From Drums Corps to Symphony Orchestra
Travis Peterson grew up on a dairy farm in Milaca, Minnesota, but this is something his symphony bio will tell you. He picked up the trumpet as a kid, taking lessons and practicing diligently. When he discovered the power of a large group of musicians who depend upon one another to create a unified sound, he was truly inspired from within. The most impressive form of this for Travis was drum and bugle corps — a freelance marching band with brass, percussion, and color guard. When his high school band director lent him some old drum corps VHS tapes, Travis, “…wore them out! I watched them literally every day after school for probably six months.” When Travis was sixteen his dream to march came true, and he was now hooked. Travis spent the next five summers rehearsing and touring with the Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps. He only stopped because he “aged out” when turning twenty-one, though he continued for two more years as a drum corps teacher.
Drum corps in the eyes of band kids can be so admirable and iconic, but the truth is that it’s brutally hard work. To audition you drive or fly to a designated site for a handful of weekends. You play mock rehearsals of music and practice visual drills, using coordinates to march from place to place on a football field. If you’re finally accepted, you get to pay a hefty fee that officially signs your life away for the summer! One pays this price, however, because of the national prestige that comes with playing for a top drum corps. Division-one drum corps is a compilation of the best high school and college musicians from around the country, musicians able to play the most virtuosic of music while running around a football field making synchronized visual patterns with perfect footwork. Huge audiences show up for the major performances, the most impressive being the Drum Corps International World Championships, where the top corps’ performances are also broadcast live to movie theaters around the nation.
Drum corps life draws its extreme toughness from its military origins. There is pride in the uniform. When in uniform you represent something more than just yourself; you represent the corps, by presenting the best version of yourself. You polish your shoes and your instrument before each show. (For brass players in corps, “shower with a friend” means preparing yourself and your horn.) For sixteen year-old Travis, leaving Milaca, Minnesota for the summer and joining this military-style corps was a drastic change. “I was so young still and was homesick at first, sort of off-and-on over the first summer with the Scouts, but I was so happy and honored to be doing it.” When you leave home, you literally “move in” with your drum corps. And all members of the corps sleep together on a hard wood gym floor for the entire summer.
Each drum corps has a show of about twelve minutes of music and marching that the group will spend the summer perfecting to a tee. At the end of the summer, they will compete in a culminating event judged by experts in the field and will be ranked according to musical/visual accuracy and effectiveness. The long haul of rehearsals for each corps is commonly called “everydays.” A typical ‘everyday’ looks like this:
7AM – Gym lights on and then a full corps run. (Travis: “I hated running then! I dreaded it.”) This is followed by calisthenics, stretching and yoga lead by the color guard.
Next 4 hours – Visual rehearsal, with instruments. March around the field in the hot sun while holding your instrument poised. (Travis: “Basically they kick our butts so that we’re so in shape we still look like trophies at the end of the taxing show.”)
Next 4 hours: Brass sectionals: Breathing block– everyone runs down the street in a uniform line, feet in time, with a person behind you beating a giant cowbell to keep everyone in sync. Add breathing exercises on top of that and keep it going for over a mile. (Travis says he lost 20-25 lb a season this way).
Next 4 hours: Entire corps rehearsal. After all this, now try finding the energy to run through the entire show.
From manual labor in the farm fields to manual labor on the football field, Travis has proven himself to be a hard worker. At home, his trumpet playing was solitary. In drum corps, his playing was part of a whole, one part of a 150 member whole to be exact. “You’re only as good as your weakest member,” he remembers feeling. He wanted to be as good and as strong as everybody else, and he certainly didn’t want to let anyone down. It was about working towards the greater good, the common goal. “How would the show be received, not just by the judges, but by the audience?”
It no stretch of imagination to understand how Travis’ drum corps background has influenced his orchestral playing and his life today. The synergistic quality of drum corps is present in orchestra too. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. “It’s as if each musician is a color in a painting,” Travis referenced. To this day Travis still meters his breath when he runs on the treadmill, reminiscent of the corps days, running down the street like a military platoon doing its morale-boosting call-and-response.
Travis even met his wife Andrea in corps. Madison Scouts is a brotherhood, and they refer to each others as brothers. Before shows they come together as a corps, arm in arm, and sing their song together– May You Never Walk Alone. MYNWA. It’s a saying from brother to brother, and one that Travis will never forget. Travis was able to establish his leadership skills, among other things, while marching drum corps for five years. Little did he know that “Leading by example while playing to the best of your ability and being your best self,” as he puts it, would translate so seamlessly to sitting in the principal trumpet chair with the Utah Symphony. “It is an extremely challenging position, and I owe, in large part, my love of music, work ethic, and chops (says with a laugh) to my time with drum corps, its instructors and brothers.”