I first interviewed The Battalion co-founder and executive director, Dallin Hatch, earlier this year about his new organization based in Utah. The group passed their spring DCI evaluation and was included in a five-event series of Pacific Northwest tour shows that spanned from Tigard, OR, two competitions in Auburn and Tri-Cities, WA, Boise, ID, and back home at the Blue Knights-sponsored show in Ogden, UT.
Drum Corps World staff writer Donald Chinn and photographer Karen Sunmark covered the corps during the Tigard and Auburn competitions and reported that they were very impressed with the first-year corps.
So it seems appropriate to follow up with Dallin to find out how things went during their initial season and what the corps has planned for the upcoming season.
Steve Vickers: First, give me a brief description of the timeline involved in starting The Battalion and preparing for the 2016 season.
Dallin Hatch: We formed the organization in the spring of 2014, with the goal of building toward a first tour in the summer of 2016. In the interim, we built an education team and board of directors, met with local directors to develop synergies between programs, hosted a number of educational clinics, began grant writing and other fundraising initiatives, and worked to gather all of the assets a startup corps would need to get going. It was probably the hardest thing we’ve ever done, but we really couldn’t be happier about the result. The corps had a fantastic first tour. We joke that we took the “Dave Ramsey” approach to starting and operating a drum corps, and that’s put us on a solid operating foundation.
SV: Describe the process your organization went through for the DCI evaluation. Who represented DCI and what kinds of things did they require for a first-year group to be allowed to enter the Open Class tour schedule?
DH: DCI has a team of onboarding consultants, mentors, and evaluators they pair with prospective groups. That team will have different personnel depending on the region of the new corps. They act as a sounding board and show new corps the roadmap, but a corps’ startup team has to build the organization on their own. DCI can’t do that for them.
New corps need to demonstrate that their organization is structured well, is financially sound, and is set up to give prospective members the education and performance experience they deserve. The evaluators meet with prospective corps regularly to go over budgets, financial statements, organizational bylaws, and they also observe new groups during rehearsals to get a feel for how everything is run. If prospective corps are able to complete the checklist to the satisfaction of the DCI team, they may be allowed access to the DCI tour as an Open Class ensemble.
Our evaluation team included Tom Hope (DCI’s Pacific Representative), Ibe Sodawalla (Executive Director/CEO of the Legends Performing Arts Association and Chair for the DCI Open Class), and David Eddleman (DCI’s Open Class Coordinator). They were fantastic. I can’t thank them enough for their service to DCI and for their guidance as we worked through the evaluation process.
SV: Obviously your season, as far as competition was concerned, was very short. What other types of performance opportunities were you able to include to promote the existence of The Battalion in your home area?
DH: The shorter regional tour was strategic. With the incredible cost to start and run a drum corps, we were budget conscious. We wanted to tackle a tour that would be affordable to our membership and would provide a platform to build from in the coming years. In addition to the five competitions on our first tour, we performed in several community events and parades, both in our home state and on the road. For students looking to get a start in the activity, the tour length was perfect. It was cost effective and afforded them a portion of the summer after tour that they could use to earn money, spend time with family, go on vacation, rehearse with their home program, etc. Some even hopped on with other corps once our season ended. For many students, there’s a lot of allure in that kind of touring model. Get the drum corps experience AND have a summer to do the normal things a young adult would do. That will change as we grow our tour route, but for now, we think our tour experience is one of the DCI’s hidden gems.
SV: What size corps did you end up putting on the field last summer – horns, drums, color guard – and what was the show theme?
DH: We ended up with 104 – 24 guard, 44 brass, 33 percussion, and 3 drum majors. Not too shabby. The show was called “Run To You” and featured “Run To You” by Pentatonix, “Meetings Along the Edge” by Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar, “to wALk Or ruN in wEst harlem” by Andy Akiho, and our corps song “Wayfaring Stranger”.
SV: Tell me what it was like that first night in Auburn, WA, when the corps first entered the field and stepped off in front of the crowd and DCI judges.
DH: That’s a moment the corps will never forget. The crowd at Auburn was absolutely electric. It seemed like they were a fairly savvy drum corps audience and understood the moment, what it meant to our members, and that they were the first group to see a new corps for the first time. It was magical. They gave it up for our members, with several fantastic audience reaction points and standing ovations. DCI judges seemed to be just as excited to experience the moment. They were complimentary about the size of the first-year group, the product we put together in a short time, and the opportunity to be the first DCI judges to give us feedback.
SV: How did your short tour go in terms of logistics, the experience the members had and the reaction the show received from audiences at the five events?
DH: You learn so much more through doing than planning/preparing, and we’re grateful to have logistics and volunteer teams that were light on their feet and graceful under pressure. Creating a fantastic member experience is our primary focus. We actually conducted an anonymized exit survey with our membership to get a gauge on how well we did on everything from food on tour to quality of instruction. We were pretty overwhelmed by the positive responses. Corps members loved their experience and felt overwhelmingly like they found a new family in The Battalion. Audiences all along the tour route were so excited to see a new corps, but our home competition was without compare. Unless you’ve lived in Utah, it’s hard to explain the local hunger to have a DCI group of its own. That pent up excitement came out in a force before, during, and after our last run. It was pretty special. We were all in tears, reveling in having made history.
SV: What do you have planned for 2017 in terms of show concept and type of music?
DH: I can’t reveal too much about the concept just yet, but I can tell you we are trying to pioneer a new approach for us in terms of show creation. We believe the work of our members, arrangers, and designers deserves to be seen beyond the competition venue. Increasing financial and legal constraints around licensing makes that more impractical every year, unless we change the way we approach show design. To that end, our 2017 show will be a mix of completely original and public domain content.
SV: How has the corps been received in your local and regional area by band directors and supporters?
DH: We made a point very early on, even before we announced the formation of the organization, to meet with a number of directors in the region. We shared with them our vision for the corps and how we hoped to create a symbiotic relationship to support the growth of music education in the region. Those meetings were invaluable, as directors were able to help inform and shape the way we operate the corps and craft our policies. We value those relationships a great deal. We continue to involve directors regularly. In fact, we have a number of directors on our board and on our staff.
SV: What size corps are you planning to field this summer and will the number of shows on your schedule be expanded?
DH: Interest and attendance at our first events has been high. We’re shooting for a full corps. Last year we aimed for 108 and got to 104. Making the jump to 150 is a huge undertaking, but we’re optimistic that we’ll get close. Our tour will make the same stops as last year while adding Drums Along the Rockies in Denver.
SV: Are you gaining financial support in your community?
DH: Slowly, but surely. It’s a process to grow a support base, and in many cases it requires that you build an entirely new community to tap into. We encourage anyone who’s interested helping grow drum corps in Utah to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
SV: I hope one day to get a chance to see The Battalion, but in the meantime, have a great season and future. You’ve obviously gotten started the right way by establishing a solid organization. Thanks for your time.
DH: Thanks for sharing our story and for all you do to highlight the exciting news from the drum corps world.