The First Real Thing in 18 Months

Ryann Dykstra • CommentaryJanuary 2022 • January 19, 2022

Image Courtesy DCI International

Though I would imagine that at a certain point the idea of finding oneself during the pandemic has become somewhat of a cliche, I think that it is hard to read prompts that purposefully invoke thoughts that force self-reflection and not let my mind wander to Covid. Despite the tragedy of it all, the pandemic forced the entire world to come together in a way that it never had before, and one thing that probably any given person has in common is a mutual agreement that none of us are the same person at the back-end of this pandemic as we were the people entering it. Due to isolation during my sophomore and junior year of high school, I had a lot of issues mentally regarding my feelings towards my friends and towards teenagers in general. I felt as though no one really knew me and not only was I wearing a metaphorical mask (to compliment my physical one), but it seemed like every other teenager was simply a facade, trying to be the coolest person in the room to hide their extreme insecurity that was a side effect of being a teenager. I spent a lot of time weeding through who was “real” and who was “fake”, and in doing so, I lost interest in everything that I loved because I was so wrapped up in my spinning, anxiety-ridden brain. 

In the summer of 2021 as the world attempted to reopen, a buzz phrase I picked up on was “(first) post-Covid event”. In the warmer months, people made their way to their first concerts in a year and a half to watch an artist that they didn’t even listen to, but, hey, concerts are a thing again, and they wanted to go to one. I almost wish that I could say that my first post-Covid event was a “rager” concert where teenagers were teenagers and it felt like life straight out of a coming-of-age-rom-com, but on the surface level, my answer, unfortunately, is a pretty lame one. My first post-Covid event was the Drum Corps International (DCI) Celebration on August 13, 2021. I had no real expectation of my day-trip into Indianapolis: I vaguely knew what DCI was pre-Covid, much less how it would function during Covid, and was going with a couple of people whose company I enjoyed, but had kind of drifted from over the course of the summer. 

I remember listening to some of the corps warm up in the lot outside of Lucas Oil and being mildly impressed but thinking it was going to be a long day. We watched the Madison Scouts have their age-out ceremony that involved lots of tears, and where I silently judged them. I wasn’t a part of drum corps, so I knew that I couldn’t possibly comprehend the emotions they were going through. To me, though, what could possibly be so amazing about wasting your college summers away in the heat at a toned-down bootcamp to finish it all off with a couple of major chords in a stadium? I did band in high school, so I understood some of it, but to me, I saw little reward, and something that certainly didn’t warrant tears. I didn’t get it, but I still empathized with what they were feeling and tried to spend the rest of our time on the warm up lot taking everything in before we made our way into Lucas Oil. When we found our seats in the stadium, we watched a couple of corps march their shows and, out of boredom, my mind started to wander a bit and as per my usual form of entertainment, I started to people watch. There was a lot of drum corps merch, a lot of age-outs wearing alumni jackets, as well as a lot of screaming from seats. I saw some nodding in acknowledgement of people who were sporting the same corps merch, and some polite hellos from people who had marched together before. I for sure had the superficial thought that it was embarrassing to be there because it was a stadium full of geeks, but I still could enjoy the bands and wasn’t by any means unhappy to be there. 

Spirit of Atlanta’s show was the first band to hold my attention. When the show began, the rifle line caught my eye, and I followed one of their guard members through his routine. I could quite literally see sweat pouring off of this man’s face… I almost felt bad for him until I realized that he not only signed up to do this, but paid for it, and I thought, “Wow, what a waste of money”. As the night progressed, better and better bands took the field, and I had similar thoughts throughout their performances in which I mentally noted that everyone both in the stands and on the field was kind of odd, and I still couldn’t for the life of me find any logic in participating in drum corps.

We watched a couple bands after Spirit, but we eventually left to get some food before we had to resettle into the stadium to watch the big-name bands; the bands of which I dropped one hundred dollars on to see. The first of these big-names were the Phantom Regiment who are based out of Rosemont, IL – decently local to my hometown in the Chicagoland area. I know that going into the night, I actively wanted to see Phantom’s performance because one of my high school band’s staff members was an age-out of Phantom, so I wanted to see what he had been a part of; I wanted to support him; and I wanted to see the band that was the closest tied to where I’m from. Again, I was never a huge drum corps fan or an active follower, so I knew enough to recognize the name of Phantom, but I had absolutely no idea whether I was supposed to expect a stellar performance or an entertaining, but mildly underwhelming performance similar to the ones I had been watching all afternoon. 

I knew immediately when the first member of Phantom walked onto the field that this performance was going to be different than the ones previous, and I could tell it was going to be fantastic. The entire aura of the stadium changed: there were cheers coming from every end of the stadium; there were people screaming the names of their loved ones from the stands (I particularly remember someone’s dad yelling, “That’s my son!”); there was a sudden buzz in the air full of anticipation and excitement. I felt like I could see half of the stadium sitting on the edge of their seats out of a pure thrill that fed off of the same feeling from the person sitting to either side of them. There was a similar energy within the band itself… I caught glimpses of different band or guard members grinning at each other or teetering back and forth, not only ready to perform, but eager to. They were the only people in the room who knew what they were about to do, and I couldn’t have even tried to anticipate or understand just how much their show would mean to me.

When the performance began, the head drum major made a spectacle of pulling her baton out of her ponytail which was answered by a booming applause and excited screams from the audience. Following was the iconic introduction from Brandt Crocker, “the voice of DCI”, that signaled the start of the show.

