BELTON — The ground shook as wave after wave of musical energy surged through the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s Crusader Stadium on Wednesday.
The 150 members of one of the world’s premier drum and bugle corps, the Boston Crusaders, held an exhaustive 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. practice marathon on the sunbaked artificial turf — part of their summer odyssey that covers 10,000 miles, 40 competitions and exhibitions in front of 300,000 fans.
The corps is composed entirely of brass players, percussionists and color guard (flag bearers and wooden rifle throwers) — male and female, and all age 21 or
younger. Founded in 1940, the Crusaders incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
“We applied to Drum Corps International in the hopes of hosting a corps,” said Nils Landsberg, conductor of the wind and jazz ensembles at UMHB. “They checked us out and approved us.” One of the big regional DCI competitions was Saturday in San Antonio, and the Crusaders were polishing their show in preparation for the event.
To call the Crusaders a drum and bugle corps is misleading.
There are no bugles, but rather modern trumpets, the bell-front versions of the French horn called mellophones, marching baritone horns and shoulder-carried tubas — each with three piston valves, which enable every instrument to sound a complete chromatic scale.
Trombones, either slide or valve versions, are verboten, as is the entire woodwind family.
Eleven vibraphones and marimbas, a five-piece set of tympani, two jumbo bass drums and a pair of Chinese gongs were stationary, and placed on the sidelines in front of the gridiron. Intricate, dance-like footwork, complemented by precision flag and rifle twirling and tossing were impressive, but the sheer power and emotional impact of the massed instruments, played with effective contrasts of tempo and varying in volume from an ethereal softness to a hair-raising fortissimo, proved to be the show’s hands-down high point.
The Boston Crusaders’ members take up residence in Boston in late May for several weeks termed “intensive daily rehearsal.” In mid-June the Crusaders, their staff, instructors, volunteers, four buses, a mobile kitchen and numerous support vehicles set out on the season’s tour. During the summer, the corps performs almost every day, culminating in August at the DCI world championships.
The words “esprit de corps” are taken to another level with the Crusaders.
“We offered them dorm rooms,” Landsberg said, “but they chose to sleep in the gyms — on the floor.”
That choice was confirmed and explained by Bethany Rush, principal tympanist, three-year veteran, and a music education sophomore at the University of North Texas. Hurrying to get a drink at one of the hourly 5-minute “waterings,” she added: “We don’t really want to be that far apart. I’ve got an air mattress and it works out fine.”
As she took her place behind the five kettle drums, Rush described her feelings. “I’ve never done anything like this before — wake up every day with a single goal in mind. And we’re all dedicated, not just to our goal but to each other. All 150 of us getting after it every single day — that makes a Crusader.”