An Early Heat Wave Upsets the Rhythm of Life in the South



Emily Cochrane reported from Daphne, Ala.
July 1, 2023

The drum line stood beneath a canopy of trees and rattled through rolls of sextuplets, with reddened shoulders glistening. As the sun blistered the parking lot, rows of trumpet, tuba and mellophone players marched back and forth, wiping sweat from their foreheads at the end of each passage of music.

Temperatures here in Daphne, Ala., had climbed past 90 degrees, and the humidity made it feel at least 10 degrees hotter. Yet even as a record-breaking heat wave seared most of the American South this week, the members of the Southwind Drum and Bugle Corps chose to push on, not wanting to miss a moment of the intensive camp they had been waiting all year for.

“The heat has gotten me once or twice this season,” said Gracie Binns, an 18-year-old member of the color guard. “It’s kind of worn me down already.” But, she added, “I like the challenge of it.”

On the sprawling campus of Daphne High School, near Mobile, there was no question the heat felt worse this year. The musicians kept one another updated with heat index readings and data on how quickly the sun might burn them. Just days into a three-week camp, sunburns had begun to blister, and awkward tan lines marking socks, watches, sleeves and shoe straps were deepening.

This stretch of summer is crucial for Southwind, one of 40 marching ensembles that compete under Drum Corps International, which has maintained the nation’s post-World War I tradition of civilian drum and bugle corps. Tuition for the entire year, including lodging, uniforms, food and travel during practice and to each competition, is about $4,200.

After months of auditions and more scattered practices during the winter months, these weeks are the opportunity for the musicians to drill down on the intricacies and precision of a roughly 10-minute medley and its accompanying choreography on a football field.

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