Marching to the beat of their own drum

Some students spend their summers slaving at low-wage jobs. Others toil at internships hoping to build connections and a future career. But a lucky few each year have the summer of a lifetime.

Three juniors at the College, John Connelly, Jeffrey Katz and Melanie Weiss, did just that this summer, fulfilling their dream of winning a drum corps gold medal with the Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps.

It was a dream each had fostered since childhood.

“For as long as I have known what drum corps is, the Cadets is the organization I have wanted to be a member of,” Connelly, international studies major and trumpet player, said. “So making it into the Cadets, aside from winning, was a dream come true.”

All three students started out in elementary school bands, moving up to marching band in high school or even middle school.

At the same time, they cultivated careers with small local drum corps, Connelly and Katz with the Jersey Surf, and Weiss with the Raiders. But each had ambitions of someday marching with the Cadets.

For those not familiar with drum corps lingo, the Cadets is the nation’s oldest and most respected active drum corps.

They have a storied tradition of winning championships. For kids who grew up on the marching band and drum corps circuit, they are the top drum corps.

But the story that ended in a dream come true started simply last fall, with Cadets tryouts in November. Though Connelly, Katz, a tuba player, and Weiss, a bass drummer, had worked hard for auditions, they did not expect to make the cut.

“Even though I didn’t think I would make it, I went to auditions anyway,” Weiss, an English major, said. “And I made it almost immediately.”

Of the 400-500 people who audition, 135 are selected. For the three, just making the corps was an accomplishment in itself.

“Jeff Katz and I would go and watch them practice when we were younger,” Connelly said. “And watch for hours, wondering what it would be like to be a member.”

During the next seven months, the three would make their way through the elite world of drum corps.

For the rest of the school year, they traveled to monthly practices. Then, on May 19, they moved to Camp Cayuga in Honesdale, Penn. for intensive training.

“It was three weeks of 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. intense rehearsals,” Katz, a music education major, said.

After spring training, the Cadets began their summer national tour, which saw them performing their way through major stadiums across the entire country. The three students then traveled 20,000 miles in two months.

Although summer touring brings visions of Gwen Stefani and Green Day trashing posh hotels, reality on the drum corps tour was not so glamorous.

“We slept on buses and gym floors all across America,” Katz said. “Rehearsing on football fields and performing for thousands of people in the biggest stadiums in the United States.

The tour culminated with the Aug. 11-13 championships in Foxboro, Mass., where the world’s top 12 drum corps competed for the 2005 gold medal.

This year’s Cadets squad made history, winning the competition by a 1.525 point margin (the winner is usually decided by a few tenths of a point), and tying the record high score of 99.15.

Though the training was hard and the days were long, the three Cadets said they wouldn’t have traded this opportunity for the world.

“Honestly, after finals were over and we were back in the parking lot, I wasn’t really thinking about how we just won,” Weiss said. “I was thinking about how I didn’t want to go home. I didn’t want it to be over.”

But when you hit the top, is there anywhere left to go?

“Just try to march next summer and graduate and get a good job,” Katz said.

“Winning was good enough,” Weiss added. “All the other stuff just made it even better.”