Drum Corps and My Late Night Jim Croce Album

shelba waldronDrum Corps, Personal Reflections

This is for my Atlanta friend. 

I have an old Jim Croce album I found in a back alley record store years ago and sometimes late at night, I pour myself a glass of wine, turn the lights down, and play that old album, while enjoying the peace it brings me to hear the honesty of the guitar played through each crackle of the needle to the record. If it were up to me, everyone would have an old Jim Croce record so for a brief moment, we could all feel something besides anger. If you close your eyes you can hear the words that are untarnished by technology and media. You can see him sitting on a couch somewhere in solitude playing his guitar and singing, There never seems to be enough time to do the things we want to do once we find them.” Jim Croce’s music is music that makes you feel something. He speaks to love and life. His words are simple, but they aren’t ordinary. If you let him, he reaches into your heart and speaks to your soul.

I just returned from my yearly trek to Atlanta. It’s the one drum corps show I get to see every year and I always come away from it with something I need to say. Maybe it’s the inspiration from the shows or maybe it’s the lifelong friendships or maybe it’s the memories I hold dear from days gone by. I’m not sure what it is, but each year I certainly feel poetic after that show. When it comes to drum corps, I don’t follow along like others do all season. I like to watch the shows with a fresh perspective, untainted by others opinions. This year though, I was fortunate enough to see the shows in Nashville the night before Atlanta. I took my nine year old son and 69 year old mother. It’s refreshing to sit with people who don’t know “the sheets” or know the history of the corps. My mom gets to see about one drum corps show every eight or so years and my son…well this was his first. He’s been to WGI and countless winter guard and band shows, but this was his first summer show. If you ever want to see the activity in its purest form, watch it with a nine year old. What a nine year old sees is very different than what we see. A nine year old has an opinion that is natural and based on feeling, as opposed to intellect, but don’t be mistaken in that. A child forms opinions and can speak to concept and costume. They just respond by emotion first and intellect second. A nine year old see’s drum corps with their soul before their brain. It’s how Robin Williams encouraged us to view poetry in the Dead Poets Society. Throughout the show, my son shared his opinions through his immediate reaction to the moment. He didn’t analyze the guard work or technicality of the percussion. He could have cared less about transitional moments. He just simply enjoyed the shows for what they were and he found that he had some favorites and some not so favorites. He loved…LOVED…the Blue Devils. That shocked me and I’ll tell you why in a second. His second favorite was the Madison Scouts. After they finished, he turned to me and said, “Wow mama! Wow! That was loud!!” I asked him if they were his favorite and he said, “Oh no. I liked the Blue Devils the best.” I asked him why and he said that they looked like a Broadway play. He said they were weird. He said that they were fun. Those were his reasons and then he said that he wanted a tee shirt.

I really liked the Blue Devils, but more so on an intellectual level. I spent their entire show analyzing it and to be honest, I didn’t get it 100% in its intent and I don’t really know anyone else who did either. Josh however, didn’t care. He didn’t try to get it. He just simply experienced it. Driving to Atlanta the next day I realized that is what most of us old timers do. We analyze the shows until the very essence of art is sucked out of them. I don’t completely blame us…the audience that is. For so long at the national level with WGI, BOA, and DCI…so many teams force us into intellectualism over emotionalism. That’s blatantly clear at Independent World Finals for WGI. The books and shows have become so “artistic” that many times the designer has forgotten that art is supposed to move us. Art should make us feel something. As human beings we want to feel something. Human beings want to laugh. We want to cry. We need to cry. Reflection and the need to reflect is another human emotion we don’t always give enough credit to. Anger and love. Sadness and happiness. That’s what art is ultimately supposed to do. It is to make us feel. Our need to express gets suppressed so often by a world asking us to think way too much.

When I left Nashville for Atlanta, I hadn’t really formed an opinion on any of the shows. I would wait for Atlanta to do that. I thought about Josh on the way up and his reaction reminded me of my Jim Croce album. Jim sings a song called Operator. It’s one of those songs that everyone with any human soul can say they have experienced. He was left by the one he loved and calls to speak to her, but decides that he’s better off without her.

