Brassed Off: Reflections on DCA Anne Bragstad, Mellophone
I have been procrastinating writing this article for the last couple of
weeks. I guess because it is hard to summarize the season when you are not
ready for it to be over. DCA was an amazing experience for me this year.
Deplaning in San Jose and having to say goodbye at the airport left a hole
in my heart. But, I digress...
DCA...Drum Corps Associates weekend of intoxication! The fact that our hotel
had a TGI Friday's downstairs was genius. I forget what a smoking section in
a restaurant was like - especially smoking in a bar!!! Unheard of in
California! My hotel room was a smoking room; everything still smells like
We arrived in Pennsylvania and rehearsed at Hanover Area H.S. that evening.
Returning to the school felt like going home. The air was fresh and clean
(no California smog!). I was able to take a moment just to look around,
smell the air, feel the humidity on my skin, and look out at the trees. My
mind became focused on the task at hand; tenth place will not suffice this
Hit the bar, of course, after rehearsal that evening. Realizing Friday was a
full day of rehearsal, having one drink didn't seem like a bad idea...until
someone ordered the shots. Oh well...we were on vacation, right? I spent
some time bonding at that bar with a few good friends of mine before moving
out to a hill overlooking the Wilkes-Barre freeway and behind a different
hotel on the same property. I ended up talking until 2 a.m. with a close
friend about life, work, family, relationships - past, present, future, and
the world. Conversations like this only occur once in a blue moon.
Friday I woke up with so much energy, even I was amazed! We arrived back at
the school and got ready for a long day of rehearsal. Spirits were sky high
and bouncing off the clouds. The air was a little thick, so listening to our
sound in the horn arc was quite different from how we were used to sounding
back home. Jim McFarland said, "We're a 2-day corps; this is day 2 and
things are going well...I have no idea what is going to happen tomorrow or
Sunday!" Sky's the limit.
After ensemble rehearsal in the morning, the Hanover Area H.S. band parents
fed us in the cafeteria. I know the cafeteria workers were expecting adults,
but after seeing high school kids all day - the looks on their faces were
priceless as our contra line and a few baritones entered the building, and
filled a few plates worth of food. Thank you Hanover for your hospitality!
We couldn't have done it without you!
The afternoon block was a mish-mash of cleaning and highlighting different
parts of the show that needed a little attention. The sun decided to make an
appearance and brought a new aspect to the rehearsal. For me, trying to
survive nausea and inability to breathe became unbearable and I begrudgingly
had to sit out the day before prelims. Thankfully, a kind Minnesota Brass
soprano player allowed me to sit in her air-conditioned car for a bit. By
run through, I was eager to get back out there no matter what, and fought
nausea to perform a killer run with my drum corps family. This corps was
7:30 a.m. the alarm goes off. Damn, what time is that at home? 4:30 a.m.?
It's PRELIMS Show day!!! Whoohoo! We boarded the bus at 8:30 to head to
Hanover for a nice warm-up and run-through. Did the thing with the thing and
we were off to our warm-up site. What's a little rain among friends,
especially when it's POURING! Chaos + Renegades = Hype; we're used to the
randomness of life (a bus broke down on the way to Prelims last year). In a
way, we were expecting it. The horn line did some marching basics in the
back of the movie theater up the road, and played through Russian. The horn
line sounded the best it has all season. On the way to the stadium, of
course, the busses got lost for the billionth time in 3 days. Had to make a
U-Turn in front of the Hurricanes warming up...in the words of Popeye,
Finally got to the stadium, and it was a little sprinkley, but not too bad.
Although many of the returning vets were fighting the mud pits of last
year's first base out of their minds. Besides, no one got seriously
hurt...right? Since we had some lag time before having to go down to the
gate, we talked amongst ourselves, hugged our friends and wished each other
luck. Nerves were controlled, but there was still excitement in the air. We
At the gate, the officials warned us that we would have an extra five
minutes while the grounds crew "Zamboni'd" the field and put some dry dirt
on the mounds. We entered the field and hung back behind the ads during our
extra five minutes, stretched a little, and tested the turf for maximum
"bumping." Jim called the horn line in and we sang "Ave Maria" a cappella.
Words are hard to find to explain that experience. It was absolutely
glorious; our voices carried and echoed through the stands! Instructors were
in tears. The awaiting audience sat in awe. The trees on the hill wept. And
we hadn't yet played a note.
Coming onto the field, cheers and jeers roared through the crowd. There were
more people there to see us than there were at finals last year. And knowing
they were sitting in those stands for us was a humbling experience. Some
hecklers yelled the occasional "Blow My Face Off," "West Siiiide," and "Go
(insert name here)," but same ol', same ol'...we were just ready to play!
First phrase of Tocatta ... crowd went apeshit, but then a quick "Shhhhh ...
" as the rest of the song commenced. Throughout the show the audience sat in
silence, until the Matrix Reloaded "Bump" when they jumped to their feet and
were screaming bloody murder! Popcorn flying, beers sloshing, babies tossed.
