The custom-made black uniforms with silver and red-glitter sashes and French cuffs were crisply pressed; every shoe was polished to a glean, toes straight and forward, stomachs in, heads up, shoulders back, backs straight, hearts full of pride and faces full of smiles ... .
Siamyth Drum & Bugle Corps stuns the audience at the ‘Horizon 2010’ concert held recently at the Thai-Japanese Youth Centre stadium in Bangkok. COURTESY OF SIAMYTH
A hush fell over the crowd as it uniformly leaned forward to experience the "Horizon 2010" musical extravaganza. Then suddenly there was a rapid rat-tat-tat of a flam paradiddle played on the taut heads of four impeccably-tuned snare drums followed by the syncopated rhythms of the melodic "Quint" tenor drums, and with a crash of eight Ziljian cymbals, followed by the thump of five chromatically-tuned bass drums, the brass corps and the "Pit" percussionists swaggered onto the field of the Thai-Japanese Youth Centre stadium in Bangkok last week.
In another few heartbeats there were musical blasts from the brass that added to the audio-visual pageant of "Horizon 2010", which erupted full force onto the audience. The powerful opening drew thunderous applause from the nearly-packed seating gallery!
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Siamyth Drum & Bugle Corps!
No pain, no gain
Soon, the near-perfect drill show by the Siamyth Drum & Bugle Corps (Siamyth) sparked more oohs and aahs from the audience as the highly-buffed horns reflected the bright tungsten stadium lights. The crowd cheered the corps-men for their show of precision drill steps, such as the "crab walk", the quick step, the half-gait, the block, symmetric and asymmetric drill formations, and even marching backwards into various formations - all the while keeping the brass instruments pointed towards the audience for maximum sound power.
But such precision drills don't come without sweat and sacrifice. It takes uncountable hours of dedicated practice in the sweltering Siamese sun to deliver that perfect first note.
Practice on that perfect note started many weeks ago. Recently, band members practised for 40 days from 9am to 11pm in order to achieve perfection at Srinakharinwirot University's (SU) Ong-kharak campus in Nakhon Nayok province, which they used as their practice camp.
They ate together, sweated together and nursed each other's aching feet and muscles. There they toiled in large and small groups until hundreds of drill steps were synchronised and all the melodies of their repertoire were harmonised.
At the final performance of the season, Punnatorn Lumtuetum, a Mathayom 4 (Grade 10) spectator and trumpeter from Debsirin School in Bangkok, said, "I saw some of the best players in action. I can use [what I learned at] this show to improve my skills."
In the beginning
It has taken eight long years for this musical powerhouse to reach the night's peak perfection. Siamyth is the brainchild of Chumpol Techakrisri, its founder and director. In 1999, Mr Chumpol and his friend Kasem Thipayametrakul dropped out of Chulalongkorn University for a period to play in one of the US's most prestigious drum corps, the Madison Scouts Drum & Bugle Corps (Madison Scouts), founded in 1938, and winner of two Drum Corps International World Class championships! Mr Chumpol and Mr Kasem learned all they could from Madison Scouts and returned to Thailand inspired to share their new love and knowledge with young corps enthusiasts in the Kingdom.
"After I came back, I learned that many young people wanted to follow my path, but were unable to do so. Eventually, I decided to give aspiring youngsters the opportunity to play in Thailand at an international level," said corps director Chumpol.
After deciding to set up a drum corps for Thai youngsters, Mr Chumpol returned to the US to learn how to form and manage a drum corps from premier organisations, such as: Cadets Drum & Bugle Corps, winner of nine World Class championships; Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps, winner of seven (one tie) World Class championships; and his old mentors at Madison Scouts.
Siamyth, or myth of Siam, was finally launched in 2002 with just 15 players. Over the years, Siamyth has grown to over 110 players, aged 15 to 22 years, from 23 schools and 13 universities nationwide, plus more than 30 staff members ranging from academics to former professional musicians.
Chumpol Techakrisri, manager and founder COURTESY OF SIAMYTH
Beyond the music
"A drum corps is not just about marching and playing musical instruments. Its members have to travel to various places and meet people who have diverse mindsets, tastes and behaviours. They learn discipline, responsibility and teamwork; how to live with others, how to compete, how to share, how to set goals, and how to achieve them. These life skills will stay with them even after they have left the band" is a paraphrase of a passage on a wall at Siamyth's practice grounds at SU's campus.
Yothin Plainsamai, who has been a trumpeter at Siamyth for four years, said: "We learned not only musical skills but also discipline, harmony and conformity. We laboured under the hot sun until we developed a bond."
