Megan Quamme just graduated from the University of Minnesota with a biology degree. But her plans to become a physician's assistant one day are on hold while she spends the summer dancing like a movie star and spinning flags across the football fields of America.
Quamme, 21, performs each night in a different city as part of the color guard for Phantom Regiment, a drum and bugle corps from Rockford, Ill. She'll be among the more than 2,000 musicians and performers who will descend Saturday on TCF Bank Stadium to compete in DCI Minnesota, one of the big stops on Drum Corps International's summer tour, which returns to Minneapolis after a two-year absence. It's one of the nation's largest drum and bugle corps competitions, featuring 10 World Class finalists from the 2014 DCI World Championships plus 10 other corps from the United States and Canada.
This isn't just a marching band show. Drum corps programs are much more dynamic, a fast-paced musical spectacle powered by up to 150 elite brass musicians, percussionists and color guard members, who provide the visual oomph through dance, movement and work with flags, rifles and props. The latter is where you'll find Quamme, virtually visiting Paris every night as part of Rockford, Ill.-based Phantom's "City of Light" show, whose music includes Gershwin's "An American in Paris."
"My role in the show as part of the color guard is to be an American who just landed in Paris and has 24 hours to explore all the landmarks of the city," she said. "Our image this year as a color guard is designed a lot off of Audrey Hepburn in 'Funny Face.'" She added that it's one of the most challenging shows she's ever marched in, with "extremely difficult" demands in movement and equipment work.
Bryan DeHerder, 21, a graduate of Rosemount High School who's studying mechanical engineering at Iowa State University, faces similar artistic challenges as a trumpet player with the all-male Madison Scouts of Madison, Wis. Part of his drive in performing their show, "78th and Madison," a tribute to the MGM musicals of Gene Kelly, is "to show the judges and the fans that the Scouts are back to play hard ball, especially coming off a year like last year where we struggled a lot."
As the Scouts' horn sergeant, DeHerder also has the added task of wrangling all 76 brass players in the corps, making sure they're where they need to be before and after shows and looking good doing it.
This happens every summer night in a new town until the first full week of August, when the corps all converge in Indianapolis for the DCI World Championships. Through several days of competition, the field is winnowed until a new champ is crowned on Aug. 8.
Phantom Regiment and the Madison Scouts have been DCI champions in past years, but no corps has won the title more than the Blue Devils of Concord, Calif. That corps competes Saturday at TCF after winning a record 16th world championship last year, a tradition of excellence that Eden Prairie High School band director Scott Palmer, 33, knows firsthand.
He recently returned to the Twin Cities, where he calls Chanhassen home, after a stint on the Blue Devils' instructional staff before the corps left the West Coast to go on tour. He's returning just in time for DCI Minnesota to don his other drum corps hat, as head of the hornline staff for Minnesota Brass, which goes on last Saturday night as the hometown host.
Although the corps differ in their approach to the acitivity, he said, "each of the ensembles are all trying to communicate emotion through music and movement."
Minnesota Brass is one of two Drum Corps Associates units — along with the Govenaires of St. Peter, Minn. — appearing at DCI Minnesota. While DCI corps are limited to high-school- and college-aged performers, DCA corps can have members of any age. DCA corps — sometimes called all-ages corps or senior corps — also have part-time schedules with limited touring vs. the full-time demands and heavy touring of the junior corps.
"The most challenging part of tour is being in different places and situations every day but still showing up to rehearsal with the same push to get better," Quamme said. "Sometimes the bus might break down or we'll get stuck in traffic outside of New York at 2 a.m. or the housing site is full of cockroaches. But it's our job as performers not to let those obstacles become excuses not to give 100 percent at rehearsal."
But the payoff is worth it, DeHerder says, "being able to see the crowd really get into the show and enjoy it and being alongside these random guys who become your closest friends and brothers after struggling through adversity."
Quamme will return to real life and a future health career after the DCI World Championships. Until then, she said, she's having a great summer.
"I do elite 'marching band' all day long for three months," she said. "It's the hardest and most rewarding thing I have done and will probably ever do."