Mark Richardson of Tempe calls it the Marine Corps version of marching band. For the 135 members of The Academy Drum and Bugle Corps, the extreme musical experience is their life.
They practice long hours daily in the heat at the Tempe Sports Complex. They compete against the best drum corps from around the world. And they travel by bus and sleep on high school and college gym floors between competitions throughout the country.
“Most of these kids have an affinity for music, and they’re looking for the opportunity to do a musical challenge at an extreme level,” said Richardson, executive director of the Arizona Academy of the Performing Arts, which oversees corps.
“They are all desiring the highest level of achievement.”
The musicians, ranging in age from 16 to 22, are some of the best of the best. They have at least three years’ experience in marching bands, and many were leaders in their high school bands.
Brett Hochhalter of Gilbert, a drum major and conductor in the corps, is in his third year with the group.
“It’s so much more than just music,” said Hochhalter, 19, a graduate of Tempe’s Marcos de Niza High School. “The academy teaches you how to carry yourself and how to work as a team. It’s such a great atmosphere.”
The nonprofit group started competing in 2004.
Cori Heaps of Ahwatukee Foothills has been a color guard member for three years.
“I chose this organization because it’s so classy here. They teach you how to be a better person,” said Heaps, 21, a graduate of Ahwatukee Foothills’ Mountain Pointe High School and a Mesa Community College veterinary technician student.
The group has practiced every weekend since January and began practicing daily once school ended from about 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on the fields of the Tempe Sports Complex. After Saturday’s drum corps competition at Glendale Community College, the musicians will hit the road and perform in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana and Wisconsin.
They compete in the Drum Corps International World Championships the week of Aug. 6 in Madison, Wis.
Drum Corps contest
What: Southwest Corps Connection II, a drum corps competition Where: Glendale Community College stadium, 6000 W. Olive Ave. When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday Cost: $15 to $35 Information: (480) 838-4203 or