Tom Jones always wanted to be a rock star. No, not Tom Jones, the actual rock star, but Tom Jones, the 51-year-old substitute teacher from Centerville. Though he may not have reached the same heights as the Welsh singer, Jones came pretty close last month when Minnesota Brass' horn line took the stage at a Foster the People concert at Target Center.
But Jones didn't need the lights, the stage and the Top 40 band to feel like a star. A trumpet player with the St. Paul-based drum and bugle corps, Jones said marching on football fields with Minnesota Brass for the past 27 years always has given him that rush.
"I love the applause. I love performing for large crowds of people," said Jones. "I like to play really loud, really great music. It's the closest I'll ever come to being a rock star."
Tom is one of the oldest members of the all-ages corps, a part-time group that combines athleticism and art. It's part of a long tradition of military-style musical performance that elevates high school marching band to another level.
Each year, drum and bugle corps develop new theatrical programs, and this year's Minnesota Brass repertoire is a reimagining of the Bonnie and Clyde tale, complete with a shootout in the "death car," set to music ranging from Gershwin to Lady Gaga.
Members are hoping the program will garner them a second consecutive world championship, after taking the top prize in their division in 2011. The reigning champs will perform Saturday at DCI Minnesota, the first regional competition of the year on the drum-corps circuit.
"They've had a really strong start," said Brent Turner, coordinator of the competition with DCI, or Drum Corps International. "They're going to be one of the top groups."
At the all-day showcase at TCF Bank Stadium, 24 corps from around the country will face off in three divisions, including the St. Peter Govenaires, the world champions in their much smaller class, and the Pennsylvania-based Cadets, last year's champs among the full-time "junior corps."
The main differences between junior corps and a senior corps like Minnesota Brass is age and time commitment. Generally, junior corps members are college students who devote their summers to touring the country in competition. Senior corps are open to all ages, and practice on nights and weekends. That flexibility leads to some unique relationships among Minnesota Brass members: Husbands and wives, and fathers and sons march on the same field.
Jessi Foell met her husband, Justin, a euphonium player, in junior corps more than a decade ago. Now, the two are in their first year together in Minnesota Brass. It's been challenging to return to the sport, especially when 5-foot-tall Jessi has to spin 6-foot-tall flags in the color guard.
The 34-year-old Web developer for Twin Cities Public Television said the physical strain and the months-long time commitment are worth it. "We like our summers, but we like doing this," said Foell.
For the Joneses, Minnesota Brass is a family affair. "Our house is a drum corps house," said Jones. At any given time in the past two decades, at least two of his clan were members of the organization. Currently, his 23-year-old son Dan plays the snare drum.
"I was hanging around this drumline as long as I was able to hold drum sticks," said Dan, a college student in St. Cloud. "I was literally born into it."
When Dan was a toddler, Tom began bringing him to Minnesota Brass rehearsals. Summer vacations weren't spent at Disneyland, but driving to competitions. Dan remembers being brought to tears when he was 5 by the volume and emotion of the Wisconsin-based junior corps Madison Scouts.
"Some people's heroes are movie stars, but my heroes were the people that marched on the field," said Dan.
At 15, he started out in Minnesota Brass on trumpet, then moved on to tuba and cymbals before settling on the snare. He left to march with the Iowa-based Colts, then came back to Minnesota last year.
Like his father, he has no intention of retiring from Minnesota Brass. "College and jobs and everything else are like my façade," he said. "This is my life."
Sharyn Jackson • 612-673-4260
Here's the "Ride of the Valkyries" ending of Minnesota Brass' "Valhalla" show at the 2011 DCA World Championships: