Extreme Teamwork

There's an amazing youth activity that I'm sure almost none of you really know about.  It's called Drum Corps International, and it's the the most incredible showcase of teamwork that you've never heard of.  The DCI national championships, held in mid-August each year, puts in competition the top corps in North America.  The corps are comprised of 135 dedicated, talented young people below the age of 22 (DCI rules say that the day you turn 22 is the day you "age out" meaning you're no longer eligible to compete).  The corps are made of percussionists (the coolest part of the drum corps), brass players, and the color guard.  I marched in a corps oh, so long ago.  They are the Santa Clara Vanguard and are perenially beautiful and competitive.

I saw 6 of the top 12 corps in the country in a tour that they did after the national championships a couple of weeks ago; I was lucky enough to see the shows twice, in Los Angeles and San Jose.  The reason I write about them here is because of what they can teach us about commitment and teamwork.

They are students in high school and college who begin rehearsing in November for a final competition in August.  In mid-June when the schools finish for the year, corps members will join their corps and begin rehearsing daily for twelve hours a day, preparing a show about 11-12 minutes in length that is physically demanding (imagine trying to play as a member of an all-state concert band while running).  They will perform the show in competition about 30 times, travelling across the United States by bus, sleeping in high school gymnasiums or on the bus if the travel schedule demands that the corps needs to cover a lot of ground in a single night.

If you were to watch a rehearsal, you'd notice a commitment you wouldn't believe.  The kids practice marching and playing a difficult segment over and over again, trying to get the intricate timing right.  They march their 32 counts, then stop.  The drum major says "Reset!" and all corps members run back to their original spots.  Why run?  Because every second in that twelve hour period counts.  They run to their spots all season long, from January until August.  They don't falter.  They do this every day of the season, pushing, pushing, pushing through the last show of the season.  It's hard to believe it unless you see it.

The DCI championships are replayed on PBS stations (U.S. television); you can find out when in your area by going to this page.  It isn't the same seeing it on TV versus in person, partly because the TV chooses what you watch so you don't get overwhelmed by the entire experience as you would be in person.  I've taken several people to see drum corps shows, and I have yet to find anybody who isn't impressed.  One common comment is that there's too much to take in during a single show.

If you're interested in seeing group excellence, send me mail next spring or go to the DCI web sit above to see the schedule of shows in your area of the country next summer.  You'll be glad you did.

One last comment: I wonder how this kind of teamwork and excellence can be applied to our engineering groups.  It's basics, really: simple discipline, executed every day.  And a love for the activity that you do.  Getting a group of people together who share a common passion can bring about amazing things.  It's as simple as that.

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The views expressed on this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Oracle. What more do you need to know, really?

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