Marching in music’s major league

Athens students and alumni perform in elite drum and bugle corps

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published September 7, 2011


For about six weeks straight this summer, the 16-to-18-hour days of Athens High School senior David Kolar went something like this: wake up, eat breakfast, rehearse, eat lunch, rehearse, eat dinner, perform, eat a snack, sleep on the floor of a gymnasium.

Kolar performed the mellophone, or marching French horn, on football fields across the Midwest with the Legends Drum and Bugle Corps, based in Kalamazoo.

Legends is part of Drum Corps International, a nonprofit organization based in Indianapolis. DCI is described on the organization’s website as “marching music’s major league.” Student musicians ages 14-21, many of them music majors in college, perform in the brass and drum corps competitively.

Student musicians attend camps to hone their skills and make the grade to be in the corps — or not.

Various corps are based in different cities; Kolar heard about Legends from other student musicians at Athens.

Kolar was one of the youngest members of Legends, but said he didn’t feel out of place.

“We stayed at high schools and slept on air mattresses,” he said. One day, the corps practiced on a field in Illinois when temperatures edged up to 117 degrees, Kolar said. The corps often traveled on a bus through the night to their next destination, and some bus rides took 18 hours.

It was all worth it, Kolar said.

“I really loved being in uniform and performing for a crowd that had come to see us,” he said.

“Coming from a competing band program like we have at Athens helped a lot because I had already learned many of the basic skills that I needed at Legends,” he added.

His mother, Teri, volunteered to help Legends for three days this summer. Her days with the corps began at 5 a.m. She helped with meal prep and cleanup, and also checked “bad knees, blisters, and made gallons and gallons of Gatorade.”

While she returned home exhausted, she “absolutely loved every minute of it.”

“I can already see some of the mindset — the attitude of corps — affect how he (David) faces non-band related challenges,” Teri said. “In corps, there is no unsolvable problem.”

Alex Bidolli, a 2010 Athens graduate, played baritone with Legends this summer. Bidolli said he initially joined because “it looked cool,” and he wanted to be a better musician. He said he learned, through the experience, that the same principles that make a successful corps member — discipline, drive and taking a professional approach to solve problems — would enable him to “do anything in the real world.”

He’s currently studying history and secondary education at Oakland University, but plans to audition for the School of Music at Oakland University with the aim of becoming a band instructor.

Brendan Walter, a 2010 Athens graduate, played xylophone this summer for the Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps, based in Allentown, Pa., which won the Drum Corps International World Championship in Indianapolis. He said he considers his experience with the Cadets as part of his musical education. He studies music education at Oakland University and plans to teach music.

John Bower, a 2009 Athens graduate, described his time playing baritone with the Glassmen Drum and Bugle Corps, based in Toledo, Ohio, this past summer as the “ultimate experience.” He is a music major at Eastern Michigan University and hopes to teach music and perform as an opera musician.

Brad Perry, a 2008 Athens graduate and chemistry major at Michigan State University, played percussion with the Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps, based in La Crosse, Wisc., this summer. He also marched with the Michigan State drum line.

“In performing with these elite ensembles, our kids have proven they can overcome any challenge laid before them,” said P. Jefferson McCoy, director of bands at Athens.