It pays to stand out, and Pocahontas County High School band director Bob Mann couldn’t help but notice the talents of junior Tiler Mortensen-Smith.
Tiler joined the color guard of the Warrior marching band last year, and it was at band camp that Mann first realized Tiler’s potential.
“I saw him toss a rifle thirty feet up in the air and catch it,” Mann said. “I was sitting at Thornwood, just kind of thinking, ‘that looks like Drum Corps.’ So I talked to Jean [Bois, color guard instructor] and said, ‘if it’s at all possible, let’s see if we can get him involved in this or at least plant the seed so he’ll invest a little more thought into it.’”
Drum Corps International is “Marching Music’s Major League,” a collective of extremely talented musicians and performers, ages 13 to 22. Members are required to try out each year to be a part of the DCI, which travels around the country each summer, giving performances and showcases.
The Drum Corps color guard is known as the Cadets, a collective of approximately 120 performers who dance and twirl flags, field rifles and sabers.
Tiler auditioned for the Cadets in November and received a 2 rating.
“It is the highest level of marching bands that you can possibly get,” Mann said. “Tiler has done all the practice, the rehearsals and he went and auditioned for the Cadets. He scored a two. One means you’re in. A two is very much unheard of for people his age and experience.”
Mann said Tiler would have gotten a 1 score if he had more dance experience.
The audition was a three-day event in which Tiler had to learn a dance routine, as well as a flag and rifle routine. On the third day, the group performed for the community.
“The first night, we had a dance block, and we had to do some exercises,” Tiler said. “We learned two dances. The second day, we did a flag block and that’s where we did basics and tosses. We learned a routine in that, too. Then, if you were auditioning for a weapon – like rifle or saber – then you go to a separate room and would do a basic routine while the other people continued to do flag work.
“On the third day, we ran through everything, then we put on a show for the community, it was Pennington, New Jersey,” he continued. “I was really nervous.”
Despite his nerves, Tiler did well and was told to work on his dance skills, and return for a second audition in April.
“It’s a big deal because Tiler has hopes; he has dreams,” Mann said. “He puts his heart into everything here at the high school level, but now he has the opportunity to perform at the highest level. I’m incredibly and utterly proud of Tiler for doing this.”
While Tiler is practicing and preparing for his next audition, he is also trying to raise money to join the Cadets. If the audition goes well and he is selected, Tiler will need $4,000 to attend training camp and travel with the Drum Corps.
He will have a two-week training camp in May, then the Corps hits the road June through August for shows across the country.
“The funding is for the instructors, cost of travel, the equipment – it just all adds up,” Mann said.
If the audition does not go well, Tiler isn’t going to give up. He said he will continue to hone his craft and try out again next year.
Looking to the future, Tiler said he hopes to attend Alderson Broaddus University and study either forensic pathology and anthropology, or music to be a director like Mann.
Tiler started a Go Fund Me site, www.gofundme.com/ help-send-tiler-to-the-cadets where individuals can make a donation, or they can send a donation to PCHS at: Tiler Mortensen-Smith c/o Pocahontas County High School, 271 Warrior Way, Dunmore, WV 24954.
The Go Fund Me campaign will close in April.
To learn more about Drum Corps International, visit www.dci.org
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org