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Friday, September 21, 2007

March for the Crown Includes A Familiar Face!



Four twenty-somethings sit around a table at a local eatery, reminiscing. Their well-tanned skin tells the story of a summer spent under the blazing sun, their aching joints are finally able to breathe a sigh of relief after the preceding tortuous months.

Life has been hard for Josh Dishner, Devin Lyon, Taylor Sykes and Eric Wolfe since May.

They, along with the 130 other members of the Carolina Crown Drum and Bugle Corps, have endured harsh conditions, 14-hour days outside in extreme temperatures, sleeping on buses and gym floors, and waking up in different states and time zones.

“Every day is pretty much the same schedule,” says Sykes. “You get on the bus, and you wake up at a school at 4 in the morning. You go to sleep on the gym floor until about 9 a.m., then you rehearse until about 4 p.m., and then you do a show at about 7 p.m. Then you get back on the bus, and do the same thing every day for three months.”

The Crown, as most of the members call it, is an elite marching band based in Fort Mill, S.C., that travels the country competing against other drum corps under Drum Corps International, the Major League of marching music.

Think of the movie “Drumline,” only less cheesy.

Our four local members got their start in marching music with area high school bands. Lyon and Sykes marched at Sullivan Central, Dishner at Volunteer and Wolfe at Dobyns-Bennett.

Hopeful members of the Crown audition in November, and those who are accepted get together once a month for practice until May, when all 135 members move into a school gym and begin spring training. After four weeks of grueling practice, to get the show just right, the Crown hits the road, taking the show to stadiums and football fields from coast to coast and everywhere in between.

The Crown’s three-month season ended in August at the DCI Championships, held this year in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., where the best of the best met for three days of fierce competition.

“It’s a big rush when you walk in, and you see 25,000 people from end zone to end zone and they’re all there to watch you,” says Wolfe, a tuba player. “And being the crowd favorite, which we were this year, you walk in an you automatically get applause. There’s no bigger rush than hearing people cheering for what you do.”

The Crown’s show this year, “Triple Crown,” was inspired by the three biggest events in horse racing, The Kentucky Derby, The Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes. The show began with a stampede of band members, and then followed the process of training the horses before the big race. The band members then built a human racetrack and color guard members, dressed as horses, raced around the track, ending in a slow motion photo finish.

“Our show this year is going to be talked about for a long time,” says Wolfe. “It had ... that feeling [of] the day of the race. It was amazing.”

The show was amazing enough to earn the Crown a spot in sixth place at the DCI Championships with a score of 94.150, only .025 behind the fifth place Santa Clara Vanguard. The score and the position are the highest the Crown has ever achieved in DCI Division I competition.

Their placement is quite an achievement, considering the 18-year-old Crown is a fairly new corps when compared to the rest of the top six, which are more than two decades older.

“The closest organization to us is 40 years old, so it’s understandable that they would not want to give us the same amount of credit that they give some groups like that,” said Sykes. “DCI is a very political activity. We don’t go out on the field and automatically get the benefit of the doubt just because of what our uniforms look like, which is the case with some of the groups.”

Politics aside, the four members are proud of their work this summer. “We’ve never really marched anything like this,” says Lyon, who is coming out of his fourth season of playing the mellophone for the Crown. “It was a completely different drum corps and a completely different drum corps experience. It’s not something I’ll ever forget.”

This year, DCI added an award, called Hot Chops, a kind of people’s choice award voted on by the audience both at the stadium and online through text message. Crown won its first Hot Chops in Best Brass at the regional competition in Annapolis, Md. During the six weeks that followed, they won five of the Hot Chops awards, one each for Best Colorguard, Best Pit Ensemble and Best Percussion, and two for Best Brass.

The season did end on a sad note for two of the Tri-Cities Crown members. This year Sykes and Wolfe turned 21 and said their good-byes to the corps.

Because DCI is a youth-oriented organization, when a member turns 21, they age out, which means they are no longer eligible to march for a corps.

Sykes, who is majoring in music education at East Tennessee State University, doesn’t see it as an end, but a new beginning.

“It was kind of hard for me, but I don’t think I could have asked for a better end for my experience with the Carolina Crown,” he says. “Now that I’ve aged out, I’m going to take this opportunity to start writing drills for marching bands wherever I can.”

Of course, he will be missed by the rest of the group.

Sykes and Lyon have been marching together since their freshman year of high school, eight years ago.

“It’s going to be pretty interesting next year, because I’ve still got one season to march,” said Lyon, who is a student at Vanderbilt University. “We’ve been marching together for a long time. Next year will be totally different.”

Despite the hard work and harsh conditions, all of them look back on their time with the Crown with fondness.

“In a way, if I had known what it entailed, there’s no way I would have kept doing it,” says Lyon. “But you also have great memories of it as well. The best memories are the friends and accomplishments you’ve made. You grow over the summer in just three months. You look back on that, and you realize it was really a great experience.”

Dishner is a member of the Crown’s highly regarded colorguard and a student at ETSU. He is a man of few words. Maybe he prefers to express himself on the field.

When he does speak however, it’s nothing short of prose.

He sums up this year’s season with three short sentences.

“It was the most rewarding feeling in the world,” he said about the color guard’s second-place finish. “You will always remember the fun times and the people that you meet. It’s a privilege to work with all these amazing and talented people.”