Case Study: The Jersey Surf model of drum and bugle corps – part 2

Read Part 1

Given those sorts of struggles on top of other small or big struggles that they face, questions arise: should they have stayed in open class? should they have reached for a longer term goal of becoming world class but with more of a full tour model? is this “in between” model that they’re employing a failed model for the world class paradigm?

The answers to these questions are difficult to answer right now because they depends on a few factors: a) what the drum corps community has set as an expectation for the Surf, b) what the Surf itself as an organization and in its individuals has set as an expectation, and c) the fact that the long-term success of this model can’t truly be determined by the results of a single year.

Going back to that first struggle item i talked about in part one, one could argue that even beating a single full-tour corps during Nats Week would be a measurable success – Surf, on its limited rehearsal schedule managed to beat a full tour corps. That says something about the organization, about its commitment to excellence.

But the question is whether that is enough. That the Surf is in their first stint in world class is one of the more interesting things that’s occurred in drum corps this year, and thus has to put them under at least somewhat of a microscope in the drum corps community, and their expectations and projections of Surf may be higher. A more substantial success could also make a strong enough statement to secure more corporate sponsorships and donations as well as member and staff loyalty. Not only that, but it’s possible that if they *don’t* meet that substantial success, it would be perceived as a failure.

As an outsider with only vague ties to the staff, i don’t have a good idea of what sort of expectations Surf has for the next few years; make semi finals in two to three years, and then try to maintain a semi-final placement? Are there higher aspirations for individual aspects of the corps, the drum score, the horn score, the guard score? How does that differ from any expectations that the kids may have, the donors may have?

It’s a tricky balance to maintain because of the struggle between Surf as a pedagogical and educational organization versus a business and corporate organization and how those contradict each other.

As i said earlier, from a corporate standpoint, Surf struggles in a contextual environment of DCI as the equivalent of a small business market amidst a global business market, and by the difference between the two models alone it will never move beyond that. And for some of the individuals associated with the organization, it can be too easy to look at the immediate bottom line and think, “why am i here when i could be a bigger fish in a bigger pond?” And it would be resultingly easy for Surf and the greater drum corps community to react to that and contemplate the idea of changing and evolving their business model towards more of a full corps tour to take it to ‘the next level’. Some would see it as a natural evolution of the corps just as the move from Open to World was a natural evolution.

However, there are a few issues to consider with that. First, although Surf may have limitations as a corporate model for success, i personally think that the Surf model shines from a pedagogical and educational model more than a full corps tour does. When i marched in the Crossmen, i learned that being on a full tour may have taught me a lot and helped give me the tools to be the teacher that i am today, but i also am aware that full tour was an easy escape from reality. For three months you live on a bus and you don’t have to worry about paying bills, making money, doing chores, summer reading, &c. all you do is wake up, run, eat, drum, eat, drum, eat, drum, sleep on the bus or gym floor, rinse, repeat. On the other hand, the Surf model teaches more of a life lesson, how to handle the responsibilities of the drum corps on top of any other responsibilities that a member may have during the week. As opposed to being dictated a schedule because everyone is all in the same place, they have to work out their own schedule, find their own time to practice, otherwise face the consequences of letting themselves and the organization down when they show up for the weekend unprepared. That to me is more analogous to a real-life experience, learning how to juggle multiple responsibilities and be accountable for your own actions by the choices that you make, both within the context of the drum corps and how that fits in with everything else.

Secondly, while there may be members of the corps that may have ‘full tour envy’, the Surf model continues to grant an opportunity for kids that would not be able to afford the money or commitment for a full tour. This may be countered by the fact that there’s still a pretty strong east coast senior corps circuit represented by DCA, but the senior corps experience, while similar, has characteristics to it that are not comparable to a junior corps experience (which is a separate discussion altogether). If other drum corps existed already with a similar model to help fill that void, it would be less of an issue, but as it stands, Surf is the only organization that offers the DCI experience in this way.

Given that, if the Surf were to change to a full tour model, it may garner more success as an organization, but one which potentially sacrifices one of the more important lessons that the members can learn about life and takes away a particular membership pool that would then have an audience only with DCA. Maybe in the long term that decision will be the correct one for Surf, but at the moment it’s too early to tell, too premature to rationalize such a drastic change in Surf history and philosophy after only one year in the World Class market.

So then i return to the other question: is this a failed business model for a world class drum corps? should such a model only aspire to go so far in the world of DCI, stay in the realm of open class?

As the organization continues to grow and evolve and the DCI community reacts to that evolution, the answers will be made clearer at least in the model of drum corps that exists today. But again, i don’t feel like there is a clear cut answer to be made after a single year. Surf and DCI needs a larger and more long-term perspective to determine whether or not it can be competitive in that realm.

Regardless of whether or not it can exist in the world class paradigm or if it is a better fit for open class (or maybe the model itself will inspire DCI to consider another change to its structure, particularly if more corps come out and follow this sort of model in the future), i feel it’s important to pay tribute to and honor Surf for what they’ve already achieved and for throwing themselves into that fire as a modern drum corps history-maker in a way that none of the top drum corps can touch. it serves as an example of a model that may not be something to eventually be absorbed and identified under the current drum corps models, but as the potential birth and inspiration of a new sustainable model, something that can bridge junior corps membership in the context of today’s evolving world and serve as a catalyst and inspiration for other organizations to manage and maintain drum corps that might otherwise be forced to fold.

And despite the fact that drum corps remains and should remain a competitive activity, i feel that the mission of the activity is to provide kids and adults alike a conduit for which they can learn and experience life lessons that they would not otherwise have access to. So if more drum corps could be sustained, revived, or created through alternative models such as this, it is the responsibility of DCI and of the drum corps community to support it and grant it an avenue where those organizations can be successful. Drum Corps changed my life. Without it, i would not be the teacher i am now, i would not have made the connections that i have now, i would not have made the friends who i love and cherish and will for the rest of my life, and i know many people who feel the same. In that sense, there is no doubt in my mind that the dedication, bravery, and vision that has pushed them to this point already made them a world class success even before they took their first step on the competition field in Rome, NY.

originally posted on darkblog resonate. i prefer any comments there.

Mendel Lee

I'm a composer, musician, and music educator residing in New Orleans, LA.

One thought to “Case Study: The Jersey Surf model of drum and bugle corps – part 2”

  1. I thought about joining Serf a year or so ago but never did because I’m just too far away. I did drum corps though, the Colt Cadets ’07 and ’08. Even met my fiancé there. I would have gone on to the Colts but…
    Anyway, I was so excited to hear that the Serf was moving up. I’ve always loved there pit.

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