Is DCI destroying the drum corps movement?
by Victor Neves



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 Hi, in case you've come straight to this page from a search engine, let me give you a little background.  I am a visual designer with background in band and corps. I also have some strong opinions about the differences between drum corps and band. 

Every once in a while, I get a letter from someone who says that drum corps is being destroyed by DCI. As a performer who didn't always get what I wanted from DCI, (ie. a ring) I've given it some thought. 

I just can't buy into the idea that DCI is doing anything to hurt the drum corps movement.

I'll list below the arguments  I've heard and my rebuttals.  I'm going to work on this as I have time.  If you have a thought to add, or an argument to make, send it and if it's logical and well written, I'll post it.

Drum and Bugle corps is turning into marching band, and is being pushed that way by large multinational music instrument corporations.

From a certain point of view, Drum and Bugle corps ceased to be Drum and Bugle corps back in the old days when they added that first valve.  If DCI's rules changes governing instruments are destroying the movement, then Jim Jones as much damage as anyone by adding the rotor to the piston configuration.  There was a VFW or American Legion official back in the sixties who argued against contras saying "If they want to play tuba, they can join a band."  The fact is that the groups play better in tune and with better tone because the instruments being used now are the ones that have been proven best over the centuries since valved brass was invented. 

There are far fewer drum corps now than when DCI was organized.  Therefore, DCI is killing off the drum corps.

It's important to understand a couple of historical facts.  In the fifties there was an phenomenon in Education called "The Sputnik Effect."  In the wake of Soviet supremacy in space, American schools moved toward math and science and away from the arts.  School music programs were cut all over the country.  Kids who wanted music and pageantry didn't have school band any more, especially in urban areas.  At the same time, the World War II generation was coming into its own.  Those families had school age students and wanted music in their lives.  That's why groups like the VFW, the American Legion, the CYO and the Scouts organized drum and bugle corps. 

Then, as the country came back from its panic, bands returned to their former prominence in the schools.  (Orchestras by and large did not, I think as a result of the influence of Drum Corps.  Pageantry is more fun than pizzicato.)  At the same time, the War generation's kids moved out of high school and into college and now have kids of their own.  They're the baby boomers, and they don't belong to the VFW and American Legion.  Those sources of funding have dried up, and with them the corps they sponsored.  Drum corps participation became more expensive.  The oil crisis and better national tours also increased the cost of marching.

Think of your favorite corps that no longer exists.  Did it fold for 
A. Financial reasons?
B. Lack of good instructors?
C. Lack of student participation?
D. A combination of the above? or 
D. Because DCI stacked the cards against it and made them lose.

I don't know of any corps that folded when it was well funded, had  good instructors and lots of student interest.  I do know of several that folded when they had problems in any one or more of the three.

DCI is so political that corps can't get a fair shot at winning.

Any organization is going to have internal and external politics.  Those politics are often going to hamper efficient operation.  For more on that, read Weber on the ideal type of bureaucracy. ( 

The real question is, or should be, "Does DCI do more good or more harm than the organizations that preceded it."

The answer, at least from my observation is that DCI does more good than harm.  Before DCI, the activity was governed by several outside groups with divergent ideals and objectives. There were multiple judging systems and rules.  There was no clear national champion at the end of the season.  Was the champion the winner of the VFW, US Open, CYO, or American Legion?  Opinions varied.  Even more importantly, under the old system, external political views were sometimes used to pick the winner instead of the merit of the groups performance.  The notable example of this was during Viet Nam when the Garfield Cadets marched a Peace Sign, earned the highest score, but lost Nationals when the show director altered the score sheets.  Under the rules it was his prerogative and he made no apology. The activity was funded by his Veteran's group and they didn't want a peace sign to win. That kind of nonsense doesn't happen with DCI.  In DCI, the drum corps rule.

ttfn - Victor