Excerpt – Tale of a Drum Line

Friday, July 30.

After several disheartening loses to the Cavaliers in Ohio and West Virginia, the Vanguard rolled into Ypsilanti, Michigan.

The DCI Preview of Champions was an important show. Like the DCI Championships in August, every corps in the country would compete in prelims at the Preview of Champions, but only twelve made finals. That part of the tour brought us relatively close to the Missouri home of snare drummer Tyler Dempsey. Tyler’s family made the trip to Ypsilanti and they couldn’t wait for the Vanguard to get to the stadium. Unlike the shows in California, it was a good time to see the corps. We weren’t winning, but our performances weren’t debacles anymore. In fact, The Walton Trilogy was getting exciting.

Suddenly, three sparkling white and silver buses—license plates reading SCV 1, SCV 2, and SCV 3—rolled into the parking lot. The fans tried to look into the windows as the Vanguard buses roared past, but green curtains on every window were closed. The message of the time-honored tradition was subtle, but clear. The corps has arrived. 

The formation of buses came to a carefully orchestrated halt.  Determined corps members in white tunics and yellow guard uniforms spilled out and surrounded the SCV equipment truck. Excitement, drum beats, and bus fumes filled the air.

Cue: Dramatic Music

 Tyler jumped off the bus, clutching a new pair of perfectly taped white drumsticks and a drum key. He was hyping and excited to have a chance to perform for his family. Here we go! Vanguard!!

Music: Off

 Suddenly, Tyler stopped in his tracks. His heart literally skipped a beat.


His Vanguard uniform was still back at the school.

At least the math was simple. We stepped off in ninety-three minutes; the school was fifty minutes away. Statistically, Tyler had the same chance of getting his uniform in time as North Korea had of opening up a collective turkey sandwich factory on the moon. In 1972.

Tyler was shocked. Vanguard plus a snare drummer in street clothes doesn’t work at a DCI regional. He had to get his uniform before we stepped off or he was going to watch the Vanguard perform, with his family and friends at his side. We took the bad news in stride, resigned to competing at the Preview of Champions down a snare drummer. Dear reader, please don’t think we were cold-hearted. Competing with a hole in the snare line was not a good option, especially given the problems it would cause in the drill. But by that point, we were beginning to realize that chaos was no longer our enemy. In fact, chaos was becoming our standard operating procedure.

You see, Tyler forgetting his uniform to a major show wasn’t our first red alert of the tour, it was #17 or #18, depending on whether turning a sock into a set of wristbands counts as a red alert. Point of fact, there had only been a handful of times when all six snares got to a warm-up with all of the equipment and uniform parts they needed for a show. Oddly enough, it was always a different snare drummer who forgot something at the truck, bus, or school, and it was always a different item that got left behind. But it always happened. We were used to it.

In any case, the Vanguard drum line plus one guy in street clothes had a good warm-up for the DCI Preview of Champions. Ninety-minutes later, we were pleasantly surprised, when SCV support staff followed up some heroic (if not technically illegal) driving by literally throwing Tyler into his Vanguard uniform as the corps marched onto the field.

Somehow, we got all six snares onto the field, and Tyler got to perform for his family and friends as a member of the Santa Clara Vanguard. Which was awesome. But the really amazing part of the Tyler Dempsey SCV Uniform Incident was that the drum line wasn’t rattled or embarrassed by the pandemonium that broke out as they marched onto the field. In fact, they were amused. And happy. And then they had their first great show of the year. When all was said and done at the Preview of Champions, the Vanguard grabbed 7th place and a spot in the finals, between the Madison Scouts and Crossmen. Just ahead of us, the battle was between Blue Devils, Cavaliers, and Phantom. But at the very top of the DCI food chain, it was only a two-corps race—Bill Cook and the Star of Indiana vs. George Hopkins and the Cadets of Bergen County. Star and the Cadets were fierce competitors, but featured totally different approaches to show design. The two superpowers tied in prelims at the Preview of Champions, but then Star won finals. The competition was intense, because Star and Cadets weren’t just in a battle for a DCI ring. With a subjective judging system, they were arguably fighting for creative control of the entire activity.

As it turned out, the Cadets would win the 1993 DCI World Championship by one-tenth of a point. Star would never compete in DCI again.




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