Big band sound at Monmouth College this summer could lead to bigger sound on campus in fall

Monmouth, Ill. (06/03/2022) — Hosting a large band at Monmouth College this summer could lead to having a large marching band on campus in the fall for years to come.

That's the thinking of first-year Director of Athletic Bands John Eckstine, whose pre-Monmouth experience includes leading marching bands in the Hollywood Christmas Parade in California, the Miracle Mile Holiday Parade in Chicago and the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Shortly after beginning his position last November, Eckstine invited a few select drum corps organizations to use the Monmouth campus as the site of their "band boot camp."

The Colts Drum and Bugle Corps from Dubuque, Iowa, accepted the invitation. The organization sent several dozen band members to campus in February for a weekend on campus. Now the Colts have returned with about 160 people for an intensive month of practice before departing on their summer tour. It will culminate with the Drum Corps International World Championship Finals Aug. 11-13 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

"I wanted to find something that would put this place on the map," said Eckstine of hosting a drum corps.

The new band director meant that in the figurative sense, but it's also happened literally. The training sites of all the drum corps competing in the DCI championship are charted on an online map, and hosting the Colts has put Monmouth College on that map.

Of the four drum corps organizations that Eckstine invited to practice at Monmouth -- including the Phantom Regiment from Loves Park, Illinois -- he said the Colts were a great match.

"They are a perfect fit for us, and we're a perfect fit for them," he said.

Colts Brass Arranger Mike Miller said the group has enjoyed its new summer place.

"This is the first time we've stayed in the same place throughout our entire spring instruction period in a number of years," said Miller. "Most years, we bounce around between three or four high schools. Being able to stay in the same place is a great advantage."

Miller said instruction is focused on three main areas -- brass, percussion and color guard. Monmouth's campus provides ample space for the Colts to spread out and receive proper group training.

"Also, having (April Zorn Memorial Stadium) here puts us in a mock performance venue," he said. "It allows us to better prepare our show and help make it more presentable to the audience."

Can Colts win in Indianapolis?

Founded in 1963 in Dubuque, the Colts are one of the most consistently successful drum corps in the nation. Since formally adopting the "Colts" name in 1976, the organization has grown considerably, reaching more than 500 students annually through its two drum corps, a summer band and steel drum ensembles, as well as thousands of fans who see the groups perform every season.

The Colts have experienced significant competitive success, placing in the Top 12 at the DCI World Championship Finals eight times since 1993 and in the Top 25 every year since 1982. The organization uses "music and excellence to teach each other about success in life."

Including staff, about 160 members of the Colts team are s housed in the College's Liedman Hall.

"In the past, we've often slept on gym floors," said Miller. "It's wonderful to have access to the College's facilities. It's a higher quality of life."

And the general public can watch the performances.

"One of the questions I get asked is, 'Can we come and watch?' Absolutely," said Eckstine. "The best time would be in the evenings. They eat dinner at 5:30, but they're back on the stadium field from 6:30 to 9."

More students, bigger sound

In addition to getting Monmouth on a musical map, Eckstine said it's also important to get Monmouth on musicians' minds.

"The idea is to get them on campus to let them see that this is an outstanding place to come to and perform in a marching band," he said.

Eckstine hopes the Colts will, in turn, attract other talented musicians to campus.

"I would like to see high school band kids get here and observe," said Eckstine. "I remember back in the 1980s how watching drum corps competitions would inspire me to work a little bit harder."

Inspiration would be one takeaway for the students, but there's another positive.

"The greater thing is, when those band kids get here, they'll see what a great facility we have at Monmouth," said Eckstine.

The Scots' return

Throughout the summer, Eckstine is making preparations to host his own band boot camp -- the annual weeklong training for the Fighting Scots Marching Band before the fall semester. The camp will run Aug. 16-22. Eckstine tentatively plans to have a public performance in Zorn Stadium on the final night.

"I'm hoping that with the continued development of the program, we can get up to or a little more than 100 members," he said.

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The Colts' drumline kept up a steady beat as they rounded a curve at Monmouth College's April Zorn Memorial Stadium on the morning of June 3.