CASTLETON — Carley Patch doesn’t miss a beat.
Earlier this month, the Castleton University senior was accepted to tour with the Boston Crusaders, an elite, competitive drum-and-bugle corps for student musicians younger than 22. The third-oldest drum-and-bugle corps in the country, the Crusaders are founding members of Drum Corps International, a nonprofit organization for musical education and competition.
A native of Walpole, New Hampshire, Patch has been playing music since fifth grade. She started on trombone, but also plays tuba and baritone horn. After high school, Patch wasn’t sure whether she’d continue playing, but quickly fell in with the athletic band at Castleton.
Now in her final year, she is one of the university marching band’s two drum majors. The music-education major is also a member of the spirit band, wind ensemble and orchestra, as well as preparing for her senior recital performance.
Stephen Klepner, director of athletic bands at Castleton University, said Patch has prepared for this her entire college music career.
“Carley is an ultra-talented low-brass musician,” Klepner said. “She works harder than any other student I’ve had.”
Klepner, a fellow baritone player, is also a Crusaders alum; he toured with them in 2011. He’s been involved with DCI since he was 14 years old. Until 2018, he was the assistant director of 7th Regiment Drum-and-Bugle Corps in New London, Connecticut, an open-class ensemble which serves as a minor league of sorts to world-class ensembles like the Crusaders. Patch played for 7th Regiment in 2018.
Klepner encouraged Patch to audition for the Crusaders. He likens DCI to a family. “Having one of my students be a part of this is important. ... I’m incredibly proud.”
Making the leap to the Crusaders required a lengthy — and pricey — audition process. Auditions attract between 6,000 and 10,000 hopefuls, who compete during a series of weekend camps held in Texas. Prospective musicians must travel to the camps at their own expense.
Patch must now raise additional funds. Tuition and travel expenses for the tour will cost her upwards of $5,000. She said she is working three jobs to help cover costs, and is in the process of setting up a GoFundMe page to accept donations.
While DCI might not be immediately familiar around Vermont, it’s a big deal on university campuses in other parts of the country. Castleton, however, has become something of a second home for the Crusaders. For the past six years, the ensemble has spent three weeks rehearsing on campus before heading out on tour. The residency culminates in a performance for the community.
DCI ensemble performances are an impressive spectacle of teamwork, athleticism and discipline, where the sum is greater than its parts. Comprised of 156 student musicians — including percussionists and color guard — ensembles rehearse together to learn and execute precise, tightly choreographed routines they then perform for audiences around the country. Ensembles practice 14 hours a day perfecting the routines and making sure not a step or a note is out of place.
When Patch goes on tour with the Crusaders in June, she will be the only Vermonter currently in a DCI ensemble, and one of only a handful of New Englanders.
The national tour will culminate in a three-day world-championship competition at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. Klepner called the event a rite of passage.
After graduating in the spring and then touring with the Crusaders this summer, Patch will return to Castleton to begin student teaching in the fall.
She said her experience with DCI will serve her well as a music teacher. “It’s been great for learning how to be a good role model and leader.”
Klepner said Patch’s acceptance to the Crusaders is a positive development for the Castleton community. It’s a demonstration that the university is capable of training students who can successfully compete at this level.
Patch echoed Klepner, saying she hopes her experience — particularly as a musician from a smaller school — will pique interest in DCI among others and inspire them to try out.