by Michael Carlson, DCW staff
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Upstart Genesis Drum & Bugle Corps is on pins and needles preparing for April’s DCI evaluation and approval to join the Open Class line-up, from which will come a new beginning for the community and youth of the Rio Grande Valley in Southern Texas.
For decades the Lone Star State has played host to many of the nation’s elite marching band programs. Over the past several years this wealth of talent has caught the attention of DCI and its member organizations. As a result, Texas now hosts nine nights of DCI’s hottest summer competition, with DCI Premier Events in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, as well being the home base for three major drums corps.
Despite this surge of activity, the Genesis team feels the talent base is strong enough to grow another successful organization.
“Being at least four hours travel from any other group makes it feel like we are, at times, from another state other than Texas,” notes Executive Director Chris Magonigal. “And that goes to show how large this state is and its ability to be home to several organizations.”
Magonigal, along with Aaron Sandoval and Robert Flores, not only saw the opportunity for a drum corps in South Texas, but for something much more.
“After spending many years working for other drum corps and seeing how other groups pull from this community, my partners and I felt it was time for the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to have a group to call its own.”
Magonigal is quick to point out their current and future success is embedded in being a community-based organization.
“We knew that, given time and support, this group was going to be the start to something bigger than all of us.
“We truly believe this community will prosper with the organization being part of it and it could one day be a stop along the DCI summer path and we felt it all starts with successfully providing this outlet for it to grow from. A Genesis.”
Hence the name, Genesis.
The staff of 18 educators is comprised of 15 members with extensive drum corps experience, which includes prior membership with the Bluecoats, Blue Knights, Carolina Crown, The Cavaliers, Crossmen, Madison Scouts, Phantom Regiment and Revolution.
“With 13 of these staffers being music educators in the State of Texas, it is one of the most well-rounded and experienced staffs I have been around.”
As any first-season corps will readily point out, even under the best of conditions life is not without its challenges. But as Genesis learned, these issues not only provide teaching points, they can also identify the depth of support.
The corps’ home is nestled in the southern tip of the Lone Star State, which by its isolation could lend itself to unique recruiting difficulties.
The Rio Grande Valley is populated with a number of small towns, but is several hours away from the next major city.
“Actually this has assisted us greatly both in recruiting as well as support,” notes Magonigal.
At approximately 70 members already, attendance is exceeding everyone’s expectations and they will see further growth in April as they put the color guard together.
So, what is their mainstay recruiting effort?
“The main challenge being patience. It took time and effort in visiting schools and networking with the community to build a solid membership and understanding to what drum corps really is and how it will influence and benefit our youth.
“There have been several band directors in the area who marched in other groups and understand how difficult it was then, and still is, for students in the Rio Grande Valley to march.
“We are now starting to benefit from the awareness of Genesis and the membership openings are closing with greater numbers each camp.”
Putting musical equipment in the hands of the performers is another major obstacle coming off the blocks.
“You are right, the equipment issue is pretty significant to say the least. With the tremendous community involvement . . . we have been able to acquire a major amount of our equipment through the local schools and businesses.
“In addition to our pending lease of front ensemble equipment, we have been able to fund-raise for the purchase of battery equipment from Mapex.
“Our brass instruments have been a little more challenging. One of our major sponsors, Texas Band and Orchestra, has been very open to our needs and we are currently working on a three-year plan for acquiring a full line, starting with high brass this season.”
The 2010 production, “One Night in the Valley,” pulls a page right out of a Stan Kenton playbook, which includes two drum corps classics — La Suerte de los Tontos and Malagueña.
“This season we wanted to bring a Latin influence into our production to allow our members to enjoy their first season and to convey a sense of pride. With an 85-percent Mexican-American membership, we wanted to allow the members the educational experience of Latin jazz music while providing excitement in what they are performing.”
And where does Genesis see its musical direction going in the future?
“I do not forsee a focused musical direction for Genesis, rather, a community identity with a wide range of influences,” explains Magonigal.
“From the outset of this project our major focus was to ask ourselves, ‘what would the members and community want to see?’
“We intend to bring this philosophy to our future in allowing the members and staff the opportunity to help choose the production. We want to cover the spectrum of music and visual nuances that will broaden the educational experience for our students.”
Terms like committed, giving back, involvement, pride and prosper are common references to the drum corps environment, but in the Genesis lexicon, it’s the focus of their relationship with the Rio Grande Valley.
“The biggest thing is, these members and staff have really bought into the group and understand it will be a challenge to build a long-lasting, competitive group in their community.”
Their community-centric consciousness has resulted in 90 percent of the marching members being from the high schools and colleges throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
“We are committed to serving and being a representative of this community and, therefore, will be looking at a majority of Rio Grande Valley membership each season,” says Magonigal. “That is not to say our group is not open to everyone — as we have several members from outside the region, areas such as Dallas, Lubbock, Houston and we even have a member from Mississippi.”
Genesis is one of approximately five organizations looking to make it into this season’s Open Class competitive line-up.
They are scheduled to go through the final phase of the evaluation process toward the end of April.
“We are all very excited for this camp and the support has been tremendous. All the kids, staff and parents are really looking forward to meeting with the evaluator and to show how far we have come in such a short amount of time.”
What’s in store for the young corps beyond April?
“Of course, it all depends on our evaluation and how DCI views us in the competitive arena; however, we strongly believe we have a great group and a strong foundation,” says Magonigal proudly. “As a whole we feel we are ready for the championship week experience no matter the placement in the end.”
Reaching back to the original premise of the drum corps activity, Chris Magonigal and the Genesis team are revisiting old-time drum corps values to ensure a long-lasting success.