One step at a time

This is a tough show, but the corps is playing great


The drumline and hornline reviewed the first 20 pages of the show in the stadium this morning and then learned 11 new drill sets to finish Part One of “Carol of the Bells.” After lunch, the brass warmed up and spent some time working on music in sub-sections; then they combined as a hornline on the grass field beside the stadium to put music to all the drill they’ve learned so far.

I don’t think marching that drill while playing was easy for anyone out there today, but as always, some of the vets were able to play and march more confidently than some of the newer Cadets. The great thing is that everyone seemed to be playing—loud. The single most important and defining characteristic of a Cadet hornline is whether or not the rookies push themselves to play through fast, hard drill from day one, even when it seems physically impossible. If you lay out on the hard sets at Spring Training, it’s incredibly difficult to break the habit later on.

So, huffing and a little sun-singed, the hornline brought it in around the scaffolding to hear what Gino had to say at the end of the afternoon block. “That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done here,” third-year trumpet player Julian Johnson told me aside with a smile.

“So as you can see, this is one of those programs that’s going to be very physically challenging,” Gino began. “Some of you aren’t used to the constant direction changes we have here. What makes The Cadets so challenging is the number of sets that we have. I know it seems overwhelming, but I promise, the process does slow down. I knew it was going to be challenging, but we got through it.”

He went on to emphasize the importance of going over the music alongside the drill at night and writing the drill counts above the corresponding measures. This really is such a mental game, and visualizing direction changes in the context of the music can be just as helpful as repping it with the whole corps in marching rehearsal.

Gino’s words really encouraged the new members, who had each thought they were the only one having a hard time. My brother, Nicholas Watkins, was one of them. “How ya feelin’?” Craig Walker, our British mellophone tech, asked at snack.

“I… I just wish I could have done better today,” Nicholas said. “I feel like I didn’t quite know the drill as well as I wanted to, and I need to spend some time studying it tonight.” His honesty echoed many rookies I spoke with today.

Craig’s a great teacher, and endearingly English with his red hair and thick accent. “It’s a process,” he said encouragingly. “That’s why we’re here for free months, not free days. Don’t beat yourself up; we’ll get there.”

Then Craig and I recalled one of our more humbling (now funny) memories from several years ago. The 2007 mellos had so much trouble figuring out the direction changes in a part of “Blue Shades” that Gino sent us away to learn the step-outs on our own. Infuriated with our genuine inability to figure out the counts with the notes, we put our horns down under a tree, stood in a line facing Craig with our music binders in hand, and stomped our feet in place about 50 beats a minute under tempo while we sang the music, clumsily stepping forward at every direction change. It took at least an hour to figure out those five or six sets, but “free” months later, we weren’t too bad.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have access to the stadium tonight, so ensemble was a no-go, and the horns and drums still have yet to march and play together. The corps spent the rest of the evening in sectionals, working mostly on the closer (which was necessary anyway). The drums met up with the pit later this evening to play as a full percussion section. And both Gino and brass arranger Jay Bocook are thrilled with the way the hornline sounds this early-on, so the brass rehearsal ended on a high note.

The volunteers served up shepherd’s pie and salad for dinner, and Sophie made more brownies, which were way too delicious, as always. Wake-up is at 8:00 a.m. again tomorrow, and the process continues!


*A special note to all the drumline and color guard fans/parents/alumni: I haven’t forgotten about you! As I’ve said before, I’m letting Sophie cover the color guard while she’s here throughout Spring Training, especially since the guard has been rehearsing on their own every day. I plan on hanging with the drums tomorrow, so expect the inside scoop on the percussion in 24 hours!


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