When I ask people to list some buzz words that describe the Sacramento Mandarins Drum & Bugle Corps (view their GivingEdge profile), they tend to say things like: music, band, drum corps, dance, performing arts, youth activity, nonprofit, Asian heritage. Yet when you ask a person who has marched with the Mandarins, you get a completely different set of words, as if it were a completely different organization.
I marched with the Mandarins for two seasons as a trumpet player, returned as staff for another two years, then interned with the organization. Here are some words that come to mind when I think about the Mandarins: “move with a purpose,” Texas is too hot, 5:32, sock-tan, Arts DoG, and two month old lungs.
photo credit: Keith Sanpei Photo 2014
“Move with a purpose!” I distinctly remember one particular rehearsal in Elk Grove. 45 other brass-line members and I had just finished a particularly hot-and-humid three hour rehearsal block on the football field. I was wearing the usual black gloves (used to protect the horn from the oils in your hands), but of course they were soaked in dirt and sunscreen since I had swatted bugs off my shoulders all day. My hat was discolored from the weeks of sweat build-up, my lips swollen from playing for hours on end, and I was walking to the next rehearsal location (“brass block”) with a particular apathy that can only be summed up as “Why am I doing this?” In fact, we all were.
Once we all moseyed over to our brass instructor, he took one sad look at us, shook his head, and told us to all sit down. He said, “If you don’t learn anything else from drum corps, learn these two things: drum corps is hot, and always move with a purpose.” We all laughed, and so did he, but his explanation is what made the impact on us. “There are some things in life you can’t control – the weather for example. Yes it’s hot. It will always be hot. The summer is hot. On tour, when you’re standing on a turf field in Louisiana, you’ll be thinking, ‘Dang…it’s hot.’ Well, you can’t control the weather, but you can control your attitude and your actions. Rise above it! Run to each set. Run to each rehearsal block. Stand tall, execute with full concentration, play with passion, and persevere. Prove that you can rise above adversity by always moving with a purpose. If you do that, you will always perform at the highest standard.”
That little speech stuck with us for the rest of the season. As I look back, everything that instructor said rang true except for one thing – it wasn’t Louisiana that was too hot, it was Texas. If you ever plan a trip to Texas, don’t go over the summer.
photo credit: Keith Sanpei Photo 2014
Over the next three months, we would travel 10,000 miles together, sleep on gym floors across the county, rehearse up to 12 hours a day, and perform for thousands of spectators, all while forming life-long friendships and learning that we can accomplish much more than we ever thought possible. We were in this together alongside those who marched before us; we were a family. By the end of tour, I was in the best shape I had ever been in. I was able to run a 5:32 mile as well as march two full run-throughs of our 15 minute show and still have the endurance to do another. In fact, all of us lost weight, gained a stark sock-tan, and looked forward to the next season.
After two seasons on visual and brass staff, my collegiate studies brought me into the field of public relations. I was entering my final year before graduating at Sac State and was actively searching for internships. One day, the Mandarins corps director called me up and offered me an internship. Little did I know, that internship allowed me to run my very first social media fundraising campaign (Arts Day of Giving) which made such an impact that I landed a full-time job before graduating.
I also met my wife through the corps! Yep, I marched trumpet and she marched euphonium. In fact, two members of our wedding party were Mandarins, and if I dare say so, my two month old daughter is already showing promise of huge brass-playing lungs. If only she used them during the day…
So what buzz words would I use to describe Mandarins? Fitness, possibility, perfection, opportunity, transformation, and family. The Mandarins is a very special organization and truly embodies their slogan, “Celebrating Youth, Transforming Lives.”