“If The Kids Aren’t Having Fun, They’re Not Coming Back”

Corey Pearce and Drumming For The Greater Good

“Everyone in there was in a marching band uniform”

“It was during the scorching heat of the Chicago Fourth of July parades. The year was 1992. With all of us marching in our winter uniforms and marching four or five parades a day, we needed police escorts to get our buses from one site to the other. The timelines were short; people were burning up and dropping like flies. So there I was, marching along … and then I wasn’t. I woke up in emergency and everyone else around me is wearing a marching uniform.”


Corey Pearce loves to tell this story simply because it is true and it illustrates the toughness and craziness of life in a performing drum corps. Drawing from his experience as a drum corps musician and now as an instructor and leader, Pearce knows the physical price the young musicians sometimes pay to be involved.


Crusaders Drumline owns the road

Corey Pearce’s work with drum corps is a very good fit for his temperament, which could be described as a “rock solid work ethic wrapped in fun.” His work in Hamilton with the St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary School Crusaders drumline, and his latest venture, Impact Percussion, make it clear that Pearce is the right man in the right job.


Impact Percussion is a brilliant concept of community building using percussion. Its mission is to “provide a positive impact on the youth in the Hamilton area by providing a unique percussion based education program. Our program is designed for a wide range of ages and abilities.” Based on the membership of the board, and the present personnel and performance schedule, Pearce aims to make good on the stated mission. He is acting as Impact Percussion’s Executive Director on a voluntary basis.
Corey Pearce on quads
Pearce has been doing drum corps since 1985. His best friend had joined the Port Dover Brass Band, and they got to go to Disney World, which made Corey a tad jealous. Eventually Pearce joined Hamilton’s Ridge Raiders. Later he joined Conqueror II, another Hamilton drum and bugle corps and went to participate in a variety of capacities in numerous precision ensembles (see below).




Drum and bugle corps are like marching bands without the woodwinds, and with extras like colour guards and drill teams added. Drum and bugle corps is all about putting on a precise, exciting show. They compete in outdoor venues such as stadiums. Drumline is an offshoot of the drum and bugle corps formula. Indoor drumlins have evolved to provide opportunities for skill development in the “off season.” Therefore, Winter Guard International developed as a separate entity from Drum Corps International. Naturally, many young people participate in ensembles from both organizations over time.


Indoor percussion ensembles, or drumlines, may contain colour guards and drill teams, melodic percussion like xylophones and marimbas, a drum kit, electric guitar, and bass guitar.


Monumental Influence On Individuals


Impact Percussion, Canada Day

Precision percussion ensembles have never really been huge in Canada in terms of media exposure, ticket sales and numbers of participants. However, their influence on individuals is monumental. Once you have tasted the excitement and achievement of creating a precise show and taking it into competition with your friends, there’s no getting it out of your blood.

