Jon Mark Beilue: A Blue Devil of a Time

Aug. 29, 2019

A Blue Devil of a Time

WT's Lancaster earns spot with elite drum corps, wins gold

By JON MARK BEILUE

Dakota Lancaster had a contrabass bugle on his shoulder, his heart was racing, his focus was razor sharp. He was one of 154 in sync on the field that day, with a near capacity crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on hand.

The stadium hosted Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. In effect, this was another one.

“It’s like the Super Bowl or the Olympics of marching bands,” Lancaster said. “You are the best of the best. To achieve something like that, in the moment, it was amazing. I’ve tried to stay very humble because it’s a humbling experience to be in this group. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Lancaster, 21, is a music education and composition major at West Texas A&M University. But this summer, he was a member of the Blue Devils, which is to drum corps what the Duke Blue Devils have been to basketball.

On Aug. 10, the Blue Devils won their 19th championship in the Drum Corps International World Championships while competing in the highest division. Lancaster was one of three WT band members who earned a spot on an elite drum corps but the only one to come away with a gold medal.

“College marching bands don’t compete against each other like in high school,” said Dr. Michael Johnson, professor and instructor in the WT School of Music. “You can take a high school band and compete with others in Texas or in other states, but in the college world, it’s just not possible. You cannot go any higher than DCI when it comes to marching bands.”

Lancaster, a graduate of Junction High School, 140 miles west of Austin, plays tuba in the WT marching band. He had played with the Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps out of San Antonio in 2018 but called it a rough year. He was looking for something on a resume that would one day catch an employer’s attention, and he turned his focus to the best, the Blue Devils.

The first audition was at Taylor High School in Katy, west of Houston, in December. Those who made the cut advanced to the call back in January in Concord, Calif., in the Bay Area, and home to the Blue Devils.

“I didn’t know what to expect at the audition,” Lancaster said, “but through my experience in marching, I’d learned some things and knew how to move my body. Some of the things I hadn’t done before, but knew naturally through experience and watching. A lot is watching and doing.

“They want to see how fast you adapt. They want to see how teachable you are.”

In a ranking system of 3, 2 and 1, Lancaster got a 1 and was invited to Concord the next month. He left to return to WT knowing he had one of the 154 spots secured.

Dakota Lancaster

*Dakota Lancaster, a WT student, was a member this summer of the Blue Devils, a drum corps that won the Drum Corps International world championships in Indianapolis. Lancaster plays the euphonium.

Physical demands were intense

It is a sacrifice in many ways to be in a world class drum corps, financially and in other ways. It costs roughly $3,900 with about $2,400 going to tuition and fees. The 2019 Blue Devils also met in Concord for weekend camps in February and April.

Then, from Memorial Day until the August championships, Lancaster was in Concord where they practiced and toured. About 20 shared an Airbnb. The physical demands were intense to prepare for the challenging 12-minute precision routines.

“With the Blue Devils, it’s about taking care of your body,” he said. “If you’re not hurting and you’re fit, you’re able to function at a much higher level.

“There’s always a wall at some point you usually have to break through – emotional, mental, your body hurts so bad you want to quit. But the way the program is designed, that can’t happen because you’re taking such good care of yourself.”

From Aug. 8-10 in Indianapolis, Lancaster and the Blue Devils were among 28 competing in the world class division. The rounds cut teams to 18, then 12, and eventually to the finals.

Two other WTU students and band members marched with other drum corps. Malik Boyd played trumpet with the Cavaliers, who were fifth, and Jonathan Strahan played euphonium with Carolina Crown, who were fourth.  

“A drum corps may win by .34 of a point, something like that,” said Johnson. “It’s so intense and so close. Just a few hundredths of a point can separate first from third.

“The quote is ‘it’s like marching band on steroids.’ And they do things that seem almost physically impossible and they do it carrying horns.”

The 154-member drum corps consists of a front ensemble, percussion, brass and color guard. It could seem like marching on a high wire knowing just a few slips could be crucial, but Lancaster won’t let his mind go there.

“It’s almost to the point you can’t think how close it is,” he said. “You just have to focus on yourself and how can I be the best Blue Devil I can be, and can we get a competitive edge.”

The Blue Devils won the gold medal and DCI Founders Trophy with 98.325 points, edging the Bluecoats’ 98.238. Santa Clara Vanguard was third with 96.600 points.

“The experience of performing the show was just incredible,” said Lancaster, who has one more year with the Blue Devils. “After the finals performance, you almost didn’t care if you were first or second because it was the best show we could put on. I was the best I could be that night, and it was all I could give.”

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu.

—WTAMU—


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