Photo Information

The U.S. Marine Drum & Bugle Corps performs during a Battle Color Detachment ceremony at Veterans Memorial Stadium, Yuma, Ariz., March 2, 2012. The BCD, composed by D&B, the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon and Marine Corps Color Guard, is currently on its National Installations Tour.

Photo by Cpl. Dengrier Baez

Music in Motion: Rewriting the score

11 Apr 2012 | Sgt. Austin Hazard

Every year, audiences can expect to see a different show at the Barracks’ Evening and Sunset Parades. Some of the drill is altered and the music changes. Each song that is introduced to the parades is either retooled specifically to match the Drum & Bugle Corps’ makeup or is original material created from scratch, and their entire marching sequence is reimagined to compliment that new score.

The Marines of the “Commandant’s Own” prove their musical expertise time and again through their ever-changing “Music in Motion” concert, which showcases their comprehension and mastery of their art.

Crafting these marching concerts is no simple feat, requiring jewel movements between the melody and all the moving parts, of which there are many. This process starts with the D&B’s commander and director, Maj. Brian Dix, who writes the new year’s music. Before the Battle Color Detachment’s National Installations Tour, the commandant of the Marine Corps, the Barracks commander and Dix have a meeting to discuss their vision for the new show.

“The Commandant’s Own has followed a spirited guidance from every commandant of the Marine Corps since its inception in 1934,” said Dix. “We look at the direction our leadership is bringing the Corps, then self analyze how we can best represent this intent to a wide variety of audiences through music with drill. The music needs to reflect a history rich in tradition and should be as varied as the capabilities of our Marine Corps.”

Once the vision is shared and agreed upon, Dix begins writing. He creates the basic score and then passes it on to be expanded by senior musicians in the unit.

“Our team of leaders contributes immeasurably in creating a colorful landscape for our listeners,” added Dix. “The percussion experts build upon the original concept, where it is then designed for rhythmic interpretation.”

The musicians immediately get to work memorizing and perfecting their knowledge of the new score, and two Marines begin choreographing the marching to match it all.

“Where the difficulty lies is in trying to determine what fits the musical style and the intent,” explained Sgt. James Wylie, who designs the drill sequences for the D&B. “Occasionally we have to go through a few revisions to get to that point.”

Wylie uses a computer program to map the musicians on the field, move them from point to point and sync their movements with the music to see how the two play together. Here, Sgt. Courtney Lawrence, who teaches the new drill to the musicians, assists by advising on the physical aspect of the drill, as well as with acoustics.

“Even if it looks good on the computer, it has to be doable for the Marines on the field,” noted Lawrence. “We can’t have step sizes that are too big or too fast. They need to be able to physically handle it and still look natural. We’re always striving to make what the Marines are doing look easy, to make it look effortless. Then you have to work on the angling of the instruments to make sure they can be heard.”

The two sergeants coordinate together and continue to tweak and perfect the sequences until the musicians have mastered the entire performance. While they manage the overall picture, a few individuals provide oversight on the field to ensure the vision comes to fruition. Sgt. Benjamin Schoffstall critiques and oversees the marching for the horns, Cpl. Jay Jaworowski for the drumline and Master Sgt. Michael Fulwood supervises the entire progression. This process goes from the start of the year and into the National Installations Tour. The unit finishes its preparations at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, where it also begins the tour with performances at the air station and at local schools.

“I personally enjoyed doing ‘El Cumbanchero y Cumana’ the most, just because of the excitement you can create with movement in Latin pieces,” said Wylie. “For me that was fun. It was fun to watch it and see it come to fruition. The most intricate piece was ‘Shall We Gather.’ During that song, there are times when the D&B is broken up into low brass, high brass and drums, and each component is basically marching a completely different count structure and playing a different song altogether.”

According to Dix, it usually takes 15 man-hours to compose or arrange one minute of performed music. This includes research, copyright approvals, and some trial and error. From there, it generally takes the musicians ten hours of section training per one minute of performed music. Between the D&B’s five new songs, there are approximately 21 minutes, 10 seconds of performed music to learn. Finally, there is an extra ten hours of overall ensemble training with Dix.

Additionally, each Marine is responsible for some 70-75 pieces of music to be memorized annually for all ceremonial requirements, said Dix.

“This includes ceremonial music, traditional music to the Marine Corps, musical staples of the D&B, and of course, some of the fun stuff. Public expectations must be fulfilled at all times.”

Music in Motion 2012 includes “American Salute,” “El Cumbanchero y Cumana,” a medley from “Grease,” “Rocky Top,” and an original piece inspired by the Montford Point Marines titled “Shall We Gather.”

“All music performed by the D&B is arranged by the D&B,” said Dix. “Due to the specific instrumentation of a drum and bugle corps, music cannot be purchased but only orchestrated internally for this ensemble. The most challenging part of it all is the constant unanswered question: will it meet public expectations?”

Based on the unit’s habit of arousing standing ovations from its thousands of spectators throughout this year’s National Installations Tour, which ended mid-March, Dix can rest easy knowing the answer to that conundrum.