily decreased. The time commitment differences is one of the appealing things about DCA, especially for older marchers. The cost differences for a full season – thousand of dollars for DCI members, $600 – $900 for DCA – is another. As a result, younger folks that can’t afford DCI – but are more than talented enough to make it – or couldn’t commit to a tour for 3 months, now are looking to DCA for their Drum Corps options. This allows Show Designers and Visual Staff to design shows that can take advantage of the energy and athleticism of these younger performers: faster tempos, more body movement, and more exotic drill designs, just to give a few examples. 

This might be great for a 21 year old. What about a 53 year old?

Can you, Older Marcher, survive in today’s DCA? 

My answer: Probably. You may need some help, though. And it will not be easy.

I think it comes down to a few factors for older marchers:

  1. Willingness to Listen/Learn. “Why is some punk kid telling ME how to play this sixteenth-note lick? I’ve been playing my horn for 41 YEARS!”; “This isn’t how we played in MY corps, back in the ’80s!”. These are extreme examples but I have heard, read, and seen versions of all 3. Coming in with the attitude that you don’t have to listen to someone younger than you, especially if you have been playing for dozen of years, will make your stay with a Drum Corps short and unpleasant.
  2. Ability to Work. “Father Time is undefeated.” You, Older Marcher, are going to be a step slower than 16-21 year olds… at the beginning. If, however, you are willing to up your fitness and/or change your diet and/or push yourself (even a little bit), you will be in a good position.
  3. Asking for Help. This kind of ties into #1. Don’t be afraid to ask a Section Leader for help on a particularly hard section; if you are outdoors and marching, and pain/heat/mind/dehydration is getting to you, drop out for a minute or 2 (or 5 or 10), get some water and your 2nd wind, and jump back in. If you need to wear a brace, wrap, or splint, wear them – but be mindful that “being hurt” and “being injured” are different.

I am on the border of the “older” group (I’m 40). At the start of the season, November 2018:

  • I had only played once since July 2013, and had not marched since that same time
  • I had not played in front of an audience since August 2010
  • I hadn’t marched a show since July 2008

My toughest challenges, so far, have been getting back into “marching shape” and keeping my feet healthy(ish). I know it will be tough, once we start outdoor rehearsals; I just don’t know how tough… and if I will be in good enough shape (by then) that I’m not holding everyone back. The other challenge: just keeping the feet from starting a full-scale revolution. Last camp, on a scale of 1-10 (with a ‘7’ being normal, day-to-day walking), the left foot (with the Plantar Plate tear) was a 4 or 5, the right big toe a 4 – not horrible, but not always comfortable. I’ll continue to rest and treat (and get treated for) both feet, as much as possible. I’ll also get a new pair or 2 of shoes, with padding and decent insoles, to keep everything as comfortable as possible. 

So, I think it’s very possible for older marchers to participate in a DCA drum & Bugle today. It’s not going to be the same as a corps that they may have marched in before, and you probably should make sure that you ask for help (when needed), plus take care of yourself more stringently than younger marchers, but you can still be a viable member of a DCA corps in 2019.

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