Standing in line, trumpet in hand, mask on, Kyle Stover looks out the long tunnel of Lucas Oil Stadium at the crowd of thousands. He is surrounded by 150 of his newest friends who have shared an experience with him this summer unlike any other. And now, they are about to start their last experience as a group together. They need to keep their emotions in check. As the group walks on the field, they are greeted by the fans clapping and cheering for them. Echoes of the word, “Bloo” fill the large stadium. This is the World Championships of Drum Corps International in Indianapolis, Ind. And while it may not be the traditional pro sports event, its members receive the same camaraderie as any professional sports team. The Canton Bluecoats take their place on the field. Stover takes his place near the 20-yard line. Then a booming voice over the loud speaker calls, “Drum major, is your corps ready?”
Kyle Stover first learned about Drum Corps International in his high school band class at Tippecanoe High School in Tipp City, Ohio.
“My band director showed and clip of it in one of our classes. I saw it and decided I wanted to do it,” Stover said.
The now 20-year old college junior had been playing the trumpet since he was in the fifth grade but did not decide to attempt this challenge until this past summer.
Drum Corps International is a group of elite marching bands, containing only brass and percussion instruments. Members range from ages 15 to 21. The various bands, known as “corps,” travel all over the United States throughout the summer. All the competitions lead to the World Championships at the beginning of August in Indianapolis, Indiana. Stover’s corps, the Bluecoats, originate in Canton, Ohio. However, members come from all over the country.
Members participate in an intense audition to be a part of a corps and then endure a challenging training camp in order to prepare for their tour.
“It was going to be a completely new experience,” Stover said, “I knew it was going to be very demanding both physically and mentally.”
The corps members are in peak physical condition, similar to that of a professional athlete. They go through a rigorous daily practice and workout schedule that consists of about 11 hours of rehearsal each day.
Once on tour, the corps travel by charter bus and spend nights in high school gymnasiums on the floor. Many times the corps traveled overnight on their buses.
“You find yourself being able to fall asleep in any position,” Stover explains, “Usually at the end of the day you’re so tired, you just instantly fall asleep wherever you are.”
The Bluecoats show for 2012 was titled UnMasqued and consisted music about wearing masks to hide emotions, feelings or personalities.
“The show went through the emotions of unmasking who you really are,” Stover said.
For visual effect, all of the Bluecoats members wore black and white masks that they took off towards the end of the show. Stover explained how he enjoyed the show and how it contained the emotion involved in taking off the masking and accepting others for who they are.
Perhaps the emotions are more than just in the music for this corps. As the Bluecoats entered their final show, they found it difficult to control their emotions knowing it would be the last time they played that show. However, Stover explained that as soon as they stepped on the field, everything was so habitual that all the nerves went away.
“At that point we were a ‘well-oiled marching machine,’” Stover said.
This writer had to opportunity to experience the Bluecoats last show in Indianapolis and saw first-hand the connection these people, a connection that is almost unexplainable. Living, training and traveling together has created a real bond between every single member that will not easily be broken. It is a bond that no outside source can understand.
The Bluecoats placed 6th at the finals, but in their hearts they had earned a success immeasurable by any judge.
“Just walking off the field you hear people crying … people were just really emotional. You know that it’s the last time this show will be performed by this group and that we’ll be together,” Stover said.
After the last note was played, Stover looks up at the roaring crowd. Before getting back in line to march off the field, they walk to get their masks they removed at the end of their show. These are the masks they worked countless hours and endured blood, sweat and tears to remove. Masks that do not have to be put on again, and masks that may have controlled their lives until this life-changing summer.
After the competition, the Bluecots gather at the outside of the stadium for emotional goodbyes before they go home to their families. It goes without saying that they will never forget what they experienced together that summer. While that moment in Indianapolis was their last time as a Bluecoat on the field, they will always be Bluecoats in their hearts.