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Canton's Bluecoats showcase evolution of competitive drum corps

After its founding in 1972, the Bluecoats more or less fit into the traditional mold of a drum corps, with matching uniforms and precision marching in unison at parades. But over the past several decades, the group has evolved into a drum and bugle corps known for pushing the limits of creativity and competing internationally.

 Mike Scott has been at the helm of the Bluecoats since 2018.
Jean-Marie Papoi
Ideastream Public Media
Mike Scott has been at the helm of the Bluecoats since 2018. In 2011, he marched as a member.

“Creatively, drum corps is certainly a niche thing,” said Mike Scott, CEO of the Bluecoats. “Everyone knows about football, especially in Ohio. And everyone knows about marching band. But then this thing is like marching band on steroids.”

Vivid costumes and elaborately designed sets visually complement the multi-layered sounds of drums and brass as the 165 members take the field.

Members of the Bluecoats range in ages from 16-21. They join from states across the country, with several regional members as well. The overall makeup of the corps breaks down to about 80 brass performers, 30-40 color guard performers and 40-50 percussion players.

Sebastian Martinez of Mississippi plays the center snare drum – the focal listening point of the entire ensemble. Martinez is in his fifth and final year as a Bluecoat. At 21 years old, he’s aging out of the corps.

“I was just really eager to get into this system, so I just continued to audition,” Martinez said. “2019 was the first year that I made it, and I've just been here ever since. I just haven't wanted to go anywhere else. It's always been the dream to end up here.”

 Sebastian Martinez plays the center snare drum, the focal listening point of the entire ensemble.
Josh Clements
Sebastian Martinez plays the center snare drum, the focal listening point of the entire ensemble.

Every summer, the group piles into a fleet of passenger buses and embarks on an 8,000-mile, cross-country tour, competing in Drum Corps International, the “major league of drum corps,” according to Scott.

In recent years, the Bluecoats have achieved a great amount of competitive success, most notably having won the Drum Corps International world championship in 2016. But there’s something additional that keeps the Bluecoats at the top of their class: breaking creative boundaries.

“We’ve been called the ‘mad scientists’ of drum corps before,” Scott said. “Trying to find ways that might surprise an audience, trying to find ways that are creatively interesting to us and really giving our performers an opportunity to express their individuality.”

During the offseason, a creative team is busy writing music, designing costumes, building the sets and working on the choreography.

“Amongst that team, there's Tony winners and Emmy winners,” Scott said. “And really it's all just to be creating something that these kids are going to love to perform in front of hundreds of thousands of people every summer.”

The Bluecoats perform in Canton August 7 and then a few days later compete in the Drum Corps International World Championships in Indianapolis.

Jean-Marie Papoi is a digital producer for the arts & culture team at Ideastream Public Media.