Rising Tides by John Riley: Chapter 2

Rising Tides summarizes the past week of tour with in-depth reviews and interviews of Pacific Crest staff and members. We are grateful to alumnus John Riley for writing these stories!

Oceanside, CA – June 26, 2015

If you’ve been around the corps for any amount of time, you know that in addition to fielding a World Class drum corps every summer, Pacific Crest has also run other programs. Past programs included a winter guard, Snare Camp, and Dance Theater. Maybe you were part of one of these programs years ago. You knew that it wouldn’t be easy and you knew that it would be demanding of your time and energies, but you did it anyway. You knew through it your skills would be refined, but maybe what you weren’t expecting was your character to be challenged and shaped in the face of adversity in one of these smaller programs. And you met people who were there for the struggle and who pushed you farther, simply because of their presence and their sheer unrelenting will to pursue greatness in performance.

The most recently developed education program is led by alumnus, former drum major, and friend, Mark Kveton. Mark began his rookie season as the backfield drum major with Pacific Crest in 2008, the same year I aged out, and he continued on in the drum major role until 2011. He currently works as the Student Leadership Coordinator and the Drum Major Camp Manager for Pacific Crest.

Mark explains a bit about the Pacific Crest leadership philosophy and how he works with the student leaders to prepare them for the new season. Students lead by example, drawing from their past experiences and training, and what naturally happens is a trickle-down-effect from the student leadership to the rest of the drum corps. “We try to develop them as people and as leaders, so that they can take these skills and use them in the drum corps and in other facets of their lives, as well.”

The genesis of the Pacific Crest Drum Major Camp actually originated from conversations that Mark had had with the former drum major and late Zachary Headden – to do a leadership camp for high school students that would look more like an outreach program. Mark also references a class assignment at UCI – where he had to create an event at a non-profit – that gave him the idea to start the camp. He was a performing member when they started this camp, and now the camp is in its fifth year. Our camp focuses specifically on leadership in the drum major role, with most of our attendees coming from Southern California, and others coming from Northern California, Arizona, Texas, Utah, and Nevada.

“In 2011, we started with 26 drum majors and at this camp we had 60! We’ve even had several of those drum majors come and march with the corps, and one of them became a drum major for the corps. One of the cool things that this camp offers is the chance for the camp attendees to conduct the drum corps in groups, which is an opportunity that not a lot of students will get at other camps.” Mark has a bold vision and hope that Pacific Crest can expand the reach of the leadership program to expand these types of camps, with more clinicians in more locations.

His involvement after he aged out is part of what keeps Pacific Crest on the road to maturity. And it’s not just Mark – many alumni of the corps have volunteered their time, energies, skills, and talents on the support staff, K-Crew, administration team, health team, instructional staff, and Board of Directors – all because of the profound experiences they had as participants in this rigorous activity. We have no obligation to give back, but it wouldn’t feel right to not give back to an organization that provided a vehicle for personal growth through performance excellence, suffering in the hot sun as our arms and legs felt like Jell-O and we couldn’t possibly do one more rep. But we did – and we did another rep, and more reps, even when our staff told us it was the “last time” three times. Pacific Crest is so much more than just the member experience, but that’s where it all begins.

Pasadena, CA – June 27, 2015

I still remember my first drum corps show – it was Corps at the Crest in 2002, when it was still being held at Citrus College, before the show venue would be moved to Mt. San Antonio College (Mt. SAC). I was a sophomore at Arcadia High School and a first-year baritone section leader, when my eyes and ears first gazed upon what used to be known as the “Division 1” drum corps. It wasn’t my first exposure to the marching arts world and I knew how good these groups were. I could only dream of how cool it would be to march in one of those groups, someday. Flash forward to Pasadena, CA, at the Rose Bowl today in 2015 where I brought my girlfriend to her very first drum corps show. The lot warm-up left the strongest impression on her as she could see up close and personal the level of precision, unity, focus, and power of the Pacific Crest horn line. As I held her, I could feel her jump and become startled during the tuning sequence when the horns would play cluster chords and raise the volume before resolving again to a unison Bb, then moving to more dissonance, and resolving to a fortissimo unison Bb that hits you like a brick wall of sound.

Those who have performed with a drum corps are no strangers to the rigors of a long rehearsal day and the added responsibilities and pressures of having a show the same day, especially when a bus breaks down on the freeway to the show. You’re often tired and your energy is drained from the day’s worth of rehearsal. The uninitiated outside observer could scarcely imagine that those students who were rehearsing for six hours would later have to perform under the lights a mere hours after rehearsal. All it takes is a shower to wash away the dirt, grime, sweat, and spent sun-block, a pre-show meal, and an air-conditioned bus ride to rejuvenate member energy so that they can throw down the kind of performance where paying fans are graced with the performance excellence showcased from remarkable and talented young performers.