What an experience, standing there after tossing my megaphone and bringing
my horn down to THAT from the audience. Everyone was standing, even the guys
at the top of the stadium in the 57th row! I was emotionally floored!
Marching off the field, people from the balcony walkway were screaming down
at us, "Now, THAAT was Evil!" Wow...
Taking pictures right afterwards, our corps members started cheering,
yelling and hugging. Scores were posted. SF Renegades: 93.85. Definitely
NOT a 10th place score, we thought, but had no idea exactly what that meant.
But really, at that point, who cared! All I really wanted was a beer and a
Thank you, Pennsylvania, for Yeungling! Best freakin' beer in PA! (Hopefully
the Official Renegade Beer Sponsor for 2004!!!) Someone PLEASE mail me some
Yeunling! I'm having withdrawls.
I got back up in the stands when Empire was entering the field, beer #2 in
tow. Huge, mega-props...and Joey Pero was, of course, phenomenal! Go Joey!
The people sitting behind us were adorable, telling us what a fabulous show
the Renegades put on! After Brigs left the field, we headed back to the
busses, while catching brief conversations by passersby; (on cell phone)
"OMG ... the Renegades ...!" The buzz of the exit ramps was all Renegades. I
didn't realize that one little corps from 3,000 miles away could just go out
there, have a great time performing their show, and create such a flurry of
excitement! And that was just Prelims!
Fourth place was amazing, but I had a new task on my mind; the minicorps
competition! We arrived back at the hotel just long enough for a quick
change of clothes, and to head back down to the busses. Arriving at the Ski
Resort, or whatever it was, you would think lack of sleep would be catching
up with me by now, but no...I was definitely good to go. Most others were as
well, since the buzz of Fourth Place did a little something to everyone in
I caught a lot of the I&E performances that our corps members participated
in. After watching many of the corps performances, you could definitely tell
there was something different the Renegades brought to the competition.
Renegade style, spunk and creativity were apparent amongst the contestants.
The I&E highlight for me was...shhhhh...Crunchy Frog! I knew it would be
bizarre. I knew to expect the unexpected. But, it surpassed even my wildest
thoughts! Thanks everyone who participated in making me laugh 'til I wet
After they were done, I headed out to meet the minicorps guys at the bus for
a run through before we headed down to the ski slope venue; slope in
reference to the 7%-grade hill where we were attempting to perform!! The
performance went pretty well, albeit not our best. One form blew way past
its mark. I played directly into some poor guys face at a park & blow
section. Sorry, man. Hope I didn't get any on ya! During Murray's drum solo,
the bass drum tried getting away from him before he hiked it back up to
continue playing. The beer ripple produced a foamy heady warm mess for which
I spilt most down the front of my shirt & had to wipe the foam from my face
before blasting the last note! But, I absolutely LOVED playing that show for
that crowd! The response and the energy emitting from them was astounding. A
fantastic conclusion to a remarkable day!
Getting somewhat cold, we headed back to the bus before awards were
announced. Corps members were catching some Zzz's while others were quipping
about what they liked best. I was definitely ready for sleep. Soon enough,
people lumbered up the bus steps, making way to their seats. Then someone,
don't remember who, said, "Congratulations, Anne. You guys won minicorps!"
Sunday morning arrived too quickly. Back on the busses, we jaunted over to
Hanover for our last rehearsal of 2003. You can imagine the emotions running
through everyone, after 4 sleepless nights, a Saturday of the Gods, and an
emotional 4th place to boot! Jim started with his normal morning yoga
stretchout with the horn line. When sufficiently stretched, we all sat
around him to listen to his version of his "Finals Day Speech." It
encompassed all his everyday wisdom he's been saying all along. "Enjoy it,
you earned it." "Have fun." "We saw what day 3 was like, enjoy day 4!" Most
importantly, "Thank you for being in this horn line. You did this, I just
helped you along the way." Thank you Jim, for being the best horn instructor
of my drum corps career.
Gerry Kelsey arrived at rehearsal that morning, as did a few prelims judges
to watch our rehearsal from the stands. What a compliment! Mr. Kelsey
arranged Russian Christmas Music for us this year and did a remarkable job.
We pulled him aside and as thanks, sang "Ave Maria" with him in the center
of the circle. Pulling away, he was in tears. He was not alone.
A Renegades Finals Day tradition, established last year due to torrential
downpour, consists of the member patch ceremony. Actually, a brilliant idea
considering the full corps will never be in the same place at the same time
again after that day. A sad fact that alone breeds sentiment. Each section
is called to the front of the corps and each individual recognized, in front
of their cheering drum corps family. Emotions ran rampant as stories of
individual members in the corps are mentioned.
