My Love/Hate Relationship with DCI

DCI Championships are this weekend. It’s a fact most current and former band kids can’t escape—social media lights up with profile pictures from when everyone you’ve ever known marched in the Blue Devils, the handful of friends who are on staff or on tour with a corps are super excited, and everyone who wants to see the shows at their best without flying to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis flocks to the movies to watch the live stream of the quarterfinals.

This year, following a season or two of not keeping up with the activity, I joined them. I sat in the same place for five hours (plus bathroom breaks) and munched on entirely-too-unhealthy popcorn and rooted for Vanguard (and Crown, and The Academy, and . . .  you get my point). And since I hadn’t been to a show in a couple years, it was a lot of fun. I’ll always have massive respect for my friends who march and tech for these groups, but I’ve also realized that as much as I like DCI, I’ll never again adore it as much as I used to.

The year is 2009. I’m a freshman in my high school’s marching band, and one of our drum majors is hanging out with the brass section. She and the upperclassmen are talking about drum corps, and they wave us over. Five minutes later, we’re watching Spartacus, then just a year old. One of my favorite things about marching band was the understanding that music and movement innately go together; drum corps takes that expectation and kicks it up a notch. Suddenly, spending a summer on the road doesn’t sound so bad.

The year is 2011, and a bunch of friends and I are headed to the movies. We’ve already started band camp, but several of our friends are marching with Vanguard or BD this year and we’re ready to cheer them on (from a couple thousand miles away, but still). We settle ourselves in, we sit through the first handful of corps, and then I fall absolutely in love with the corps who comes in with stiltwalkers and a great colorguard and a visual staff who let their musicians turn each other upside down. I’d grown up thirty minutes from Vanguard, two hours from the Blue Devils, and I don’t care—for a whole twelve hours I’m dead set on being a Cavalier. And DCI broke my heart for the first time.

Because here’s the thing: fifteen-year-old me didn’t expect that we’d be living in a world in which I’d want to be part of a large, commercial, artistic organization and be told “no, we don’t take women.” Twenty-two-year-old me still doesn’t expect that. And why don’t the Cavaliers accept women? “Tradition.” Great answer—if we’re living in the early nineteen hundreds. (It should be noted that the Madison Scouts are also generally all-male, but they have featured women in their corps before and spent this summer featuring Megan Hutera as their flugelhorn soloist.)

The year is 2018, and George Hopkins’ history of sexual misconduct is outed by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Hopkins resigns, as do a number of higher-ups at The Cadets, but addressing the systemic problems that lead to inappropriate interactions between staff and students in the DCI community at large will take years. Other corps have avoided this level of media attention, but the problems aren’t just in Allentown.

By this point, I’ve passed age-out and couldn’t march if I wanted to. But I’ve never been more relieved that I never did.

The year is 2018, and I watch Carolina Crown feature an all-female high brass ensemble, aptly nicknamed Girls Club, in a standout portion of their show (while literally everyone but the tubas suddenly decides to play trombone, which is a new but very cool orchestrational move). And as much as I dislike so much of DCI’s culture, I almost cry, because I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen an all-female ensemble prominently featured by an organization with a large, nationwide (and worldwide) fanbase. And I hope those young women are having the time of their lives out there, because they’re doing what I and others thought we’d never get to see.

So tonight I’ll be watching the awards ceremony, rooting for the home team and hoping Vanguard takes the crown (for the first time this millennium). As much as I wanted to spend a summer on tour as a teenager, with the life experience I have, I’m so glad I didn’t. It wouldn’t have been a good environment for someone like me—but maybe, someday, someone just like me will decide it feels like home. ♦