For many marching band members across the United States, performing on the biggest stages at the highest level would be a dream come true. For Ty Slaugenhoup, a junior at WVU and quad drummer for the Pride of West Virginia, the dream became a reality.
Slaugenhoup was able to be a member of the Bluecoats, a professional marching band within Drum Corps International (DCI). DCI is the highest level of competitive marching band.
“It’s composed of the best educators, the best designers, the best performers and musicians in the world, in my opinion,” Slaugenhoup said.
The different bands tour across the country during the summer to perform and compete against one another. In mid-August, they come together for the World Championship in Indianapolis, Indiana, which lasts for three days.
Slaugenhoup was a member of the Bluecoats this year, one of the most prestigious DCI bands.
This year the corps tied with the Boston Crusaders for second place in the DCI World Championship finals. The Bluecoats also won their first-ever Fred Sanford Best Percussion Performance Award.
“It’s very rare that you get involved with an activity or a competitive circuit in which you get to be declared the best in the world at what you do,” Slaugenhoup said.
Slaugenhoup is a Morgantown native and graduate of Morgantown High School. He was exposed to marching band at an early age and decided that marching band was something he wanted to pursue.
He started out on the trumpet in fifth grade, but moved over to drums the next year. During his junior year of high school, he became more serious about band.
In 2020, when he was 17, Slaugenhoup auditioned for the Bluecoats but did not make the cut. Still, he knew he wanted to keep pursuing a spot within the Bluecoats.
“I knew right from the start, it was where I wanted to be,” Slaugenhoup said. “There was a vibe felt in the room, regardless of whether you were a vet of the corps or not. You just feel at home and you feel like you’re part of a family.”
When someone auditions, they are given a packet that outlines certain exercises as well as the band’s warmup routine. There are audition camps in November and December, as well as virtual auditions.
“Trying to learn that at 17 years old, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, my brain is about to explode,’” Slaugenhoup said. “But it definitely made me better because of it for sure.”
If they pass the first camps, there is a callback camp in January.
“That’s when the staff really sets the (drum) line,” Slaugenhoup said. “It’s kind of the same challenges and tests as before, a lot of playing by yourself in a room sometimes full of 40 people, and at that camp you will also be given music to the show.”
Not only are the Bluecoats given show music, they are expected to learn it and improve quickly.
“There’s times in the summer we definitely operate at a fast pace,” Slaugenhoup said. “So you have to be able to kind of pick stuff up fast and apply it fast.”
After the final band is set, they do not see each other again until spring training. Spring training marks when the band starts operating full-time, which means that the performers live, train, travel and perform together for the following 12 weeks.
Slaugenhoup says he hopes to be a member of the Bluecoats next year. It would be his last chance to be in DCI as the age limit is 21.
Now, Slaugenhoup is in Morgantown and practicing with the Pride. This is his first year getting the full Pride of West Virginia experience, since the band did not march in 2020, and he took a year off in 2021.
“I am fortunate to be in both bands and kind of be a part of both the DCI kind of competitive professional marching band and college marching band,” Slaugenhoup said. “I’m very blessed to be able to be part of both.”
While he was happy to be crowned a champion with the Bluecoats, Slaugenhoup said the experience of being in the band was enough for him.
“However the rankings fell, you know, I could have cared less,” Slaugenhoup said. “You know, we went out there and we did it for each other. We did it for us and for our art that we make in this percussion ensemble.”