Operator, well could you help me place this call‘Cause I can’t read the number that you just gave meThere’s something in my eyesYou know it happens every timeI think about the love that I thought would save me

Oh my those lyrics. Who hasn’t wanted to have Jim Croce playing that on guitar in the background while we laid in bed at night crying our eyes out over the love we lost to another? The lyrics. The guitar. It makes me reflect. It makes my eyes water. You see, when we listen to music in the silence of our homes, we let it wash over us like the ocean Josh saw with the Blue Devils. I decided that when I got to Atlanta I wouldn’t analyze anything. I would watch the shows in the way I listen to Jim Croce or the way a nine year old experiences music. I was either going to like it or not. I was going to absorb the colors and engage in the sound. I would analyze nothing. Ironically, I found that little experiment was harder than I thought it would be, but as the night went on I got better at it. When I did that, I found that my favorite drum corps were not necessarily in the top 5. I let the Academy make me laugh. I let the Blue Coats take me to what I saw as the coolest playground ever. I experienced a western shoot out with Crown. I listened to the Scouts in a way that made my son say, “Wow!” At times I closed my eyes and just listened. 

When the night was over, I found that I didn’t really know who did what in terms of guard work or the best drill. I didn’t care. To be honest, once I let go of the idea that the corps have become so homogenous to the point identity is no longer a driving factor for many, I was able to relax. Once I decided to not judge, but enjoy…I found the art inside the intellect. I found that my favorite corps was not first or second or even third. It was Santa Clara. Oh my how I loved that show. The word I used at the time was “lovely.” It was simply lovely. They did a show that was somewhat simplistic in concept, but in no way simple in its presentation of the four seasons. That concept has been done…and done…and done…and done. They however, had a way of conceptualizing it so it made you feel something special as the seasons moved from spring to summer and summer to fall, but you had to let the seasons happen, just like the leaves change and fall from the trees in the autumn.  I barely even acknowledged Santa Clara the night before. The night before they were just a show about the seasons. In Atlanta, I saw art and I saw it in the form my nine year old son saw it. As I watched the show, I thought of the many seasons I’ve spent in Atlanta with WGI, BOA, and DCI. The before show drinks and after show conversations are many. I thought about how many performances were held in that dome and how many people missed the artistry being presented, but I also thought of the moments designers missed to move an audience, because their version of art is hidden within ego and competitive drive. I will certainly admit that I’ve missed a moment or two, because of my need to “judge” the teams surpassed the need to feel. I thought of my friends and the special moments we’ve had in Atlanta at the Omni and through conversations in parking lots around the dome. I thought of the thousands upon thousands of kids that have walked into that dome as an artist, but left the audience feeling let down as we couldn’t get out of our own way as an activity and just let them be the art. I thought of the times when I dropped my guard and let myself just feel love through the friends I hold so dear. It’s the same love I have in my old music albums that take me into a realm devoid of politics, intellectualism, and the weight of all that is wrong in the world.

I attend a lot of concerts and plays. I have a ritual in the moments leading up to every event. I drink a glass of wine, listen to the music of the band, read about the play, or listen to an interview with the artist. I try to get in a mindset of art. I love art. Being originally from Music City, I especially love music in all of its forms. I let it flow over me like Josh let drum corps flow over him Friday night. So, I can’t help but wonder what happens to us that doesn’t let us enjoy the art of pageantry. We all admit we appreciate it. We value it. We see it,  but I’m not sure many of us truly see it for art that makes us feel. While sitting in the dome, I wondered what the placements would be if a poet was the only judge and the only criteria read, “Make the audience feel.” I wondered who would win. I wondered how the poet would rank and rate. My guess, is that the poet would throw out the rating, throw out the ranking, and just enjoy the night. She would come home and write verse upon verse of her experience. She would put on some Jim Croce and let the night speak from soul to paper, without thought. She might hear him sing, Walkin’ Back to Georgia.

I’m walkin’ back to GeorgiaShe’s the only one who knowsHow it feels when you lose a dreamAnd how it feels when you dream alone

She might come home and think about an old friend or two and look back on the trip as the sheer joy it was with all of its laughs, conversation, and love for something that has been a part of her life since she was 14. She would think of the community she is a part of. She would think of how it has made her a better person, because the art made her feel as in this classic verse that will stand the test of time.
If I had a box full of wishes and dreams that had never come true. The box would be empty, except for the memory of how they were answered by you.

I write this for all of us out there who crave to feel, crave to love, crave to touch, and crave to be human.