A silence settles over the crowd as musicians clad in black pants and plumed hats scatter across the field at C.H. Collins Stadium.
There’s no such thing as silence during a Drum Corps International show. Whether it’s screaming trumpet notes, lightning-fast drum licks or the roar of music-loving fans, sound waves puncture the air on an otherwise quiet evening.
Eleven traveling drum corps landed in Denton on Thursday night as they move through the state in what’s known as the “Texas Swing” portion of their summer tour. Those same corps will meet up with 16 others in San Antonio on Saturday to compete in the DCI Southwestern Championship.
“The competition literally heats up whenever we come through Texas,” said Chris Lugo, the executive director for the Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps, a group based out of Illinois. “We’ve got a strong student population from Texas, and the fans here are next to none.”
Often referred to as the “major league of marching band,” DCI brings together performers from across the globe to make up the brass, percussion and color guard sections of a corps.
But these aren’t your average high school marching bands.
Composed mostly of 17- to 21-year-olds, the corps have spent the past three months perfecting their shows and dedicating 12 hours each day to outdoor rehearsals. Two corps — the Cavaliers and Santa Clara Vanguard out of California — used Denton High School and Ryan High School as their home base Wednesday when they arrived in Denton.
Members live out of suitcases and ride buses to their next destination. They sleep on gym floors and shower in locker rooms. They get four meals per day from a dedicated group of volunteers and are able to spend some free days exploring the cities they visit.
But the competitive drive and ever-present sheen of sweat remain.
“I think we’re as competitive as major league sports,” said Santa Clara Vanguard baritone player Hunter Stockton. “You’re on your feet all day, and it really takes a toll on your body. I’m pretty sure I’ll have arthritis by the time I’m 25.”
Stockton, a 21-year-old San Antonio native, said he’s excited for his family and friends to watch him perform Saturday. He’s not the only Texan in the organization, though.
Several members who hail from the North Texas area were happy to see their parents and even happier to guzzle down the Gatorades offered as "welcome home" gifts. Even though he grew up in Argyle, 21-year-old Chad Raulston said returning to Texas temperatures was rough.
“It’s my last year,” said Raulston, who plays tenors for the Cavaliers. “It’s bittersweet, but I’m happy to get out of the heat.”
Many of the percussionists on Vanguard's drumline are students at the University of North Texas, where the corps’ percussion arranger Paul Rennick teaches.
“His technique and his approach to everything really helped us make the corps,” said Austin Cernosek, a third-year Vanguard member who plays snare drum.
Although the summer tour wraps up in August, the season never really ends for staff members as they set their sights on the year ahead.
The idea for the 2017 Cavaliers show, “Men are from Mars,” came during DCI’s final contest last year. The show’s theme tackles the rise of man and communication while featuring music from Aaron Copland, Gustav Holst and Frank Sinatra.
“It’s really a look at masculinity and has sort of an extraterrestrial vibe,” Chris Lugo said. “We made a few small tweaks last week and now we’re really flexing our performance muscles.”
As they celebrate their 50th year as an organization, Santa Clara Vanguard reflects on its history with its 2017 show, “Ouroboros.” The program is named after a mystical symbol of a snake eating its own tail, which represents introspection and the idea of re-creation.
“Our show this year is really cohesive and flows well,” said Michele Teevan, Vanguard tour manager. “Our sections are working well together, and the idea of the ouroboros fits into everything. It really feels like our year.”
Going into Saturday’s show, the Cavaliers sit in sixth place, according to San Antonio’s performance lineup. The corps has won the DCI World Championship seven times, with their last win coming out of their 2006 season.
The Vanguard will head to San Antonio in second place behind fellow California corps Blue Devils, but the group has held the top spot in the standing several times throughout the season. The corps’ last DCI Championship title came in 1999, but it holds six titles overall.
The true test for every corps will come as the 13,000-mile tour ends in Indianapolis. The top corps will compete for the DCI championship in Lucas Oil Stadium, a performance all members say is unforgettable.
“Finals day is all around the best experience,” Cavaliers color guard member Tony Aviles said. “You’re doing the last reps of your show ever and you’re performing for tens of thousands of people. It gets emotional.”
Even in the midst of heavy competition, corps members are always aware they’re being watched by a younger set of eyes. Band students in high school and middle school spend countless hours going to shows in the summer and keeping up with DCI on social media. Some students are inspired to pursue music further and wait for their own chance to join a corps.
“It’s one of the coolest things to see because we know that we were all there once,” said Thomas Hubel, a trumpet player for the Vanguard. “If someone comes up and wants to talk to you or asks to take a picture with you, it’s all worth it.”
CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.
FEATURED PHOTO: Marching band members from Santa Clara Vanguard beat their drum sticks against a metal fence Thursday before they take the field at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex in Denton. Denton played host to 11 traveling drum corps Thursday night for a marching band competition. (Jeff Woo/DRC)