Keeping beat

Carolina Crown Drum and Bugle Corps is in the midst of a 29-city tour that will include a show Sunday night in Charlotte.
Carolina Crown Drum and Bugle Corps is in the midst of a 29-city tour that will include a show Sunday night in Charlotte.

Trumpet player Marshall Woody bristles at the notion that what he does is not a sport. In fact, he gets borderline indignant.

Woody is one of 135 members of the Carolina Crown Drum and Bugle Corps, a Fort Mill-based non-profit organization that is one of the largest drum and bugle corps in the world.

The corps -- an ensemble of brass, percussion and a color guard, known for its music education and marksmanship on the field -- has been a world championship finalist for 12 of the past 13 years.

"I get offended very much when people say" that the corps is not considered a real sport, said Woody, a 21-year-old Winthrop University music major from Rock Hill. "What we do is an strenuous as any other sport."

Carolina Crown in the midst of a 29-city, 32-performance and competition tour that includes a Sunday show in Charlotte -- the 20-year anniversary of NightBeat at the American Legion Memorial Stadium.

Four other York County youths are performing with Carolina Crown this year, all as members of the color guard. They are DeAnne Frazier and Melissa Granger, both of Fort Mill; and Darren Mickens and Herbert Washington, both of Rock Hill.

The tour started June 16 with a competition in Annapolis, Md. And if the performers make it to the world championships, their tour will end Aug. 11 in Pasadena, Calif.

Adult volunteer C. Ray McCrary Jr. has been involved with the corps for 16 years and serves on the board of directors. He believes Pasadena is more than a distinct possibility.

"We're fielding the best corps team this year that we have ever had," said McCrary.

Woody, who is in his fifth year with the corps, agrees.

"The talent level is so high this year," he said. "It is the strongest I have been a part of."

Woody cites the past success of Carolina Crown as the reason for the attraction of national and international talent. Performers on the corps hail from 20 states and from several countries, including Britain, the Netherlands and Japan.

Auditions for the corps began last November. The full squad was selected and on the practice field by January, said McCrary.

The daily routine of a corps member consists of waking at 7 a.m., stretching and running three miles, then eating breakfast.

"The preparations that they go through are very stressful," explained Susan Murphy, who as head cook of the corps travels with the members during the summer competition season.

After breakfast, the corps members undergo a series of formation practices before lunch. Section rehearsals follow, capped off by an ensemble rehearsal. A typical practice day ends at 6 p.m. during the off-season.

During the summer competition season, however, the process is more arduous. There are only one or two off-days every couple weeks, for laundry and maintenance of equipment. Performers still rise early to practice -- albeit lightly -- on performance nights, said Murphy.

Shows end around 11 p.m., after which the performers crawl onto the bus, ride to their hotel and go to sleep. Eight hours later, they are up and at it again.

What about free time and sightseeing on the tour?

"No sir," said McCrary. "Strictly business."

The members travel everywhere by bus. Over 20,000 miles will be covered by the performers from June 16 through Aug. 11, said McCrary, who is traveling with the members. They will travel from Massachusetts to Texas to Pennsylvania to North Carolina and all across the Midwest.

The Carolina Crown members range in age from 14 to 21, with the average age around 18. Of the 135 performers, 68 are members of the brass section -- trumpets, tubas, baritones and other brass horns -- 33 are color guard members, 32 are percussionists and two are drum majors.

Right now the corps is hovering around fourth or fifth place out of 90 teams, said McCrary. Scoring is based on musicianship, visual aesthetics and marching precision.

The rigid, structured nature of the team has served to make the corps one of the most reputed of its kind in the country. Woody said traveling with the corps has increased the discipline and maturity in his personal life.

"I'm not in the comfort of home, and I've had to stretch my comfort zone, he said. "Working every day to get better has really helped me grow."

Want to go?

What: Carolina Crown Drum and Bugle Corps

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Where: American Legion Memorial Stadium, 310 N. Kings Drive, Charlotte.

Admission: $12 to $75.

Details and tickets: Visit

What: Carolina Crown Drum and Bugle Corps performs at NightBeat 2007.

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: American Legion Memorial Stadium, 310 N. Kings Drive, Charlotte.

Admission: $12 to $75.

Details and tickets: