How drum corps can help you in the real world

by Jin Nguyen

This article was originally published in the June 1, 2007 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 36, Number 3).

Last year, I attended a job interview where the company was primarily interested in one thing: could I, on a consistent basis, handle the constantly trying lifestyle that comes with the job title? I was told that the job involved frequent traveling and extended periods of time away from home.

Among other things, they stressed the importance of my ability to lift heavy equipment for up to 12 hours a day in extreme weather conditions wearing less than breezy uniforms. Most importantly, they questioned my ability to work under these extreme conditions in a team-oriented environment to achieve common goals.

At this point, I laughed and described my experience over the years in drum corps. That moment would mark the beginning of my career.

My name is Jin Nguyen and I currently work offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. I never thought I would find a world so similar in an industry which could likely serve as the complete antithesis to drum corps. You eat, sleep and work together with approximately 100 people who treat you like family. In some instances, it’s standard to be offshore for weeks at a time, but just like marching season, you get a long break when you come home.

Instead of my marching uniform and shako, I don flame-retardant coveralls and a hard hat. Every morning while I’m dressing, I feel the same sense of satisfaction as I would before a show; however, there is one significant difference between the football field and the oilfield. You’re compensated generously for your efforts.

Obviously, there are considerable differences between my job and drum corps, but the sense of fraternity and community is analogous. Do you remember leaning along the side of the food truck while waiting for lunch, daydreaming, only to realize you had no idea what day it was?

What about when the letter from home was the first you heard of any news, regardless of the fact that the story had hit the headlines weeks ago? The interest in the “outside” world fades as your loyalty to the corps grows. Similarly, while you are on a rig, you pay little mind to the rest of the world. Temporarily, the rig becomes your niche — your home — and the crew becomes your family.

Though your family rests heavy in your heart, the importance of your life on the rig dominates your thoughts and feelings and, even though I admit it’s been a while since I’ve been on tour, I still vividly recall my instructors telling us, “We live and die together.” In other words, we will succeed together, or we will fail together. The same is true for me now, although in this field, “failing” is much less of an option. Instead of leaving without your medal, you could leave without your job . . . or finger.

Working in the oilfield is not just my job, it’s my lifestyle. Like drum corps, the lifestyle is not for everyone, and that, in fact, is the number one reason why people leave the oil industry. They quit because they took the chance, because they didn’t know if they could handle the way of life before they dove in head-first (sound familiar?). Drum corps, for this reason, played a huge role during the interviewing process for my current job and permanent career.

My background ensured that I was prepared for the stress and constant tests, along with proving that I had the work ethic that is no less than a necessity to survive successfully on the road ahead. It only makes sense that a drum corps veteran would be more likely to succeed than someone without that experience that I personally have yet to find any other decent comparison for. Because of that, it is a clear fact that anyone with that experience would have an advantage over those who do not.

I’m not implying that everyone in drum corps should drop their plans and sign up to work offshore with oil on their clothes and the salty wind chapping their faces. At the end of the summer, most will go back to a very emotionally rewarding life of teaching high schools or hitting the books, trying to hustle to finish their degrees in education. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with that.

I almost went in that direction and did, in all actuality, for years. However, I imagine drum corps veterans as the kind of people who prefer working outdoors. They enjoy activities that allow them to travel around the country and escape from the realities of normal life; they long for a challenge and strive to reach their goals no matter the difficulty. Drum corps members may not be the typical poster who craves materialism, but I am positive that the benefits from the tremendous wealth in the oil industry could prove an outstanding aid in life.

In my case, the monetary aspects of the job would have allowed me to march four more years. Let’s face it, the majority of us don’t have bills pouring out of our wallets and it’s a well-known fact that marching can be a very expensive activity. If it weren’t for the generous donations from drum corps patrons, I might not have had the opportunity to march any years at all.

I remember waking at six in the morning, marching 14 hours a day, sweating in the hot (and   sometimes cold) weather and waking up in a new place every day, only to find myself doing the same thing again and again and again. And I remember asking, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could actually get paid to do this stuff? Wouldn’t it be nice . . .”

I mean, we work harder than most people do in a full-time job, or even in their entire lives at any given time. “Why are we paying for this?” Of course, this is a ridiculous question. As long as people continue to enjoy the experience, they will keep doing it for free; they would empty their pockets and a lot of the time do, just for that incomparable satisfaction that you get from working hard to attain a personal goal.

The real question we should be asking is, “How can we use this experience to get paid?” I’ve found my outlet, perhaps you should consider yours.

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Jin marched bass drum with the Blue Knights in 1996; Phantom Regiment in 1999 and 2001; and Carolina Crown in 2003.