Doherty Speaks About Drum Corps: Part 3

Freelance writer Stuart Rice interviews Gary Doherty, the former executive director of Drum Corps International’s OnQ Performance Education division, about his history and his opinions regarding the drum corps activity, changes at DCI and the future of music education.

Part 3 (in a three-part series): The Band/Corps Divide?

Stuart Rice: Do you make a distinction between the marching bands in music education and drum and bugle corps in the marching arts?

Gary Doherty: Yes, they are vastly different musical organizations.

SR: Some would argue that drum corps, which uses an entire season to teach 10 minutes of music, isn’t really a musical organization. Music educators note with alarm the influence of drum corps on the increasing number of school marching bands who spend their entire season on one show (The Instrumentalist, November 2000, “Corps Style Marches On With One Show Per Year: An Overview of Current Trends in Marching Bands”). Do you think music educators will continue to support this trend? Why or why not?

GD: This is the reason many educators do not “buy-in” to the drum corps activity … and I agree on some of the issues. I did not ever try to make my high school marching band look, sound or move like a drum corps. The rules, instrumentation, and mission of a school band is very different from a world class drum corps. This is why I believe that it is one’s perspective that brings the two groups together. I have learned a lot about how the ensemble moves across the field from the designers of drum corps shows. My concept of sound is different from many of my colleagues in the activity because I have always had more colors to work with (utilizing the woodwinds, electronics, and string instruments).

I think this is THE discussion in the school band movement today. For most bands, the cost of producing these shows is a huge part of the band’s overall budget. As districts put less and less money into music programs, the booster clubs will have to provide more and more funding for needs of the bands that have historically been included in the school budgets. There is a great divide among band directors on this issue. In my opinion, it will be finances that set the course for this discussion, more so than philosophies.

SR: Do you believe greater simplification (administrative, creative, educational, promotional, etc.) is in order? Along what lines?

GD: I don’t like the word “simplification.” I believe we are entering a “neoclassical” period in the development of the entire band movement: This will be reflected in the marching arts of which we speak. Much as the arts community was forced into a neoclassical period by the advent of WWII, so we will address artistic issues with “efficiency.”

On a macroscopic scale, we must bear the weight of a society in dire need of creative infrastructure. Until we invest in the creative lives of our children (and people in general) we will continue to reap “less-than-satisfactory” returns. It is my belief that we are on the cusp of a renaissance that will usher in a new vision of how the arts integrate with our community. I do feel, however, that we have more to learn about ourselves before this can transpire.

Our culture will continue to “specialize” until we have difficulty relating to one another without some kind of “commonality.” Sports now fill this need but leave many of us empty and frustrated with the cause-and-effect nature of the competition, ego and manic materialism we see within the professional, college and even high school sports organizations.

SR: Do you see among music educators an emerging recognition, acceptance and respect toward the marching arts (choreographed marching with its attendant arts—flag, rifle, bugling, and rudimental drumming)? Why or why not?

GD: I think most music educators realize the incredible potential of a quality marching arts program—as long as you do not pre-determine the “nature” of the program. Meaning, not everyone will find a corps-style program satisfying; others feel disengaged with the military style of marching organizations. But in general, at least in my experience, people recognize the importance of having a quality marching band for their schools.

SR: Mark Hindsley (1961) divides band directors’ attitudes toward marching band into three camps—those who believe in the tradition of marching musical groups, those who use them inappropriately and those who would rather not deal with them. Do you agree with this appraisal? If so, how would you compare their relative sizes and growth trends today? How might such attitudes affect drum corps?

GD: I would never take anything in opposition to Professor Hindsley, but since 1961, many things have emerged that affect attitudes toward marching band. Even trying to define and/or describe marching band brings multi-faceted answers: corps-style band, military-style band, show-style band, parade band, etc.

There are many “traditions” that are descriptive of various marching musical groups, and within each of these traditions are those who “use them inappropriately” or “to further their own agendas.” I have seen an alarming trend toward smaller and smaller ensembles over the last 20 years. It is also increasingly more difficult to find staff for these ensembles … The time commitment is astronomical compared to when I first started teaching a public school marching band (1979). When any segment of the performing arts suffers enrollment declines … that always impacts all facets of the activity. Drum corps will not be helped if the high school marching band does not remain a viable musical organization.

SR: How do you see the corps/band relationship best evolving?

GD: Partnerships always make the best progress, in these kinds of arenas.

SR: How would you describe the ideal band/corps partnership? How would their roles and functions differ?

GD: The technical demands of a world-class drum corps continue to push the limits on physical, musical and mental aspects of the performer. Most high school groups cannot approach this level of expertise due to limits in staff, personnel, time and resources. The high school organization is much more of a grassroots ensemble representing the communities in which they are based. Most corps membership comes from around the country (and world), so some of this “community” has been lost. I have many good friends who serve on the staffs of corps around the country, and we continue to have a dialogue that encourages creative solutions to mutual problems of moving students across the field while playing instruments in a uniform, efficient and artistic manner.

SR: What have been the biggest educational challenges of the drum corps activity in the past?

GD: How one measures success determines the outcome of any activity. The basic premise of most world-class corps is extrinsic in nature: develop an ensemble to win the world championships or at least place as high as possible in the finals. As long as this is the key to the corps, then education is merely a process to achieve a competitive goal … This, in my opinion, is not music education but is coaching. Music education is much more intrinsic in nature. It uses competition as ONE of the tools to measure outcomes, but the final product is not measured in trophies, rings or judges’ scores. I am not saying there is no intrinsic value in drum corps! Of course there is! What I am saying is that most corps (staff, members, alumni, fans, etc.) use only extrinsics to access their successes.

Finding ways to invest (artistically) “outside” the corps seems to be the biggest challenge to most of the corps organizations I have encountered. I see corps struggling with finding ways for intrinsic investment within the performing arts community outside of their immediate needs for fielding a championship-caliber corps. That is why the educational division struggled. The issue, in my opinion, is basically moving from “me” to “we,” and that is extremely difficult within the culture all of us face everyday.

SR: What challenges do you see in the future of drum corps?

GD: Financing the activity and bringing more intrinsic value to the process.

SR: Could the intrinsic value of drum corps affect its financial success? If so, how? How could we bring more intrinsic value to drum corps?

GD: Intrinsics is akin to farming. One must invest and wait for the “crop” to grow. Without intrinsics, no sustainable growth is possible. Again, the primary reason I invested so much of my personal energy into the OnQ experiment was to assist the corps in finding more intrinsic value and commonalities to the larger educational community. In my opinion, educational value = future growth for drum corps.

SR: What’s next for you?

GD: I am looking for an educational position within the performing arts community. I have a strong background in teaching, conducting and composing and welcome the opportunity to work in one of these areas of personal strengths, either with an organization (local or national performing arts advocate) or a school district with whom I share a professional vision/connection.

About the Author:

Stuart Rice is a veteran of 20 marching seasons, serving as a member, instructor and choreographer of marching in junior high, high school, college, drum corps, winter guard and professional settings. Rice’s marching research has been presented at the University of Rochester Visual and Cultural Studies Conference in 1994 and the American Sociological Association Collective Behavior and Social Movements Workshop at the University of California at Davis in 1998. His analysis of Drum Corps International World Championship Finalist drill is published extensively in Drum Corps World magazine. Rice holds a Bachelor of Music Degree from the University of Utah.

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