Pearce has taken his love for drumline and put it into action by sharing it with others. First, he moved into instructional roles. Now, he is the founder and director of new groups. A similar pattern can be observed all around Ontario as former drum corps members and interested teachers and musicians take it upon themselves to establish new drumlines. They see the great opportunity for team building, engagement and FUN.
Surprisingly Popular With High Schoolers
An interesting observation from Pearce’s St. Mary’s Crusaders drumline, and also from Burlington’s M.M. Robinson drumline, is that this style of musical performance is really popular with teenagers. They latch onto it and run with it. Dozens of other elementary, middle and high schools across the province are discovering the same fact. There is a large, untapped market of young people who want to do drumline.
The St. Mary’s Crusaders, 2012 ODA Provincial Champions
Senior Concert Class
Pearce also emphasizes that percussion is adaptable to all kinds of skill levels and special needs situations, which is an important aspect of Impact Percussion’s vision. He believes that a community percussion ensemble could be the team of choice for anyone.
Most teens that join drumline are not involved in other school teams or musical groups. Drumline has a unique appeal, and can instantly put a student into a power-packed, demanding performance environment that supports their school teams, school spirit and connects with the community. It also makes them feel good. An extra bonus is that a drumline can become self-supporting through money earned doing parades and performances.
When Pearce started the St. Mary’s Crusaders two years ago, he borrowed $2000 from his school budget, and had paid it back within four months from parade money. The Crusaders had seven members at first, and they first appeared in the Ancaster Heritage Days Parade, then at a Cops and Cats game at the school and in the Dundas Cactus Festival.
If Corey Pearce has anything to do with it, drumline will continue to grow, and expand beyond schools to become more of a community thing. He has started along that path already.
Challenges? No Problem
With over two decades of experience, Pearce has seen some changes in the drum corps movement, which he believes are tied to a corps’ success or struggle. The biggest change has been in the amount of available time teenagers have. Nowadays, most high schoolers are holding down jobs so it’s very significant that they are willing and able to carve hours out of their schedules for drumline. But at the same time, practice has to be intense and extremely worthwhile. Goals need to be attainable, yet challenging. Performance opportunities must abound.
In a situation where many corps are facing declining enrolment, Pearce has been able to get his groups to thrive because of his deeply held belief, as he quotes from his mentor Dave Rowan, “If the kids aren’t having fun, they’re not coming back.”
Cymbals, not Simples!
While getting his groups to work hard, Pearce understands that personal enjoyment, fun and camaraderie are also important. He says, “The Crusaders have taken off as well as they have for a few different reasons. You have to provide an environment where the student performers feel comfortable and safe so they can do things outside their comfort zone to grow as performers and people. A supportive family like environment is needed so they can become a close group of friends … Having individual goals as a performer, such as to learn new rudiments and stick tricks needs to be balanced with full drumline goals to keep everything moving forward.”
Even the youngest member can have an impact
Pearce continues, “The most important factor is you have to make sure everyone is having fun. If you are not having fun doing what you are doing you need to stop!!! People want be around other people that are having fun, you want to watch people who are having fun and really loving what you are doing. and every once in a while you have to do something random to keep the students on their toes!!!”
Entertainment Value Matters
Another trend that Pearce believes shouldn’t be ignored is the move away from the traditional, militant, straight-faced-eyes-front precision. Audiences look for entertainment and surprises, so it is up to a performing drumline to deliver. Precise playing and musical control can be expressed in many ways, and need not be limited to straight rows and stiff upper lips. The ever-evolving Winter Guard International organization offers exciting inspiration as to what is possible in indoor entertainment (see below).
The Crusaders drumline has invented all kinds of creative approaches to entertainment, including break dance routines, drum stick tricks, switching sticks, arm and body gestures, shouting, chants, singing, elastic wrist straps, and bouncing balls hitting drums. The audience loves the surprises.
Crusaders bass drum section in rehearsal
The pursuit of fun doesn’t negate the hard work. It makes it more meaningful. To learn a fifteen minute show takes hours and hours of skill building, drill and preparation. To pick up your show, walk with your instrument, and perform it to an audience three to five kilometres long in any kind of weather (commonly known as a parade) takes physical strength and endurance.
On Canada Day Pearce took Impact Percussion to two parades – Pelham (near Welland) in the morning, and then Stratford in the afternoon. A hot day in uniform with a two hour bus ride in between.
International Perspective
Knowing what is required at the highest levels of drumline competition on the international stage gives credibility to Pearce’s work. He knows what they’re judging at the Michigan Colour Guard Circuit (MCGC) and at the Winter Guard International (WGI) events. With slight chagrin he compares the broad standards of the fledgling Ontario Drumline Association (ODA) to the very specific rules and evaluation sheets of the established drumline jurisdictions. He is hopeful that in time, the ODA will update its adjudication procedures, expectations and rules with input from all the Ontario drumline stakeholders.
“Eyes left!” Pipsqueak alert.
In the meantime, there is no reason for Corey Pearce to be discouraged or hold back. There are plenty of good challenges awaiting his ensembles. They will perfectly mix hard work and fun. Whether it is Canada Day parades, the Dundas Cactus Festival, the Labour Day Parade or a Ti-Cats game, Pearce will have his groups there, bringing a good show to the community.
Twenty Seven Years of Drumline Work
1985-1986 – Cymbal – Ridge Raiders Drum Corps in Hamilton
1987 – Cymbal – Conqueror II Drum Corps in Hamilton
1988-1989 – Bass Drum – Conqueror II Drum Corps in Hamilton
1990-1992 – Quads – Conqueror II Drum Corps in Hamilton
1993 – Quads, Snare, Bass Drum Cymbals – Conqueror II Drum Corps in Hamilton
1994-1995 – Quads – St. Johns Drum Corps in Brantford
1996 – Quads, Timpani – St. Johns Drum Corps in Brantford (Age out year)
1997-1998 – Instructor (Quad Tech) – St. Johns Drum Corps in Brantford
1999 – Instructor (Quad Tech) – St. Johns Drum Corps Brantford and Dutch Boy Drum Corps in Kitchener
2000 – 2001 – Instructor (Quad Tech and Pit Tech) –  Dutch Boy Drum Corps in Kitchener
2002 – Instructor (Quad Tech) – Lake Erie Regiment in Erie PA
2003 – 2005 – Percussion Instructor, Co-Director – St. Johns Drum Corps in Brantford
2007 – Percussion Instructor – HYPE in Hamilton
2008 – 2009 – Director of Percussion – EPIC Percussion in Hamilton
2008 – Front Ensemble – Kingston Grenadiers Drum Corps in Kingston
2009 – Quad Player – Kingston Grenadiers Drum Corps in Kingston
2010 – Director of Percussion, Quad Player – EPIC Percussion in Hamilton
2010 – Percussion Instructor – McMaster University Marching Band, 713 Cadets in Hamilton
2011 – Percussion Instructor – McMaster University Marching Band, 826 Cadets in Hamilton and MM Robinson Percussion in Burlington
2011 – Executive Director – Impact Percussion in Hamilton
2011 – Director, Instructor – St. Mary Crusaders’ Drumline in Hamilton
2012 – Percussion Instructor – McMaster University Marching Band in Hamilton and MM Robinson Percussion in Burlington
2012 – Executive Director – Impact Percussion in Hamilton
2012 – Director, Instructor – St. Mary Crusaders’ Drumline in Hamilton

Impact Percussion website http://www.impactpercussion.ca/


Very useful videos about DCI and WGI:

Winter Guard International http://www.wgi.org/contents/What-is-WGI.html

36 000 participants at the regional level
11 000 participants in national competition
“The Sport of Art”
Drum Corps International http://www.dci.org/about/
8 000 audition for 3 500 positions in top tier ensembles
Closest show to Hamilton: Erie, PA, August 1, 2012
“Marching Music’s Major League”
– GB
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