Hard Corps

The 114 musicians and performers who make up the Arizona Academy Drum and Bugle Corps aren't your typical band geeks who "this one time, at band camp" performed obscene acts with clarinets and oboes. (After all, there are no woodwinds in drum corps. As if!) Then again, they don't possess the 'tude or swagger you might hope for, either, as in Hollywood's tale of a college marching-band drum major who finds his love for licks in the film Drumline.

"No, this is Olympic-level competition," says Ed Coyoli, show coordinator for the Academy's drum corps, which performs at this weekend's Drum Corps International (DCI) Summer Music Games Southwest Corps Connection at Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria.

In its inaugural year, the Academy corps -- made up of 14- to 21-year-olds -- has earned six gold medals in its first six performances around the country. "That's what has been such a surprise," Coyoli admits. "Even we didn't think we would do as well as we have."

Coyoli gives most of the credit to the corps' executive director, Mark Richardson, who auditioned nearly 300 musicians from around the state before paring down to 54 brass players (trumpet, baritone, tuba, mellophone and euphonium), 27 color guard members, two drum majors and 31 percussionists.

Don't look for the Academy -- or any of the other seven drum corps from California, Oregon and Canada competing in the DCI Summer Games -- to play your typical marching-band fare. From the aggressive and rhythmic barrage of the Academy's opener to its performance of "Chamson Melancolique" by Morley Calvert (a "mix between Debussy and Gershwin"), the drum corps prove they're pretty hard-core.

"People will be thrown back," Richardson says. "Once you see one drum corps competition, you're hooked."

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Joe Watson