'Dr. Byron' Can Wait - One More Summer Wearing a Crown
The last time Byron Marciniak took the field at Tiger Stadium, in Bentonville, people were chanting his name. It was a unique and special feeling for someone who has made countless appearances under the lights on football fields at high school, college and professional sports stadiums. He'd been on the Tiger Stadium field many times before - but it was never quite like this. He was back home.
Marciniak is part of a special breed - spending his summers living in a bus, sleeping on gym floors and spending 10 to 12 hours a day in pursuit of perfection. He's a member of the prestigious Carolina Crown drum corps, playing baritone with a group of 150 other talented musicians, all between the ages of 16 and 22.
A lifelong resident of Benton County and a 2014 graduate of Bentonville High School, Marciniak will return to Bentonville Tuesday night for one last hurrah on his home field. Marciniak and Crown will take part in the 2017 installment of Music on the Move, a Drum Corps International (DCI) sanctioned competition featuring eight corps from across the country in its World Class division. Music on the Move is one of 19 competitions Crown will take part in leading up to the DCI World Championships next month. Now in his third season competing in the DCI circuit, this will be Marciniak's second appearance at Music on the Move, the first with the Chicago-based Cavaliers in 2014.
While most of the musicians in DCI tend to be aspiring music teachers, that's not the case with Marciniak. He's studying biology as part of a pre-med program at the University of Arkansas. Spending summers in drum corps won't benefit his career, but he believes it will give him some life skills that translate well.
"Medical schools like it," Marciniak says of taking part in drum corps. "You spend 10 to 12 hours a day rehearsing." And, that's the type of focus you must have to become a surgeon, as he hopes to do. "It's about precision. You're continually seeking perfection," he said, adding "it's the small details that make the big details happen" both on the field and in the operating room.
It's Nothing Like High School or College
Marciniak took a liking to marching as part of the Bentonville Pride, just as it was beginning to build its competitive marching program. But when he attended Music on the Move in 2012, it was then he knew this was something he needed to experience. "It's as near perfection as you can get with this activity," he said.
In addition to being part of the Bentonville Pride, Marciniak was also a member of the University of Arkansas Razorback Marching Band during his first two years of college, before stepping aside to focus more heavily on preparing for the MCAT exam and his career. But while performing on the field for your school is exhilarating, it just can't compare to being part of Crown.
"Kids are there for a different reason," than in school-based bands, Marciniak said. "Everyone has to be the best they can be. They are paying money - a lot of money - to take part" in a drum corps unit, and the people in the stands at a DCI competition "are there specifically to see you. You're not the halftime entertainment."
Rivalries are strong on the DCI circuit, but you wouldn't necessarily know it at the shows. Drum corps are typically very complimentary of one another at competitions, although Marciniak says there are sometimes some choice words for other groups based on outcomes. If there was one thing he could change about the DCI culture, it would be the a wider acceptance of the less prestigious corps.
"Some of the corps get looked down upon," he said. "That's wrong. No matter what corps you're in, everyone is working just as hard... it's about performing and affecting the people through your show and having them enjoy being there."
A Grueling Schedule
Only elite musicians and marchers are selected to take part in the corps that compete in the DCI World Class division. Carolina Crown is a perennial powerhouse, finishing third nationally last year - less than a point behind the winners in the World Finals Championship competition. There is a commitment of time and money, but also to a lifestyle.
There is a month-long training camp to prepare for the show season. The members are up by 8 a.m., rehearsals begin at 9, with blocks of playing and marching exercises continuing until 10 p.m. most days, with two meal breaks. Lights are out at midnight.
That schedule seems easy once show season begins. Each day is built around the need to travel, rehearse and perform. There is a pursuit of perfection, but it is done with little accommodation for proper sleep.
After any given show, the drum corps will pack their gear, load their trucks and buses and hit the road, driving through much of the night to the next stop on their summer journey. Most nights, they will arrive at a school gymnasium or similar facility between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. where they will bed down for the night on the gym floor.
"For every hour we spend on the bus, a general rule of thumb is we get 30 minutes of 'floor time,'" sleeping in the gym, said Marciniak.
They're awake and up by 8 a.m., or maybe 9 - unless the schedule dictates something else. On a South Carolina to Florida swing last week, Marciniak said the buses rolled in at 7:45 a.m., an hour before a mandatory rehearsal at Walt Disney World. Rehearsal days leave little down time. Show days include four to five hours of visual and music rehearsals ahead of the evening event.
For a musician, playing an instrument that many hours in a day can tire out their mouth muscles, leading to lower quality sounds coming from their instruments. Marciniak acknowledges that can be a challenge at times, but they do build up their endurance. "We are used to extreme activities. We are asked to have extreme mental focus for 12 hours a day."
This Year's Show
In competitive marching, each show is carefully written and choreographed. Changes are made throughout the competition season with new elements and effects being added, and what's still to come is a closely guarded secret. Many drum corps want to have a new "wow factor" to add in for the World Championship Finals.
Marciniak promises people coming to Music on the Move Tuesday night will see most of Carolina Crown's show, but there are still some things being added to the show to make it even better.
"It's powerful. It's artistic. It's fast paced," he said
Crown's show is entitled "It is." Marciniak describes the idea behind the show as "deconstruction." It begins with music and elements that are very common within drum corps shows. Throughout the show, the viewer's perspective evolves, including reassembling yard lines on the football field, before transitioning into something more and more contemporary and, as Marciniak calls it: "borderline crazy."
"You think you know what you're about to watch, but you really have no idea," he said.
This year's Crown show includes a vocalist, something that has not typically been seen in DCI shows. Marciniak acknowledges some people haven't warmed to the concept, because it deemphasizes the instrumental sounds that have made Crown a force to be reckoned with.
He admits he was skeptical originally, but "we've still got the best brass line in DCI... and we're still playing," adding the vocals "really add to the general effect of the show."
"It goes back to deconstruction," he said. It's not something traditional, nor expected.
But perfection is.
"I'm not sure the perfect show is achievable," Marciniak states, but throughout the year he and the other members of Crown refine the details. "I try to make this phrase perfect (today) and each day pick a new thing to make perfect."
"Nothing can be perfect, but we can get as close as we possibly can," with the goal of perfection at Finals, he said.
This is Marciniak's third year in drum corps competition. He took last summer off to fulfill some academic requirements for his major and, to some degree thought he was done with marching. This is the last year he is eligible to be part of DCI before "aging out."
When audition time was coming around, someone asked him if 30 years from now he would regret not marching in the last year of drum corps. After much thought, he had to say "yes." His life would be put on hold for the summer for one last tour with the Carolina Crown.
Marciniak recognizes he's blessed to have his supportive parents, Susan and Douglas Marciniak, who have made it financially possible for him to take part in corps while still managing the costs of going to college.
"I missed the people last year and wanted to be part of the best drum corps," he said, although he admits he did have some explaining to do to his long-time girlfriend who - after already enduring one summer of him on tour in 2015 - thought he would be staying in Northwest Arkansas this summer, not back living out of a bus.
Having a show at Tiger Stadium is extra special. Marciniak loves to perform - it's part of the allure of being in the drum corps program.
"I love being part of something better than myself," he said. Drum corps, as an activity, is about telling a story and, hopefully, "making a difference in other people's lives."
It's rare that his family is able to attend Marciniak's shows and he knows family and friends will be watching, and it will be the only time over the summer he'll get to see them.
"It will be a different vibe for me," he said. "They're going to be looking for me. It's exciting to know they they're there for you, as a performer."
And, probably, chanting his name.