From Elation to Emptiness

After eight seasons and eight championship titles from Drum Corps Associates, the Reading Buccaneers drum major may have marched his last season. Here, he reflects on the challenges, the rewards and the whirl of emotions as he looks forward “to unpathed waters, undreamed shores” … (William Shakespeare, “A Winter’s Tale”).

Photo by Jolesch Photography, www.jolesch.com

1-2-3-4, release, swivel, down…

And so it ended. The season was done, and I had just finished conducting what I believe will be my last victory concert, performed at the 2008 Drum Corps Associates (DCA) World Championships. My name is Josh Decker, and it has been my honor to serve as the drum major of the Reading Buccaneers for the past eight seasons.

Being in the Bucs has been one of the greatest choices I have ever made. During my tenure I have worked with many incredible people. The administration, staff and members of the corps taught me the value of true hard work and true team effort and true sacrifice.

It wasn’t always easy performing this balancing act. As a high school band director in Pennsylvania, I’d go right from drum corps season into marching band and back to drum corps. It could be downright exhausting at times! Having a schedule where I would work a full week of school, followed by a Saturday rehearsal of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and a Sunday of 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. was challenging. But it was worth it.

Getting Involved

Being a drum corps drum major was a dream I had held for a long time. When I was selected to be the drum major at my high school, it sealed the deal for my choice of becoming a music education major. Eventually, I chose to attend West Chester (Pa.) University. There I eventually rose through the student leadership to serve as a two-year drum major and student director. These experiences led me to continue my studies at West Chester as a graduate student.

At that time, several friends approached me about the Buccaneers. I had marched with the Westshoremen a few years before, including the corps’ only championship year. Truth be told, when the possibility of doing corps arose again, I started getting that inevitable itch. And to add fuel to the fire, when I found out there was a drum major opening, I was there ready to go one way or the other.

I had always respected the Buccaneers as an organization, and I was a huge fan of the classical/symphonic music that has been a signature style for the corps’ shows. Fortunately for me, I was successful in my auditioning for the position.

Years of Growth

In the early years, my responsibilities were pretty simple. Set the field up, conduct the corps and represent the organization on retreats. As the years went on, I found myself more involved in the areas of corps scheduling and travel logistics, morale issues, field management, public relations and a host of other things. As these responsibilities started adding up, it was a personal goal for me to find new and interesting routines to incorporate into my own performance for personal growth.

Some of the best of times included creating and using new personal visuals during a show and/or performing visuals with the snare line during a show. Another tradition I held throughout my years was that I absolutely had to double-tap everyone on the back prior to a performance and to bless the corps prior to my salute. For whatever reason, those actions helped focus me on the task at hand.

Other favorite times on the competition trail included the camaraderie among drum majors from other corps, especially joke time prior to retreats. Good times.

Of course, not everything in drum corps is rosy. I remember frustrating rehearsals when the show did not come together right and sleepless nights worrying about how the corps would perform. I also experienced plenty of scary moments on the field where it felt as if the corps would have ensemble tears when sections would seem to pull apart musically, creating a “rip” in the music.

Those were the toughest times for me to deal with because I felt I could always prevent troubles—big or small. I know no one can prevent everything, but it certainly stung when problems happened. But, as in any activity, I had to learn to take the good with the bad and move on. My drum corps experience has certainly reinforced this philosophy in my personal life and how I look at difficult situations.

Back to the Beginning … and the End

I must give special thanks to my parents and brother, Mr. John Bugosh, Dr. John Villella, Professor George Parks, the entire administration team at Bucs (most notably Jimmy Gruber and Lou and Lois Tierno), Carl Ruocco, Rich Hammond, Chris Feist, Eric Kitchenman, Bobby Jones and the rest of the staff members I have worked with through the years.

I must also thank all of my assistant drum majors, most notably Diane Koenig. Without Diane I never would have been able to succeed. I owe her a ton!

In voicing my thanks, I return to Aug. 31, 2008 … On that fateful night, my corps took home its eighth world championship title and its fourth consecutive undefeated season. Only one other corps ever went four in a row, and even that corps can’t say they had all undefeated seasons.

How did I feel? Elated, exhausted and perhaps a bit empty. I literally had nothing left to give emotionally. And I knew the entirety of the situation would not sink in until the following morning when we would all pack to go home one final time. In our own way and style, we created a piece of history within DCA. The experience still puts me in awe this day.

As for tomorrow? Who knows where I’m headed and who knows where my favorite corps is headed?

All I can suggest is that we are all off “to unpathed water, undreamed shores.”

About the Author

Josh Decker recently completed his eighth consecutive season with the Buccaneers Drum and Bugle Corps as the lead drum major. A resident of Mount Joy, Pa., Decker has a Bachelor of Science in Music Education and Master of Music in Music Education, with concentrations in saxophone and conducting, from West Chester (Pa.) University. He is currently director of bands and teaches a multitude of music courses at Conestoga Valley High School in Lancaster, Pa. Decker was a member of the West Chester University marching band for four years, serving as drum major in 1998 and 1999. He played mellophone for the Westshoremen in 1996 and 1997 and has been a fixture in the Buccaneers organization since 2001.

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