"The members of this band are very responsible. We don't wait to be told to do what's needed," said Kannikar Singdeng, a contrabass player. All corps members must continually improve their skills, because even if just one person stops improving, the band ceases to improve." The sun-scorched faces of many musicians are testament to their dedication and commitment.
Both Yothin and Kannikar joined Siamyth after being impressed with one of its previous performances.
"Our main goal is to develop young people. If after four years all we have is a good band, but [we don't have] well-disciplined and responsible young adults, then the entire exercise was for nothing. There are already dozens of good bands. But 150 youngsters who will grow up to be fine adults is greatly more significant," said Mr Chumpol.
Siamyth is not restricted to Thais only. Malaysian Soh Pei Fong came here specifically to perform with the dynamic colour guard, which complements the main corps with thematic and choreographed interpretations of the musical score that include intricate flag routines and twirling mock rifles. The colour guard even had a solo performance!
"There are great differences between colour guards in Malaysia and those in Thailand. Thai colour guards are much better," Fong said, adding that he hopes to transfer the knowledge gained in Thailand to his colleagues in Malaysia.
Siamyth’s brass players put their hearts into the ‘Horizons 2010’ concert. PURICH TRIVITAYAKHUN
B2m, but still non-profit
Despite its uniqueness and sound success, Siamyth is a non-profit organisation. "As monetary gain is not involved, it is easier to work with people," said Mr Chumpol, and he added, "People join us because they want to take pride in themselves, to express themselves and to be a part of the dream. We can provide all this. Everyone has the same target: we aim for the best show, to produce the best players and to mould our youngsters into good citizens."
Non-profit does not mean free, however. It costs around 2 million baht to operate such a massive enterprise and to purchase equipment, uniforms, instruments and meals; and to pay for travel, housing and transportation. Despite the income from membership fees, ticket sales and sponsorships, the corps suffered deficits almost every year. As a result, many staff members had to inject their own resources into Siamyth.
"I guess that Chumpol has invested over 2 million baht out of his own pocket for this band," said Mr Kasem, a percussion captain and one of Mr Chumpol's closest friends. "[Chumpol] is very devoted to Siamyth, and he is able to convince others to help the organisation. If it were not for him, this band would not be in existence, and I wouldn't be doing this," Mr Kasem added.
Mr Kasem revealed that although money is a much-needed resource, it is not the main barrier. Rather, it is the public's lack of awareness of the band and its mission. "We don't want our investment back, but we want the authorities to help us to spread this opportunity to more young people," the captain said. "What I'm most proud of is that many young people appreciate the value of what we are doing," said Mr Chumpol. "They have started to say, 'This summer, let's go and exhaust ourselves for something that has purpose and beauty. Let's go to Siamyth'."
"Over a hundred people have proven that this idea [Siamyth] is worthwhile. I think the dedication that the students put into this odyssey is equal to or greater than the time and money that I've spent. It is simply a different kind of investment. I wouldn't say that I've sacrificed more than they have. People express devotion in their own way," Mr Chumpol said.
Finally, after the many years of hard work and dedication on the part of the programme, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) has agreed to provide financial and material support.
Mr Chumpol has a plan to take Siamyth to compete in the Drum Corps International (DCI) within four years. With the support of the BMA, the band will enter the competition under the name "BMA Drum & Bugle Corps".
According to the director, next year the group aims to win the Drum Corps Europe competition. In 2012, the band will participate in the Drum Corps Japan roadshow. Then it expects to participate in the 2013 DCI International Class and Open Class in the US, and it is confident that it will be among the top six bands in the Open Class.
Finally, Siamyth plans to participate in the 2014 DCI World Class in the US, and it anticipates being among the top 12. After that, the team will participate in the DCI every four years.
Mr Chumpol is confident that with the current skills of the band, the future goals are well within reach.
"On a trip to the US with Chumpol, I asked a group of drum corps enthusiasts there what they would like to see if Thailand were to send a drum corps to perform there," said Apivut Minalai, Siamyth's programme coordinator. "They said that they wanted to see Thai people play Thai music in drum-corps style and use Western instruments to tell Thai stories."
For musician Kannikar, when asked what she should do if she had to compete in the global arena, she said, "We need to improve on the delivery of each detail of every performance. If we can do that, it will not be hard [for us] to do well in the World Class competitions," she said.
- Siamyth welcomes financial contributions and donations of musical instruments. It also welcomes volunteers - such as instructors, seamstresses, instrument repairers, equipment handlers and drivers, etc. - to support the corps. Membership is through auditions only, which are held each January. Contact the organisation for details.
Siamyth Drum & Bugle Corps can be reached on 02-211-3732 ext 201 or send an email to email@example.com.
About the author
Writer: Dr B James Johnson and Purich Trivitayakhun