PBL's Williams seeing the U.S. as member of Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps

MILWAUKEE — Garet Williams misses the comforts of home, but he realizes that being comfortable isn’t the point of his summerlong journey across the nation.

Since June 24, the 17-year-old incoming senior at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School has been touring the U.S. as a member of the Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps and Color Guard. The tour has taken him from his corps’ home base in Milwaukee — called “Pioneer Land” — to stadiums across the Midwest and beyond, where he and his 90-some fellow corps members compete against some of the most talented high school marching band members in the country.

The competitions are demanding, and so is preparing for them, as Williams spends an estimated 10 to 12 hours a day rehearsing on days when he does not have a competition and eight to 10 hours rehearsing on days he does.

The travel is constant, too, with Williams and his fellow marching band members loading into three charter buses to travel to at least 24 competitions in 15 states over the course of a little over a month.

“It’s state to state, like, almost every day,” Williams said.

There are no hotel accommodations, either. Not even close.

“That would make our tour fees much higher,” Williams noted.

“We sleep on gym floors,” he said. “We pack all of our sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, hammocks, cots — we just take them with us, pack them under the bus everywhere we go, then take them out when we get to a housing site, set them up, go to sleep, wake up the next morning, and go to rehearsal.”

This is the second straight summer that Williams has spent with the Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps, which is one of 47 drum corps that compete each summer under the umbrella of the nonprofit organization Drum Corps International (DCI), which dubs itself as “Marching Music’s Major League.”

The drum corps’ members are serious about music. Each year, more than 8,000 students audition for the fewer than 3,500 positions available in top-tier DCI member corps.

The purpose of DCI, Williams said, “is really just bettering the youth and just trying to get them better at music in general. It really just helps out everybody who wants to get themselves better and push themselves to where they want to be.”

Williams — who has played drums since fifth grade and is a member of the drumline for his high school’s marching band, the Panther Regiment — is playing the bass drum this summer as a member of the Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps.

Last year, he played the baritone, which is a horn. It was his first experience playing a brass instrument.

“I never really knew how to play the instrument until I came to drum corps,” Williams said. “But they taught me all of the information I needed to know in order to be successful at playing that instrument. I learned, and by the time we moved in (to competition season), I was able to play the instrument and perform with the instrument.”

Williams auditioned for a spot in the Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps last winter, attending a series of weekend-long camps held at high schools. He kept getting invited back to the camps, and he was eventually selected.

Williams left his home in Paxton on the last day of school — May 26 — to start what he referred to as “spring training,” which was held at Pioneer Land in Milwaukee until June 22 — two days prior to the corps’ first competition of the summer in Whitewater, Wis.

From there, Williams has competed with the marching band at contests in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Arkansas and Texas. His next stops are in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. If his band performs well enough at its competitions, it may then receive an invitation to the DCI International Championships, scheduled for Aug. 11-13 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Williams said the competitions are held “anywhere from back-of-the-woods high school stadiums to pro football stadiums,” and each attracts a crowd.

“They attract audiences by themselves,” Williams said. “The amount of people that show up usually is in the thousands.”

The DCI has two divisions — a World Class Division and Open Class Division — and Williams’ corps is in World Class. As of earlier this month, Williams’ band was performing better than it did last year, when it failed to place in the top 25 of DCI’s drums corps to land a spot in the World Championship Semifinals.

“We were four places from making the semifinals last year,” Williams said. “This year, we are sitting at a higher score at this point in the season than we were last year, which is looking really promising.”

Williams said he will attend the DCI International Championships regardless of whether he is there as a competitor or as a spectator.

After the championship finals are over, he will leave Indianapolis for his long-awaited trip home to Paxton.

“It gets hard on you at first,” Williams said about being away from home for so long. “But you get used to it because the members around you, they all are working toward the same goal; they all are really your family; they all are your brothers and sisters; they just want to make everybody better.

“Once you’re out there (competing), it’s really all worth it. I really can’t complain about it.”

Williams’ parents — Brandi and Jeff Williams — don’t like their son being away this long, but they love seeing him on the field at the competitions, Williams said.

“They’re really big into band and the performances,” he said. “They just miss me a lot, is what I hear. I hear that every time they show up.”

Williams relies on sponsorships and donations as his main source of funding to do the activity. This year he did presentations to local groups and received donations and sponsorships through individuals, businesses and organizations, including the Eureka Rotary Club, Country Financial Insurance in Eureka and the Loda American Legion post.

Williams said he has been interested in music from an early age, with his first instrument being a snare drum. He played the snare drum exclusively until his freshman year, when he started playing the bass drum as a member of the Panther Regiment. He then played another percussion instrument as a sophomore before moving back to the snare drum as a junior.

As a senior, he will again play the snare drum, although that was not his first choice.

“I asked to do marching bass, but the problem with that was my instructor (Tim Hess) thought that would be too easy and that the snare would be more challenging, so he wanted me on the snare drum this year. So I didn’t really get a choice,” Williams said.

Williams will return to the Panther Regiment once school starts back up in mid-August.

After his senior year is over, he might again return to the Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps, but he is not sure at this point.

“You can do this up until you turn 21, and I plan to keep doing it, but I’m just not sure about next year,” said Williams, who wants to go back to the bass drum once he returns to his drum corps.

“This is just where I feel like I belong right now, so that’s (the instrument) I’m sticking with.”

People can follow Williams’ competitions on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/garet2016pioneer.

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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