For many of the alumni of Pacific Crest, we all come together to vicariously live out our years as performers by watching and being evermore impressed by the talented members of the current drum corps. Let’s face it, we still check scores, stalk the Pacific Crest Facebook page, and like every photo on the PC Instagram page because we still feel that pull towards what used to do and who we used to be – we used to perform together and live life together on the road. We will never be that young again and we really do miss the rush of performing, the sweat and tears of an emotionally exhilarating show, and the sound of the crowd in a packed stadium as they rise in ovation after the final toss, the final beats, and last release. But the one thing we keep as alumni is the memories, challenges, and joys from marching drum corps that molded us into who we are today. We also just like nerding-out over drum corps stuff, in general.

Mark Kveton loves the home show because, “I can’t go five steps without bumping into someone I know who marched with PC.” He also loves the unity of the alumni as they gather together at the front of the stands when the corps plays Ave Maria with their hands around each other’s shoulders, linking up as a symbol of unity.

Two-year euphonium veteran, David Matter loves playing in front of a home crowd and hearing them go nuts for Pacific Crest. Alumni presence is inspiring to members – David speaks for the PC membership: “I’ve seen a lot of different alumni during warm-ups and whenever we play Ave Maria, its cool to see them [the alumni] crowd to the front and to see them get emotional whenever we play it.”

Part of the reason that makes the home show such a special event is being able to catch up with friends you marched with but don’t get to see all that often – and many times, the home show is one of two days out of the year that we get to see each other amidst our busy lives. Alumnus Russell Helmstedter marched with the corps from 2004-2007, and I always love catching up with this guy. “I try to donate to the corps as much as I can and am on the monthly donor list. I know what my experience was like and I want to continue to give that experience to new members.” Russell admits that in the future, he would love to be in a position where he is able to give back more of his time to the corps, but for now it is his financial contribution to the drum corps that is his way of saying, ‘Thank-You’ to Pacific Crest and affording the members to advance beyond what we could ever do.

Sergio Mendez played trumpet in 2008, 2009, and 2011 – finishing in 2013 on baritone, and Brittany Kaplanek was a member of the color guard in 2007, 2008, and 2011. When I asked both of them why they continue to keep coming back to support Pacific Crest, they both answered, “It’s where home is,” and Sergio elaborates, “Home is where the heart is – the drum corps becomes more than just a drum corps and becomes an ever expanding family.” They met and became friends in 2008 and then in 2011 started going out. “When we met in 2008, we became best friends and it was just destiny from there that we were meant to be together.” But Brittany also warns to make sure that you connect on other levels besides drum corps, if it is your intention to be a couple beyond the scope of tour. Sergio keeps it positive by adding, “When you face difficulties in your relationship, you can go back to the roots of your relationship and why you fell in love with the other person – it’s the beginning of that strong friendship that you can always go back to, when you were not at your best – hot, sweaty, in grungy-grimy clothes, and smelly…” Brittany adds with laughter, “But we were tan and skinny.”

Adrian Rivas started with the corps as a charter member in 1993 and performed here until 1997. He served as the drum major his last two years. He currently serves on the Board of Directors, the visual staff, and sometimes works with the drum majors and student leadership. What kept him coming back as a member was the atmosphere and the level of professionalism in the organization, with the nucleus of the instructional staff being all his former music instructors at Diamond Bar High School – Dale Leaman, Stuart Pompel, Greg Rochford, Lisa Rochford, and Tim Bryan. “At the time, Diamond Bar was this monster band with over 200 people and PC was seen as this rinky-dink corps, but the level of professionalism was incredibly high and sometimes you get more out of being in a small ensemble versus a large ensemble.”

He mentions that as an instructor when you’re fresh out of marching, sometimes your motivation is to go out and clean really cool drill, but what changed for him and keeps him coming back over the years is being able to work with the kinds of members that Pacific Crest brings – the kind of members that have a drive, want to do something excellent, and want to do something beyond the high school or college level. “There’s a kind of level of maturity that a lot of people are talking about that is really unique and cool to see this year with Pacific Crest. We tell the kids to push their staff so we don’t have to push them, and that’s what’s actually been happening this year and it’s a really cool thing – and according to drum corps legend, those are the groups that really excel.”

The family at Pacific Crest is so much bigger than the current performing membership and active volunteers. There’s a whole host of people who have been involved from the beginning behind the scenes and through the present day. The family at Pacific Crest truly is larger than what you think it is.

I’ll let Russell’s words of encouragement speak to the current membership: “It absolutely matters what you do all day long. If you give up reps – when you’re tired, thirsty, or sweaty – it absolutely matters. Something changed my age-out year, where I tried as hard as I could on every single repetition, I could feel the difference in my performance and the people around me could feel it and that made all the difference.”

The corps is in their final week in California, see them now before they leave the state!
Visit http://www.pacific-crest.org/calendar