Making the cut: St. Helens High students selected to elite drum corps
For the second year in a row, St. Helens High School marching band and color guard members have been selected to perform with the Seattle Cascades Drum and Bugle Corps, a national touring act hailed as the most prestigious — and rigorous — among pageantry and performing arts in the Pacific Northwest.
Alana Saul, 17 and Shelby Turcotte, 17, both seniors at St. Helens High and best friends, were selected to perform with Seattle Cascades.
Seattle Cascades Drum and Bugle Corps members, which include percussionists and drum majors, color guard performers and brass musicians from ages 14-21 years old, was formed in 1966. Each summer, those few selected to join the corps embark on a national tour that includes gigs in major stadiums, from Washington to Georgia and Pennsylvania, and pretty much all suitable venues in between.
This year's 13,000-mile tour includes 20 stops and culminates in the drum corps world championships Aug. 6-8 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana — home of the Indianapolis Colts.
For Saul, who serves as the head captain of St. Helens High's Color Guard and Winter Guard, this will be her second time touring and performing with Seattle Cascades. But unlike last year at the tour's conclusion, when she was able to settle into a summer routine and prep for her final year of high school, she'll be headed to basic training two weeks later for an entirely new adventure in the U.S. Navy.
"I am very much looking forward to it," Alana Saul said of her pending military service. "I've been looking forward to it for the past year."
She cites her father's service in the Navy, where she intends to work as an aviation electronics technician, as one of her motivations for joining the military.
Saul participated in a three-day camp in December where she vied against 12 other drum corps hopefuls, ultimately notching one of the seven contracts offered from that outing. As a one-year veteran of the drum corps, she said she's looking forward to being surrounded by the inviting atmosphere and collaborative spirit Seattle Cascades offers. And it's no cake walk. In the lead up to the tour, participants put in 12-hour days of rehearsal.
She also knows to avoid some of the emotional pitfalls she fell into the first year.
"I know not to be so hard on myself," she said. "It's OK to fail every once in a while. I know people aren't as judgmental as you think they'll be."
Turcotte, who was unable to attend the December camp, took a different route. She submitted a video audition and was later asked to attend a camp late last month for a face-off with three other contenders.
She aimed modestly. Even though she has been immersed in band and music culture since an early age — she moved to St. Helens midway through her seventh-grade year and was moved up to perform with the eighth graders on her second day — and is an experienced marching band drum major, she sought an assistant role.
While her competitors were seasoned with drum corps experience and performing at a college level, Turcotte, who intends to pursue a career as a band director of a high school program, was tapped as the head drum major.
"I was very shocked," she said. "I did not expect to get head drum major by any means."
Turcotte unabashedly credits St. Helens High's band teacher, Noelle Freshner, as the driving influence that pushed her to take her band and music proficiencies to the highest levels. It was Freshner, she said, who moved her up from seventh grade to play with the eighth graders.
"From then on my passion for music flourished," she said.
In addition to planning on performing with Seattle Cascades for as long as possible, she auditioned last month for the band program at the University of Oregon, where she intends to study music education, and expects to hear back at the end of March. Assuming she makes the cut — and it's a safe bet she will — she'll have a short two-week turnaround after the tour before she'll head off to the Ducks' band camp.
In some ways, the Seattle Cascade Drum and Bugle Corps will serve as a bittersweet finale for the teens' shared experiences through marching band and guard. While others involved in the corps "age out" at 21 — the maximum age for participation in the program — this will be Saul's final tour.
"I will be aging out because of going into the Navy, and it will be very special to me for being my last year," Saul said.
"This is kind of our last-hurrah moment before I go off to college and she goes off to the Navy," Turcotte added. "It's going to be super life-changing."
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