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August 6, 2010

ULM band students hit right notes as Drum Corps International crescendos

Touring with a drum and bugle corps whose electrifying performances have reached legendary status within Drum Corps International is a dream come true for ULM music education majors Nathan Powell, 21, a trumpet player from Shreveport, and Mason Coats, 19, a tuba player from Thibodaux.

So when the award-winning Boston Crusaders Drum & Bugle Corps made a late-July pit stop at Malone Stadium to rehearse for an upcoming performance in Alabama, the moment was especially sanguine.

But what may be even more legendary is how the competition has improved Powell and Coats in ways they never imagined. For starters, the highly competitive corps is such an intense, choreographed musical show that many of the musicians, Powell and Coats included, have literally melted several pounds and inches off their bodies as their summer tour comes to conclusion.

“We call it ‘body by Drum Corps,’” joked Coats.

The 150 band members sweated their routine out in the mid-afternoon Louisiana sun as the heat index approached 100 degrees in Malone Stadium. Nearly all had stripped down to the bare minimum necessary to cope with the oppressive temperature, as they dealt with another one of the grueling 12-hour practice days that make the Boston Crusaders notoriously top-notch.

The experience affects many of the young musicians in fundamental ways as they develop not only their performance, but also their life skills, in abundance.

“You do it and you come out a changed person,” agreed Powell. “You definitely develop more discipline.”

All their effort culminates with the 2010 World Championship Quarterfinals, which will be simulcast this year from Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium into hundreds of movie theaters nationwide beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 12. The five-hour broadcast, which will simulcast locally at West Monroe’s Tinseltown Theaters, will include the live competitive programs of the top 15 corps in their entirety.

And since the Boston Crusaders have consistently stayed in the Top Ten throughout this summer’s competition, there’s a likely chance Louisianans might see Powell and Coats, performing at their peak.

“For Nathan and Mason this is a gigantic deal,” said Derle Long, division head of music at ULM. “We’ve never had students march in a corps of this caliber. We’re very anxious to see how well they do.”

Long noted that for the last two years the groups that have swung by the ULM campus have gone on to win championship titles, so perhaps this year the winning streak will continue.

The annual Drum Corps International Tour is made up of more than 100 events throughout North America each summer, with about 400,000 fans attending live performances showcasing the “Best of the Best.”

Powell and Coats could consider themselves musical elites since every year more than 8,000 students audition for the fewer than 3,500 positions available in top-tier DCI member corps. Certainly, the sophistication of creative and artistic skills that they and the other young musicians exhibit has increased to the point that the performances are now considered to be a contemporary art form.

As for the Boston Crusaders, it is the third-oldest corps of its kind in the nation and a founding member of Drum Corps International. The corps is composed entirely of brass players, percussionists and color guard members under the age of 22, who travel thousands of miles each summer, performing in more than 40 competitions and exhibitions over a six-week period.

Assistant Director of Bands Jason Rinehart has served on the music staff of the Boston Crusaders for four years now and has taught with other drum corps for over 14 years, as well as marched with the Phantom Regiment in his youth. In addition, ULM graduate student Tom Ruby, who teaches on the brass staff for the Boston Crusaders, is working on his Master's in Music Education at ULM.

“We’re like one big family,” said Powell.

“We’re on the road all the time,” added Coats, though he admitted all of his hard work has been worth it. “I’m such a band nerd. I idolized these guys.”

“The reaction of the crowd,” said Powell, searching for words to describe the experience, “is really kind of surreal. You really can’t explain it to somebody unless they have gone through it.”

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