One performer switches from brass to drum major to guard. Through his varied experiences, he learns the influences he can hold as an appointed leader and as a veteran member.
Growing up, I always felt a sincere connection to music. Two of my sisters and I followed in my mother’s musical footsteps and got involved as early as it was available to us. I began learning the trumpet in middle school and played it consistently until college. In 2014, I completed my bachelor’s degree in French language and literature with a minor in French horn performance from Middle Tennessee State University.
On the Podium
My marching career has been a bit more sporadic than my musical one. Starting as a freshman in the mellophone line at Collierville (Tennessee) High School, my next three years were spent on the podium as our drum major. Being in this role continued to spark my interest in the marching arts. I had a desire to lead and took the chance to do so.
Following high school, I auditioned for the local drum corps Memphis Sound to be one of the drum majors for the 2009 season. As a 17-year-old fresh to the activity, I was offered the challenge to lead a group of 80 members, the majority who were older than I was. We completed the season in Open Class finals at Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championships. I remember that accomplishment being such a feat, especially after rough times for the organization financially. By the end of the summer, the organization decided to dissolve, move, and reform into Forté Drum and Bugle Corps. I then became the veteran drum major of the newly formed Forté for the summer of 2010.
On the Floor and Field
At the same time, I also felt an interest and an urge to return to the field. Being in front of the action instead of in the middle of it left me feeling unfulfilled and wanting more involvement in the show. From this feeling spawned my interest in color guard, something I had only dipped my toe in previously.
My indoor career began in 2010 with Utopia winter guard, a small collegiate group in Independent A Class. I don’t think I could ever forget the rush of adrenaline from facing the audience without a horn in front of my face. It was incredible—so much so that I participated in a local Independent World group named Enspyre in 2011.
After that season, I knew that I wanted to audition for a color guard in the DCI activity. My first instinct was to go with the corps I had seen the most of, which was Bluecoats. Unfortunately, I was not cast in the group. Completely by happenstance and assisted by my instructor George Furlipa, I found myself at auditions for The Cavaliers guard. I received a spot on the field in 2011 and found a place that would become my home for the next two years until my age out.
My winter guard career continued with Eklipse in 2012. Following that season and intertwined with my summers at DCI, I performed with the Pride of Cincinnati Winter Guard in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
My leadership experience is something I consider to be somewhat varied. In the beginning of my marching career, I was given a title and a list of expectations and rules that would lead a drum corps to success. I was a figurehead for the group and interacted with many people as a liaison.
That experience was a sharp contrast to my position with The Cavaliers and the Pride of Cincinnati, where I was just a consistently returning marching member. I mostly interacted with my peers, naturally carving my own role in leading the group to success from my knowledge of previous seasons. My participation became more of a veteran leadership status rather than an appointed position like a drum major.
Though these experiences were completely different, the one large correlation between the two is the communication and respect among the leaders and those following them. I felt absolutely intimidated as a 17-year-old to be the drum major for a large group of members who were up to four years older. However, I found a way to convince them to follow, listen, and believe in what I said and to feel comfortable enough to trust me.
Let it also be noted: Respect can come in many different forms such as learning to have patience, keeping calm in times of stress, and being a steady example of expectations for the group. This lesson has stuck with me through every year of my marching career and is something I continue to remember as a staff member with The Cavaliers.
We all participate in this activity because of passion for music and the performing arts. That love is our common ground, regardless of any disagreements or failed plans and also regardless of any medals or successes. Winning or losing, we are all in the same game and on the same TEAM—Together Everyone Achieves More.
About the Author
CJ McCrory marched with the Collierville (Tennessee) Dragon Band as a mellophone player and drum major during high school. CJ became drum major with Memphis Sound in 2009 and with Forté Drum and Bugle Corps in 2010. He then participated as a guard member with The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps and several indoor groups including the Pride of Cincinnati. Currently residing in Lexington, Kentucky, CJ continues his involvement in the marching activity as a visual designer, technician, and choreographer with several high schools. He is also a staff member with The Cavaliers.