An Open Letter

I’m the girl you never see, but you see what I do every day. I’ve been on the outside looking in for as long as I can remember, and while it’s not always a lovely place to be, I have used that to my advantage for well over a year now. Are you curious?

I’ve never set foot on Lucas Oil Stadium’s field, but I can feel the power that thousands of screaming fans can hold. I never heard an announcer tell me to take the field in competition, but I know the adrenaline that courses through veins when those few words are spoken. I’ve never seen crowds leap to their feet at the hands of my performance, but I can feel the sheer joy that flows through bodies when you look up and see that much enthusiasm. Still curious?

I am the Communications Manager for the Jersey Surf Drum and Bugle Corps. Why is that so different? I’ve never marched a day of drum corps in my life. Many wonder, how can I accurately portray things that I’ve never experienced before?

My name is Kerry Joy, and this is my drum corps story.

For as long as I can remember, music and performance have been a big part of my life. I’ve performed as a dancer since I was in elementary school, played violin since middle school, and marched in various marching bands since high school. I’ve worked on school musicals, been in front of cameras for school cable news shows, and written more stories, articles, and speeches than I can count. I’ve always put myself out there to do what I love to do, and have never settled for anything less than hard work to get what I want.

Just as being on the outside looking in can hurt you, falling short of your dreams can also be a bitter disappointment. For nearly as long as music has been in my life, I’ve loved drum corps. The pure sound and emotion that is produced on the field brings such a rush for many, and I knew that someday, somehow, I had to make that mine. To me, it didn’t matter what name the announcer called to take the field in competition, I just wanted to be there when he called it. I would watch drum corps perform, at strange angles, just to catch a glimpse of what I wanted most. But as life would have it, I would never be told to take the field. Being a part of a family with disabled parents means growing up fast, and while I was always encouraged to reach my dreams, something like drum corps was always a notion that I was not to entertain. Like any teenager, I was moody over that fact, but as I grew older, I learned to appreciate what I did have, and realize that maybe there was more than one way to be involved in drum corps than marching. So I made it a point to push myself at school, so that one day I could get into a good college and learn to become someone who may work in that industry. While I loved music, communication is my forte, so I entered Kutztown University in 2010 to peruse exactly that.

College proved to be more difficult than I thought. The academics were easy, I always knew what I needed to do to stay ahead. However, personal and medical problems built up to the point where I didn’t know which way was up. My life was spiraling out of control, and at twenty years old, I had hit rock bottom. Most people would scoff at the notion that someone of my age could even know what that felt like, but I knew at that point in my life, taking the easy way out and just ending it right there seemed like the most logical choice. I had lost so many people that year, I just didn’t think it was worth it anymore. However, if it weren’t for music, I would have made that choice. It was at that point that I decided that although it wasn’t going to be easy, I should try to crawl out from the bottom. With nothing left to lose, I emailed Robert Jacobs, marketing director of DCI and corps director of the Jersey Surf, a man I had never personally met, to see if there was any hope for a career in drum corps.

What followed surprised me. Instead of a polite rejection, I received an invitation to come to a camp weekend, just to check things out. I was not sure what to expect, but I knew I had to try. So, gathering up what was left of my confidence, I made my way to camp with my best friend, who marched as well. Although I was not surprised at how nice people could be, I was more than surprised at what I had missed my whole life. I had no idea what to expect, but I was thrown into this world with just the hope that I could do it. After a rather confusing weekend of just learning what a drum corps really was, I was offered an internship position with the Jersey Surf Drum and Bugle Corps.

I had no idea what I was doing.

This is not a magical story where I instantly knew what was what. I was just a music loving writer who wanted to be given a chance, and so in the winter of 2012, I became both staff and a member of a world class drum corps.

I will reiterate again, I had no idea what I was doing.

However, as I began to get to know people, the more comfortable I felt in learning my role in this family. I started to learn how to work with the audiences of this activity, so that I could properly communicate my work to them. I learned to not be so shy of people, as only spending every moment with a family of 150 is apt to do. Although I never was able to perform on the field with them, I felt the blood, sweat, and tears that went into such a demanding activity. I laughed with them and cried with them, but the memories that we shared went beyond what was seen by an audience.

As the summer went on, I continued to gain skills that would help me in my professional world, and in my personal life as well. I may have done something right, because I was asked to remain a part of the Surf family, as long as I wanted to be there. I write stories and articles, news releases and announcements. I photograph both what the audience expects to see, and what they never knew existed. It’s my job to show what people don’t always see – moments between members that will live on, even as the season ends. Moments like veteran members sharing secret stashed candy for rookie members who overcame a particular hurdle that day. Or new friends reaching across air mattresses as the lights go out at the end of the day, just to remind them how fast and strong the bonds of the Surf family holds.

I learned a valuable lesson that summer. No matter what, nothing in life is ever worth giving up. I may never get to perform in front of thousands of people, but I can write for many more on the same activity. I have so much pride for the members that I see working so hard, that a small piece of me lives through that. As I sit here, now a “grown up” staff member, I see that life is never simply a black and white scenario. It’s what you make of it that counts. So no, I’m never going to perform in a drum corps uniform on a field. But what I can do has become so much more valuable to me. Capturing the pure joy on a color guard performer’s face as she nails a toss she’s been working so hard at or conveying the excitement of a trumpet player’s first performance for all the world to read has become my drum corps experience. After all I have learned, I have realized that I would not trade it for anything, even my original dream.