Five Big Purple Marching Band members participated in the Drum Corps International, the marching music’s major league, during the summer.
The Drum Corps International (DCI) is a nonprofit global activity for students under 21-years-old to compete with other active corps and enhance their skills.
According to dci.org, “Drum Corps International delivers the message of ‘excellence in performance and in life’ to more than 7.2 million young people, ages 13-22, involved in performing arts in the United States.”
This past summer, a few members of the Big Purple Marching Band – Grayson Hancock, Laurel Drain, Mason Kelley, Harold Randolph, and Connor Wilson – participated in DCI.
Grayson Hancock, senior trumpet music education major from Abilene, competed in DCI for the past two summers but will no longer attend because he expects to graduate next May.
Hancock competed with the Crossmen for the past two summers. The crossmen are based in San Antonio, and have been Drum Corps International World Championship finalist 25 times since 1975.
Hancock says they do spring training for about three weeks with a strict rehearsing schedule from 8 am until 12 am. After the three weeks of training are over, the group gets on a bus and tours around the country.
“We went to Florida then all down the east coast. We went all the way up to Pennsylvania then came back down through Ohio and Indiana to Texas,” said Hancock. “Then we went all the way up back to Georgia and back to Indiana over a span of two months.”
Brandon Houghtalen, associate director of bands and assistant professor of music, directs the Big Purple Marching Band.
“My job is to make it so that the students have an environment that they can be supported in and feel good about. And that they feel proud in the way that they feel and sound,” said Houghtalen.
Houghtalen says DCI is a good way for students to continue their education. “A lot of people do it because they love it and have a great time doing it. So as long as they approach it with a healthy perspective, it’s a fantastic activity.”
“We try to be very much representative of our own university’s identity and it would be ridiculous to compare our marching band to another university’s because we have different missions. We are different schools, and so drumcore is a youth activity.”
Houghtalen says groups will spend one night in a location, perform in a show or a contest, then get on the bus and drive to their next location. The shows or competitions are never in the same place, and the longest time the groups will stay at a location is for three days. “All the students look forward to laundry day,” says Houghtalen, because it’s their day off.
“It’s like most activities in music; you spend years honing your craft, purchasing instruments, music and traveling to study with famous teachers,” Houghtalen said. “I think the thing that unites all of the musicians involved in things like that, is it takes a lot of yourself, it’s your own money, effort, sweat, and time.”
Hancock says it was one of the most difficult things he has ever done physically and mentally because of the amount of work and time he put in. Although rehearsing starts from the moment you wake up, and Hancock says there is not enough positive reinforcement, he enjoys it because of the learning experience and being able to march with the 150 people who are chosen.
At finals, Crossmen ranked in 10th place. Hancock says he made connections and met people with similar passions, including his girlfriend, while he was competing during both summers.
Houghtalen encourages students it’s not too late to join the ACU band. Many students are not aware that they don’t have to be a music major to play in the band Houghlaten said. Every single member will receive scholarship money and can also receive additional scholarship money by participating in a concert ensemble.
“One of the reasons the band is growing and doing so well is because the students create a really amazing family environment that everyone on campus talks about,” said Houghtalen.
One of the other achievements Houghtalen is proud of comes from the wind ensemble, who were selected to perform at Texas Music Educators Association Conference, which is in February. This will be their seventh time to perform at TMEA.
“We are one of three bands in the state of Texas to be selected. Its an enormous honor and it’s super competitive to because it doesn’t matter how big or small your university is, you are competing against everyone,” Houghtalen said.
As for marching band, Houghtalen says he is looking forward the performances in the football games, homecoming and the annual charity event called Christmas for Kids.
The theme for ACU Marching Band this Fall is Thrive. “We are talking about from a scriptural standpoint of what it means to thrive,” Houghtalen said. “It comes down to keeping our promises and being true to each other. Things are going so well and it’s important to remember why and how can we keep that going.”