They call themselves “America’s Corps,” and it’s easy to understand why. Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps is representative of everything that is good, everything that is strong, everything that is beautiful about this country.
Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps, according to its website, is “a world-class marching arts organization based in Casper, Wyoming.” It is a competitive drum and bugle corps and Troopers is one of the founding members of Drum Corps International.
Even more than that, Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps is an opportunity for young men and women to come together and learn — about music, about marching and, most importantly, about themselves.
“Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps was started by Jim Jones (not that one) in the fall of 1957,” said Michael Ottoes, the executive director and CEO of Troopers Drum and Bugle Corp, “and they presented their first performances in 1958. They then went on to have competitive performances all over the country. Troopers was one of the first touring drum and bugle corps, because we had to go find other drum corps to compete against, because there weren’t enough in our area.”
And so, the corps was born. But it wasn’t just created to serve as another touring performance troupe. It was created to be a place for young people to grow, to learn and to become the best version of themselves.
“Mr. Jones was in a drum and bugle corps himself when he was young, and he really saw how it made such a strong, positive impact on young people,” Ottoes stated. “So, he wanted to start the same type of thing in Casper. That was his goal — to impact young people in a positive way, show them the world a little bit and teach them the values of hard work and discipline and dedication.”
Troopers is open to young people of all different ages, until they turn 21. The organizers understand how pivotal those years are to adolescents — their minds are growing and forming, their hearts are learning and listening.
Ottoes himself was a part of Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps and he experienced first-hand the lessons, in music and in life, that the opportunity offered.
“I did it for five years,” he stated. “You learn how to work with and get along and reach goals with an extremely diverse group of young people from all walks of life,” he shared. “It’s just all kinds of wonderful people that sign up for this thing to do something really special together. You learn how to find common ground, to reach the goal of being the best that you can. And you learn an incredible work ethic.”
Ottoes stated that participants in the corps work long days that turn into long nights, sometimes working from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. It’s certainly not for everybody. There is an audition process and once an individual is accepted into the corps, that’s when the real work begins.
According to Ottoes, the entire process begins each year in December. Ottoes stated that a lot of young people try out for Troopers, and not all of them are accepted into the program. Those who are, go through a tryout process and then, if they make it, they are contracted and they come to monthly rehearsal camps, where they will come for a weekend and practice about once a month. Then, near the end of May, students and instructional and support staff move into the campus. Students go through the process of learning the music and the marching and the flag work and the dance, and all of the other things that go into the production.
For that month, the participants not only work/play together — they live together, they eat together, they grow up together.
“The human connection that you make with the people that you spend all this time with is literally lifelong,” Ottoes said. “Some of my best friends in the world are people that I was in the Troopers with and they’re still my best friends today. It’s the connection that these young people make with each other and with the adults that support them — that’s the most important thing. Drum Corps boils down to the human connection that we all have, or that we all want to have, and that brings us together to do this year after year.”
It’s that need, that longing, for human interaction that brings these people together and it’s what keeps them coming back year after year. It’s also a competitiveness; that desire to be the best. But they most certainly have to work for it. Nothing is handed to them. They earn every accolade that they receive throughout the year. They work. Hard.
“It’s just a process of hours and hours of learning those things until they perfect it to the best of their ability,” Ottoes said. “And then, we continue to practice daily as we tour, in the hopes of perfecting the show by mid-August, when the world championship is held in Indianapolis, Indiana.”
In between the tryout and the world championship is a very special event that Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps put on, called “Drums Along the Rockies.”
This year, the live event is happening on Friday, July 14 at the Bison Stadium at South High School, beginning at 7 p.m. It will feature The Battalion, Seattle Cascades, Pacific Crest, The Academy and the Casper Troopers.
“It’s a competitive show, meaning that it’s us competing with four other groups, and we’re scored by a group of judges,” Ottoes said. “There are placements given and what the modern Drum & Bugle Corps show is now is very much a production, similar to a Broadway production or something like that. There are costumes and props and microphones. These shows try to tell a story. We try to engage the audience with the music and the movement. It’s loud and it’s exciting. It’s a marching band, but it’s a marching band at a level that is at the very top – this is as high as you can get in the marching arts world. So it’s an exciting thing for us to bring to Wyoming. We’re proud to be from Wyoming and we’re excited for people to see a very impressive group of young people doing amazing things on that field.”
Because that is what the Troopers Drum & Bugle Corps was created to be — something that shows these young people that they can create something truly amazing, something truly beautiful. Even more, it offers them the chance to find the beauty within themselves.
“This organization teaches persistence,” Ottoes shared. “It teaches grit; not just quitting when things get too difficult or too challenging, or when you’re really tired and you just want to give up. We try to teach them that the goals that they’re working towards are worth the effort; they’re worth the uncomfortable part of it, worth the fatigue. It’s worth it to be the best that they can be at this.”
The best of the best will be on display on Friday night, as “Drums Along the Rockies” will feature a myriad of extremely talented young people and their drums, their brass instruments and more.
“This year, we have an actual harmonica player,” Ottoes shared. “He’s a fantastic player that adds a lot to the show and makes it feel very western. So we’ve got the brass instruments, and the percussion instruments, and we have the color guard — which is the flags and the rifles and the sabers.”
It is a beautiful production and it illustrates just how hard these young men and women work throughout the year. While it may not be the championship, it is most certainly the culmination of the months of hard work they put in. It’s a demonstration. It’s an illustration. It’s a celebration and the rest of Wyoming is invited.
When Jim Jones (still not that one) created the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps in 1957, he hoped that it would be something special, but he couldn’t have known what, exactly, it would turn into. And what it has turned into is more than just a marching band, more than just a performance troupe. What Jones created, and what people like Ottoes and others have maintained is something that will stay with these young people forever. It’s something that they can look back on and say, “I did that. I played. I danced. I performed. And I learned so, so much about myself.”
That is the point of Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps — to offer teens and young adults the chance to grow up and learn about who they are and who they can be. It provides a soundtrack to their adolescence. It reminds them that they have support in front of them, behind them and right next to them, marching in time, step-by-step.
“The biggest lesson Troopers teaches is to keep working hard, keep trying, keep striving, keep pushing toward your goals,” Ottoes said. “Even when it’s difficult. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when you’re tired. In the end, it’s always worth it; even on the hard days. It’s always, always worth the effort in the end.”
Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps presents “Drums Along the Rockies” on Friday, July 14 beginning at 7 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps website.
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