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'It's like the NFL of Marching Band': Valley drum corps ready to compete

A local nonprofit youth program has hit the road for 70 days of 30 competitions. They hope they make Arizona proud.

PHOENIX — Hannah Smith grabs a large instrument case and a big bottle of water. She walks onto a large football field with 149 of her friends and gets in position. Through a megaphone, the corps leader talks to the group and gives them directions on what their first task will be. He counts down and the Arizona Academy of Drum and Bugle Corps is in motion.

"I would describe this like a marching band, but it's like the NFL of marching bands," said Smith. "It's like pro-level. You have to be dedicated to the activity."

For two years, Smith has played the Mellophone with the Drum and Bugle Corps. She said when she first learned of the group she was hooked and made it her mission to be a part of it.

"I think it was 2017," she said. "I didn't really know what marching band was and what it was all about. And then I see a bunch of people with their instruments playing so loud and I thought this is the coolest thing I've ever seen."

The Arizona Academy of Drum and Bugle Corps is a nonprofit youth organization located in the heart of Phoenix. Each summer, 150 performers are picked through a rigorous application/tryout process. 

After rehearsing for about a month, they hit the road for 70 days, competing in 30 competitions around the United States with the hopes they'll receive top honor.

"Our members come from all over the world, some are with us from Japan this year," Co-Director Daniel Adams said. "So they've all finished up school, some have graduated high school or college. They show up with their luggage, air mattresses and gear and they're ready to go."

The competition is usually fierce so the group puts in long hours each day during rehearsals. 

"Our members wake up about 8:00am, we serve them breakfast, and they usually eat four meals a day," said Adams. "We usually have a two-to-four-hour rehearsal our members are engaged in with breaks in-between. Health and safety is a big priority of ours here at the Academy because our members are considered athletes."

However, while long, the members don't mind and Adams said watching their dedication is inspiring.

"These kids love performing, they love playing and they love affecting our fans with great music," he said. "I started as a 16-year-old in an organization very similar to this and I fell in love with it, it changed my life. And to notice the little things and the progression along the way with our members, I can't imagine a life without it."

"I love the people," said Smith. "They really are like a family. I have spent every day waiting to get back this year, and now I'm back and I couldn't be happier. It's my favorite place."

Members like Smith said the program offers a memorable experience. It's one Smith will always appreciate.

"It's a great way to see new places," she said. "Not that many people get the chance to travel the country and it's an amazing way for me to do that. I've also learned a lot about dedication and putting in hard work. It doesn't really matter the outcome, it matters what you put into it."

All their hard work though is tested at the championship in Indianapolis. But the most important competition is actually here in Arizona, at the Drums Across the Desert. Being from Phoenix, Smith said she hopes she'll make her home state proud by sharing what she loves.

"Being able to take all of your worries or your stress and anger and being able to put it through your horn," she said. "You breathe in and everything you take in is all that stress and anger and what you put out is gorgeous and you've turned all those bad things into something beautiful."

The Drums Across the Desert competition is July 3 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $19 and is being held at Mesa Community College. If you'd like more information you can go online here

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