Spokane Thunder ready for five-state march

If you’ve been around Centennial Middle School in Spokane Valley the last two weeks, you may have noticed a lot of activity.

There are drummers, horn players and dancers with flags and other props from early in the morning until the sun goes down.

All-day rehearsals for the Spokane Thunder Drum and Bugle Corps have been going on since June 19.

“All-days essentially are the intense last-minute push to get your show cleaned and learned,” said associate director James Layman. The corps is gearing up for an eight-city tour through Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and California. They leave today for their first stop: Hillsboro, Ore.

They will compete against other corps of the same size, performing a 10-minute show which they have learned over the past two weeks.

This year there are about 41 members ages 14 to 21. For many of them, it’s a first time away from home. While traveling, they stay at schools, sleeping on the gym floors and showering in the locker rooms. Often, the schools they stay in have shut off the hot water for the summer months so those showers are cold.

On top of the spartan living arrangements and being away from home, it’s hard work. Each morning, the horns, drums and color guard sections split into groups to work on all aspects of the show. During the hot afternoon, they meet on the football field to go over the visuals – where they are standing, what moves to make and moving and playing at the same time. After dinner, everyone will rehearse the show from the beginning. They do this outside, whether it’s raining, hailing or roasting in the hot sun.

Layman said the staff warns parents they could get phone calls from their kids, wanting to come home. It’s only natural, given their circumstances, but if they stay it is worth it. Many members of any drum corps will tell you that they love it and hate it more than anything they will ever do. They love it for the performances, the lessons they learn, the fun they have and the friendships that will last them a lifetime. They hate it for the heat, cold showers, gym floors, long trips away from their family and friends, and exhaustion.

Even the members of the corps who live in Spokane are staying at the school. Layman said it’s a great way to get to know each other and feel like you are a part of the group.

“On Friday, I broke down and cried,” said Corissa Matina, 21, of Kaysville, Utah. Matina is one of five members of the color guard marching in a drum corps for the first time. And the last. Since she is 21, she won’t be eligible to march next year, so she’s enjoying it while she can.

She said being in drum corps is more intense than marching in her high school and college marching bands. They have learned their whole show in just one week, as compared to similar groups who spend months on their shows.

“The pace is a lot quicker,” she said.

Morgan Mullins, 18, of Knoxville, Tenn., is also marching in the color guard for the first time. One of her instructors in her home state told her about Spokane Thunder and she decided to give it a try.

“It’s been fun,” she said, while she nursed a tear in her ankle muscle. She was sitting out for a day this week to get her foot healed up to continue to march.

Mullins is looking forward to going on tour.

“A change of scenery would be great,” she said.

Layman, 26, is no stranger to the world of Thunder. A graduate of Central Valley High School, he marched in the corps in 2004. He said he was never tempted to join a larger corps because he liked the familial feel of the Thunder.

“I just wanted to stay with this one,” he said. He went on to Eastern Washington University and now teaches elementary school band.

The lessons the members will learn this summer are invaluable. They get some independence and learn lessons of hard work.

“You can have fun and work hard at the same time,” Layman said.

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