A True Legend

Photo By Jolesch Photography, www.jolesch.com

Confidence doesn’t always come easy, not even for this year’s Drum Corps International Open Class recipient of the Jim Jones Leadership Award. But courage overtook early uneasiness, resulting in a fantastic season for the Legends Drum and Bugle Corps from Kalamazoo, Mich.

Some people have told me that they feel the most alive when they are performing. It’s honestly just a blur for me. I remember bits and pieces, mostly from the pre-show preparations, which are surprisingly clear.

I climb the steps of the podium, praying that I don’t fall. Suddenly, my uniform feels too tight. My hands are shaking. I make eye contact with a few of the members, and their confidence assures me.

In the jumble of the announcer’s booming syllables, I hear my name: “Drum Major, Kelly Koch, is your corps ready?”

I salute and force myself to smile as I nod to the audience.

The anticipation is always the most nerve-wracking part of the show, kind of like the long climb up the first hill of a rollercoaster. After the downbeat, however, all of my uneasiness fades. Muscle memory takes over, and we settle into the practiced, familiar patterns of our show. The rest is a blur of energy. All of the sudden, I hear applause. We made it.

A Tentative Start

This is my third year as a member of the Legends Drum and Bugle Corps, and my first year as drum major. My two previous summers were spent in the front ensemble.

I did not seek this drum major position. In fact, the idea of being a leader of such a talented group of musicians scared me to death. Who am I to tell them what to do or how to perform? I was worried that no one would listen to me. I was afraid that no one would go to sleep when I turned the lights off and that they would tar-and-feather me for dragging them out of their slumber.

I can clearly remember the first time a staff member asked me to hurry the corps along at the end of a water break. I was terrified. I did not want to say anything that might cause them to resent me or to suspect that I saw myself as superior to them. I think I said something along the lines of, “Um, hey guys, I think that the staff is about ready to run that exercise again. So, um, if you’re done drinking water, we should probably hurry back.” The memory is almost comical to me now.

The pressures of my new leadership role, combined with the enormous weight of my musical responsibilities, kept me awake at night. I worried about tempos, conducting patterns and listening guides all the time. Being drum major of the Legends Drum and Bugle Corps was one of the most mentally and emotionally stressful experiences of my life.

No More Fear

I am not exactly sure how it happened, but throughout the course of the season, I became significantly more comfortable acting as a drum major. Of course, the members were more than receptive to my new role. They were incredibly supportive and encouraging, which allowed me to build confidence.

On several occasions before a show, Landon Ewers, the percussion caption head, said to me, “No fear.” That phrase kept bouncing around in my head because fear was exactly my problem. At some point I just had to decide to stop being afraid, a feat that became easier as the ensemble grew in confidence. The courage of my peers allowed me to walk a little closer to the edge of the cliff myself.

A Season of Accolades

Among my proudest moments this summer was when Legends was named “Most Improved Open Class Drum Corps.” What began as a small brass ensemble out of Portage Central High School in 2001 has now exploded into a finalist open class drum and bugle corps. This past summer was merely our second year competing in DCI championships. I am amazed by the growth that has occurred since I joined in 2007 when Legends traveled as an exhibition group.

Additionally, our director, Ibe Sodawalla, was named “DCI Open Class Director of the Year,” which speaks volumes toward Legends’ incredible transformation.

I am proud that I can be included in this group of amazingly talented, dedicated, persistent people. This “Most Improved” award was only achieved by the group’s hard work and willingness to adapt and overcome each new obstacle. Every one of us evolved in our own way.

By this point I figure that personal growth is inevitable with drum corps. It changes the way you look at life. For me, the whole world seems a lot less scary now. No fear.

About the Author

Kelly Koch received Drum Corps International’s Jim Jones Leadership Award for her role with the Legends Drum and Bugle Corps this past season. She is a graduate of Parchment (Mich.) High School where she participated in the band under the direction of Beth Jonker. Kelly is currently attending Indiana Wesleyan University in pursuit of a degree in music education. Her primary instrument is the flute. She has four younger brothers, all of which have marched in Legends.