After the tear fest, we shuffled back onto the field for a small rehearsal
block and yet another amazing run through. The rest of that afternoon is a
blur. We had a smidge of downtime before suiting up and arriving back at
the show site for warm-ups. Finally, the lead mellos realized what Day 4
was...never ending chops! Blasted through some stuff in the warm-up arc that
we've been struggling with for months! Even were yelled at by Chris Nalls
not to blow our chops. Our response? No worries about that - I got extra to
The rest of warm-ups were of course emotional ... one last time to share
this show on the field with my close friends for an amazing audience. I made
my rounds up the line with hugs, thanks, and good luck wishes. A finals day
tradition I started last year, just to let everyone know personally that I
appreciated marching with him or her this season. And I even meant it! The
color guard and drum line joined in the middle of the horn circle, and "Ave"
was sung for them, since they had never experienced what it was like to be
"in the circle."
We shuffled off to the gate shortly after; the calm before the storm. The
horn line gathered around Chris for the final visualization of the show
before we entered the field. The stadium was packed, a far different view
from performing in 10th place at finals last year. I couldn't see an empty
seat, just "Drum Corps is Evil" t-shirts.
DUNNA NUUUUUUUUH, dunna nunna duuuh duuuuh. ... etc. And we're off! The rest
is history!! Man, that Finals show was incredible. It had a strange vibe
from the corps, probably because the crowd was quiet. It was like the
audience was transfixed, not wanting to make a sound for sheer fear they
would miss something and instead sat riveted to their seats. Until the
"Bump," when they awoke out of their hypnotic state and blew the roof off
the stadium!! After our show ended, I stood there looking up into the
audience trying to take a mental picture that I would never forget. That's
why we do this nine months out of the year; to give the audience the ride of
their lives. Finals show was also my very own best personal show ever, in
the 14 seasons that I've marched. That itself, not even counting my
incredible weekend, was worth the world!
Retreat is still kind of a blur. Standing next to Brigs, though, while they
played for Empire was a gorgeous experience. I didn't realize they had so
many young kids in the line, and the horn line had such a elegant sound.
Thought I was back at a Jr. Corps retreat again, although they smiled at us,
wished us luck and ate our candy.
After retreat, we headed back up through the parking lot towards our parking
lot concert planned that evening for a couple of individuals who donated a
large amount of money to the corps to be in the center of the mayhem. And
they got what they paid for!! The mellos ran up and played their megas in
their faces, the lead sop line at end did their Halloween screamy thing,
while the mellos came back to help boost up the volume right before the rest
of the horn line went nuclear! About 150-200 people were there to witness
the event. And after four days of playing, could have played the full show
a few more times!
Shortly after, the minicorps got together to take their Undefeated World
Champion photo. People walked over to watch, and someone started setting up
beers. Maybe as a bribe?!? We weren't necessarily prepared to play; we had
no drum set available. But we wouldn't want to disappoint a rapidly
gathering crowd, so picked up and played a final run through in the name of
DCA. So much fun! Later on the bus, Dan Day calls out to me - "Hey Anne."
"Yes Dan?" "I was on your side of the arc while you were playing with the
minicorps, and I noticed that you're really good! (in voice of shock and
awe!)" "Why, Thanks Dan!" "There were some really hard licks in there and
you appeared to have nailed them!!" See, I'm not just a pretty face and a
great rack...there is some talent there too! Hahahaha.
That night, hung out with friends dodging cops and irate hotel managers. It
was a disappointment, but mainly because we had to go home in 8 hours, and
that reality was looming over our heads. I ended up walking around and
talking in the pouring rain until I do not even remember what time.
We had a two-hour bus drive from Scranton to the Newark airport. Something
about tickets were cheaper if we bussed the two hours. Whatever. But, as
with everything on tour this year, we got lost(!) and the busses drove
straight through central Newark. Ghettoville. Scary people walking around at
12 noon on a Monday! Just hoping they wouldn't ransack the bus with us on
it. Having to go home sucked but at least the plane ride was REALLY long!!
One thing that was cool about coming home: the SJ airport doesn't have
jetways so you have to walk down the drive-up stairway to the tarmac below,
just like the rock stars we are!
Some thanks before I go...
Jim McFarland - your wisdom, and experience helped transform this horn line
from Great to OMG!
Gerry Kelsey - your music touched my soul!
Drill writer Jay Murphy - Thanks man, for kicking all our asses all season,
just by plotting some dots on a page!
Chris Nalls - thanks for giving me the opportunity to grow this year as a
musician, not just a writer in the background!
Dave Watrous, Marlan Smith and Dave Leon - Congrats on your multiple point
caption leap this year and thanks for the countless hours on the field
making things work!
Lee Rudnicki - your genkus floors me on a daily basis!
Color guard & staff - you were brilliant!
Frank Dorrittie - you always new the exactly the right thing to say at the
Horn line & Drum line - Thanks for all the memories!
And to my closest and dearest friends (you know who you are) - I will heart
Banquet: October 26th! Be there or suck!
Open House: November 2! DCA is only 9 months away!!