When they performed, time slowed down entirely. I shut the entire world out, and every part of my brain, body, and being came together to focus on the show. Even though for all of the previous shows I had been fascinated by the drum major or the guard, the music in this show absolutely hooked me. I couldn’t peel my eyes off of the corps as the sound from each and every instrument filled up every square inch of Lucas Oil Stadium and rang throughout my ears. There was an intensity in their movements, but a relaxation on the musician’s faces because they let down their guard, forgetting about life in order to flood the performance with their soul. I was in awe watching performers dart across the football field in complete uniformity while producing an absolutely massive amount of sound from their instrument. I thought of Christian, our staff at Lockport, when I watched the marimbas fly across the keyboards, all the while smiles creeping across their faces during the big moments in the show. At one point in the show, the band was facing back field and whipped around to a standstill. The guard, one by one, launched their rifles into the air, and when the last in line caught it with a satisfying click, the band crescendos into a grand resolve. The entire audience shot out of their seats accompanied by cheers and applause, and I broke down in tears as every second of the day hit me at once. 

Instead of watching sweat drip off of their bodies and wondering why in the world they were paying to spend their entire summer at a marching band boot camp, I realized and understood that the want to do so comes from a deep-rooted passion within every single performer on the field that night. Despite my brain searching desperately for reason, logic doesn’t always apply or need to apply to everything in life, especially when that something is the result of a pull within the soul. In the grand scheme of life, marching band has no effect on anything or anyone; however, it doesn’t matter because it’s something that musicians are in love with and have a passion for. A passion for music is what brought the age-outs of the Scouts in the lot to tears earlier that day. A passion for music is what caused each performer to push their bodies to their limit in order to give their last performance their absolute all. A passion for music is what drew people out of their homes to come to Indianapolis for the day. A passion for music is what caused the audience to leap up out of their chairs at the biggest hit of the show and cheer with every ounce of their being. A passion for music is in actuality why I spent the money to go to Indianapolis on one of my last days of summer vacation, and a passion for music is what brought every single person in that stadium together that day. Said passion has nowhere to go except for to seep out of the performers and present itself to anyone who will listen. Passion’s need to expose itself to others is what causes people like my endearingly nerdy friend, Ethan, to constantly gush about his corps, Carolina Crown at any chance he gets. Seeing this within loved ones causes a sense of pride within ourselves which I feel for Ethan, and which forced someone in Phantom Regiment’s dad to be so excited for his son that he screamed his love from the stands. Finally, I was able to tear down my ignorant, “judgy,” teenage walls and trade every odd moment I witnessed that day for the magnificent meaning that it actually held. 

Before going to Indianapolis, I had wondered what exactly I had paid to see because unlike other years, the bands weren’t competing. I struggled to find a point in this, and I had low expectations. The absolute beauty in this, though, circles back to the passion mentioned in the previous paragraph. Covid took so many things away from the world, but Covid destroyed band. It was impossible to perform or do band in any way, shape, or form… It was simply nonexistent. Being able to perform again and to watch performances again was such a gift to the band community. The absence of band from a musician’s life was a considerable one, so just being able to experience band again was, for every person in the stadium, the greatest nostalgia one could ever experience. That being said, the reason for the event wasn’t to see who could get the best score of the night or who’s corps was better: it was music for the sake of music. What I struggled to grasp for so many days was quite literally in the name: Drum Corps International Celebration 2021. August 13, 2021 was a celebration of music and passion, and to me, this represented something real. 

Music, to me, is the epitome of real. I struggled and still do struggle with the concept of authenticity, genuineness, sincerity, and substance. I don’t bother with anything on the surface level; I don’t like forcing things that aren’t going to happen; and I don’t like the idea of a facade and fakeness. Music, though, comes from a place within that is swimming with all of these ideas that I crave so badly. This day had unhinged something that I had locked up and threw away in the height of Covid. Music, though, is something that I love and that I can feel and that I can grasp. In the matter of a couple hours, I had done a complete 180 from silently judging everyone that was spending their Saturday at a DCI show to feeling so inspired and comfortable because everyone in that stadium shared the same love for music that I did, and unlike me, they were unapologetic about it, which I came to respect, and now have a want to strive towards. No one was there to watch a ball get thrown through the air. No one was there to watch a rapper brag about money, drugs, and sex. No one was there for anything fabricated or fake – everyone came to spend a day appreciating music. 

I think I might spend every day of the rest of my life chasing the feeling I felt that night. Nothing before Phantom had ever brought me to tears due to its absolute beauty and its meaning within my soul. I never want my life to feel less real than it did that day, and I want to continue living in the moment and focusing on what and who in my life are real and matter. I want to live my life as I witnessed these performers do: living as you wish, doing what you love, and acting on passion. Nothing materialistic will ever bring anyone the same joy that love and passion will. These types of feelings are what bring us as people together in harmony, where we can drop everything from the outside world and come together in appreciation for a shared love – and events like DCI are beautiful examples of that. The energy from living life in this way is what pushes people towards success. I, for one, feel so blessed that I was able to experience such a thing in the flesh, and I think that so many are overdue for a reminder of what is important in life. I intend to find pure happiness like the kind I felt during DCI in everything that I do for the rest of my life, and spend every day listening to music because music is real and important. I think that in doing so, my life is set up for success and that greatness is right around the corner. I hope that you do the same. 

17 years old and a senior at Lockport Township High School, Lockport, Illinois, Ryann Dykstra has played the flute since fifth grade. In the wind symphony, she is principal piccolo. The wind symphony is notably attending the 2021 Midwest Concert Clinic. She has participated in marching band since she was a freshman and finished her senior year as section leader and soloist. Her sophomore year, the Lockport Marching Band placed seventh at the BOA Indianapolis Regionals. In her free time, Dykstra likes to read, write, and spend time with family and friends.

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