Drum Corps Prepares for Memorial Day Parade Marches

After school you might hear the pounding drums providing various beats around the school campus with students marching and playing in unison.  The percussive beats played by Drum Corps provide the cadence the battalion uses to keep in step as Francis Lewis’ Patriot Battalion marched in four different parades on May 28-29 to honor veterans who have sacrificed their lives serving the United States Armed Forces.

“So we [The Patriot Battalion] do four Memorial Day parades,” Army Instructor Captain Deschenes said. “We do three on Sunday, which are Maspeth, Forest Hills, and College Point.  Maspeth is unique in that we also have rifle spinners and a flag folding ceremony as part of the Maspeth community,” 

“Forest Hills doesn’t have anything particularly special, but they do celebrate at the American Legion afterwards and then College Point is the most long and difficult parade that we do,” Captain Deschenes said. “And then the big celebration is at Little Neck. This year we’ve been invited to provide the honor guard for the Wreath Laying Ceremony at the beginning of the parade.  At the end of Little Neck, there’s a huge hotdog and refreshment area for all the performers.”

There can be up to 10,000 attendees at the Little Neck parade alone.

“Sometimes they don’t realize that until after the event, when they see the crowds on the sidewalks cheering for them, or when they see veterans or older family members shake their hands and thank them,” Captain Deschenes added. “Then they realize that the event really meant something to the community and are glad that they participated.”

The process of preparing for these parades stems back from the beginning of the school year.

“It starts from the beginning of the school year,” Drum Corps’ Overall Commander and senior Susana Carrillo said.  “You want to make sure you train the new members well and have them learn the basics before going into the actual beat. Then around the month of April, even before that, you start thinking about how you’re gonna separate parades and take people outside for playing with the actual drums.”

“Then there’s this long process of picking people to see which parade is going to sound the best,” Carrillo said. “So there was definitely some problems.  The issue this year where some parades sounded better than others. Some parades needed more people or they were just like overfilled and we had to just move over people and ask them to move politely. But I think it turned out okay.”

As parade season gets closer, JROTC platoons tend to make marching and drill practice more of a priority.

“During the course of the year we do practice drill and ceremony with our platoons,” Captain Deschenes said. “As we get closer to Memorial day we are also practicing for the Pass in Review, which combines the platoons into larger formations so cadets get used to marching in a larger formation, which is rather challenging. Then of course, we have Drum Corps, Honor Guard, and some members of the drill team that prepare as a team to perform in the parades.”

Challenges and complications can arise when planing these major events, such as the exponential increase of new members after COVID and the amount of practice they receive.

“The most challenging thing right now is making sure our cadets are prepared because we wouldn’t want them to go into these parades and then get yelled at by either battalion or the AI that we don’t sound well or they can’t hear us, or we’re too cluttery or we don’t look good,” Bass Commander and senior Deborah Rodriguez said.  “The last thing I want is for other people to tell my teams that we’re not doing the best we can.” 

Drum Corps practice extends in preparation for the parade season with practice time increasing an extra thirty minutes each day.

“We make sure that we are practicing rigorously, especially on Fridays,” JROTC Drum Corps Commander Melanie Luna said. “Traditionally, Drum Corps practice is from Monday to Thursday, but for parade season we extend practice to include Fridays too.”  

Luna discussed the “privilege” of being in a leadership position during these events.

“Personally, being in Drum Corps I’ve always looked forward to parade season every year,” Luna said. “As a commander, it’s really a privilege to be able to teach all our cadets to understand what it means to be in these parades, highlighting the importance of sounding good and looking good when performing.” 

The challenges of balancing school work and personal life with preparation for the Memorial parades also arises. 

“It’s hard,” Drum Corps member and sophomore Wenika Wu said. “It’s very hard to manage school work and preparation, especially in your sophomore year where tests and very important exams are often happening, but it’s all about time management.  

“You have to understand when to do your homework, when to relax, and even though you have to sacrifice some of your relaxation time sometimes and you have to go to sleep later, you have to definitely find a balance between when you are practicing and when you are studying,” Wu added.

JROTC participates in multiple other parades throughout the year.

“Throughout the year we may have other parades, such as in September we have been traditionally doing the Moon Festival parade, that’s our first parade of the year,” Captain Deschenes said. “Occasionally we have other parades, like in February of this year we did the Lunar New Year parade.  So those are other opportunities for cadets to get in the community and discover that doing a parade is not just an easy walk down Main street; it is a challenge and it is a sacrifice.”

Drum Corps’ bond and motivation is the glue that inspires members and faculty to participate in such important events throughout the year.

“I think the most memorable part during the presentation for the parades is definitely how motivated everyone seems,” Rodriguez said.  “I think throughout our preparation for the parades, everyone’s usually in very high spirits and even though afterwards everyone’s very tired.  It really feels like we have truly made progress within our journey in Drum Corps and we have understood how to play better together and improve ourselves upon that.”