My adventure took place back during 2015. I auditioned for the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugles Corps based in Santa Clara, California for the third year, and finally made the horn line after numerous failed auditions. I was beyond ecstatic to join an organization I had dreamed of being a part of ever since my freshman year in marching band!
For those who don’t know much about the activity, the Santa Clara Vanguard is a part of the Drum Corps International competition that takes place every summer from June through August. Many people pack up their lives in May to travel around the United States for 3 months away from family, friends and loved ones sleeping on gym floors, working outside for 12+ hours a day in the summer heat. The best luxury during the tour is sleeping (either on the bus that you travel on at night or on the gym floor), eating (you eat four times a day, and you still lose weight due to the increased physical activity), and time where you do nothing (you have three four-hour blocks of rehearsal time with an hour to eat in between.)
Still not satisfied? Then you have to address the cost of participation. Yes, it is a professional organization. No, you don’t get paid. Yes, you can write it on a resume. No, it is not inexpensive. To participate, the Santa Clara Vanguard asks each of its members to pay a small fee of $3500 a summer. You have opportunities to pay it off in chunks, but the financial burden of being in college, paying bills, and flying out and participating in mandatory monthly camps in San Jose, CA makes this a steep weight to burden.
Then you go on tour. You spend six to eight weeks working on unifying the corps and learning your twelve minute field production to be judged throughout the season. You work anywhere from 12-15 hours a day trying to perfect a show that in theory will never be perfect; picking out the tiniest little detail to achieve perfection. One step, one note on your instrument, one catch could mean the difference between 1st and 2nd place. And yes, it has happened before (one year there was a .025 difference between 1st and 2nd.)
Overall, it sounds like a miserable experience, and to a point it is. I can’t count on my hands how many times I’ve wanted to break down crying during the summer due to the physical and mental stress your peers, teachers, and instructors put on you day in and day out. But it is also the same people that help you realize your true potential. We help each work through our problems and make each other stronger. I still have friends I made during that season around the world that I still talk to on a daily basis. This adventure was probably the toughest and most rewarding journey I have ever been apart of.