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Brassed Off

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 smoke. Yuck. 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 year!

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 ready!

The evening block was spent in conjunction with the Hanover Area H.S. Marching Band and our SoCal Dream brethren who both performed! Hanover's band, albeit small, has sooooo much heart! Their show, "Nightmare Before Christmas," involved some killer drill for the 20+-person band, and the Ed Teleky pit was riotous! SoCal Dream performed their Mini-Corps show for us. They played extremely well, and it was great to have our West Coast buddies with us so far away from home. A few of our corps I&E performers did their acts for the audience to get ready for Saturday evening's festivities. Of this, my favorite was the bass drum line. They added more drill and cleaned some beats...I was again extremely proud of this line. They've come a long way in one year, and I'll never forget the SWEATER!! I forgot to mention, while sitting in the stands awaiting the Hanover band to "CHUT" themselves onto the field, about 30 or so members decided it would be fun to start singing "songs we don't know,"© including; "I Looooooove Yooooou Baaaybeee, lananalabada, I Loove Yoou Baaaybeee! (etc.)" while the rest of the corps sat in utter amazement of their talented and somewhat quasi-neurotic acquaintances. Good times! The Renegades did their run-through for the Hanover band, SoCal Dream, numerous parents of band members, corps member families and probably a random guy or two coming to complain about the noise. All were amazed as the corps performed a fantastic run-through of the show in the dark while successfully not dying! Upping the level of difficulty were the sopranos, who wore their sections' black t-shirts with a "Renegade/Agent Smith Rich Duarte" on the back. Everyone kept seeing Rich wherever we looked...bizarre. Mini-corps also performed their ensemble show for the crowd. After a long day, you can never get tired of playing Channel One Suite again. Had a great run of the piece and really loved blowing their faces off! We vacated the school at dark o'clock, with thunderstorms looming overhead in the distance. We knew Prelims would come early in the morning, but sleep was not an option. A Spaniard we met in the bar was there visiting his daughter who had a collegiate singing competition in Pennsylvania. He bought many, many rounds of drinks for us extremely entertaining (to him) Renegades. The bartender turned us on to an amazing new adult beverage entitled "Hpnotiq." (Couldn't remember the name - had to look it up - took a half hour - it was just that good!! Thank you Google!) Hit the sheets, three sheets to the wind somewhere after 3 a.m.

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 the words of Popeye, "Embarrasking!" 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 were ready.

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 hot dog! 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 the corps.

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 myself!

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 share!!

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 right time!

Horn line & Drum line - Thanks for all the memories!

And to my closest and dearest friends (you know who you are) - I will heart you forever! Banquet: October 26th! Be there or suck!

Open House: November 2! DCA is only 9 months away!!



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