Student marching bands from across the nation will high step into McKinney to compete in the latest leg of the 50th annual Drum Corps International (DCI) competition. 

A total of six marching band teams from Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, California, South Carolina and Texas step out at 8 p.m. tonight at McKinney ISD Stadium. 

DCI’s annual competition brings together some of the best marching bands and features dancers and musicians aged 17-21 for a chance to earn enough points for the DCI Founders Trophy. Since this year marks the 50th annual tournament, the competitiveness is at a fever pitch. 

Dean Cimini, the president of the McKinney non-profit Marching Music Made that helped DCI organize tonight’s showdown, says the six drum corps teams consisting of over 1,000 participants are awarded points from professional judges from match to match. As of now, three-and-a-half points separate the first from the sixth place team. 

“This is truly like a Broadway show,” Cimini says. “Some of the marching bands will walk between a mile-and-a-half to two miles during the show.” 

The McKinney tournament is also on the “back swing” of a DCI Texas tour that’s taken teams across the state and the midpoint of the entire season to compete before a panel of judges. Meticulous scores are awarded based on categories such as visual arts, brass and percussion performances and overall performances.  

“This match [in McKinney] is really important,” Cimini says. “We had the midpoint competition in San Antonio and now they’ve only got three weeks to the finals in Indianapolis.” 

Tonight’s McKinney competition will feature performances by the Blue Stars from La Crosse, Wis. Carolina Crown from Fort Mill, S.C., the Colts from Dubuque, Iowa, Genesis from Austin, Tex. Phantom Regiment from Rockford, Ill. and the Santa Clara Vanguard from Santa Clara, Calif. Cimini also noted that 12 participants are students from McKinney schools. 

“Texas is one of the top resources for drum corps — especially in drum lines,” Cimini adds.

The musical performances range from classical to modern hits like Sergei Prokofiev’s War and Peace Symphonic Suite and Ballad of an Unknown, Meetings Along the Edge by Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass, Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler and Kashmir by Led Zeppelin. 

Each team’s 11-minute performance encompasses a theme with hand-picked songs and choreographed numbers. Austin’s Genesis, for instance, will perform a theme based around the classic Wizard of Oz story called “Dorothy: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” with songs made famous by Jethro Tull, Elton John and Britney Spears as well as some original tunes by local composers like Key Pouland and Mike Huestis. 

The McKinney tournament kicked off on Monday night with drum corps performances at Tupps Brewery. Cimini says tickets are already sold out for the main event tonight at McKinney ISD Stadium with 5,000 fans planning to attend. 

Says Cimini, “The way I describe this is it’s marching band meets a Broadway show in 11-minute, energetic performances that stimulate the auditory and visual senses.”

Danny Gallagher

Danny Gallagher is a writer based in Dallas. His stories and features have appeared in and on CNET, Cracked, MTV Online, Mandatory.com, Retro Gamer, Esquire and The Dallas Observer.