Tuba player blasts to the top

Kevin Mitchell's bass lines help power The Cadets to first place

September 05, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • Kevin Mitchell of Fairplay, a student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., shows the medal he received at the Drum Corps International Finals on Aug. 13 in Indianapolis. He is a member of The Cadets, one of the oldest continuously operating drum and bugle corps in the world. He played tuba with The Cadets, which took the DCI first place award for the 2011 season.
Submitted photo

FAIRPLAY — Kevin Mitchell long ago discovered his love for music. He started playing tuba when he was in the sixth grade.

This summer, at age 19, he took it to another level as a member of The Cadets, a drum and bugle corps that competes on the Drum Corps International circuit.

After an intense summer of travel and competitions, the corps finished in first place at the DCI World Championships on Aug. 13 in Indianapolis, Ind.  

"I have two more years until I age out. I would do it again. The hardest days were the best part of the experience," Mitchell said.

Mitchell spent four years in his high school's marching band in Virginia Beach, Va., playing in the concert band, wind ensemble and trombone in the jazz band. He graduated in 2010.

Mitchell, the oldest of John and Nancy Mitchell's three children, is a sophomore at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., where he is studying music education in hopes of becoming a band director.

When his father retired from the U.S. Army, the family moved to Fairplay to be closer to Kevin's grandparents, Noel and Susie Kunkle.

Inspired by fellow musicians at JMU, where he is a member of the Marching Royal Dukes, Mitchell auditioned for The Cadets in December 2010. The audition involved him playing for the brass caption head and marching in front of the visual team.

"I had a bunch of friends that were going and auditioning. Two JMU friends had marched the year before," Mitchell said.

Once selected from a large pool of musicians, they would meet once a month at a high school in New Jersey for a camp that started on Friday and ended on Sunday. Mitchell said their days started at 7 a.m. and didn't end until 1 a.m. the next day.

With participation in the corps costing each person about $5,000, Mitchell said they did fundraising to help defray the cost.

There were about 150 members under age 22, including musicians, percussionists and color guard, in The Cadets. They became like a family after working closely together for 90 days this summer, Mitchell said.

"When you feel like you can't go on, it definitely pushes you through knowing you're working for the same goal," Mitchell said.

He said The Cadets, with headquarters in Allentown, Pa., was the closest corps to Harrisonburg, despite the four-hour drive.

The Cadets, a performing arts program of Youth Education in the Arts, performed in 35 shows all over the nation, Mitchell said. The first 30 days was "spring training," where they lived in dorms and learned the show.

Then came the travel, with the group living out of five buses, sleeping on air mattresses and in sleeping bags and traveling from show to show. The 2011 Cadets traveled over 20,000 miles this summer, according to the corps' website.

The Top 12 corps earned spots to compete in the DCI Finals in Indianapolis in August. Mitchell said from the beginning, the toughest competition The Cadets faced was from the Blue Devils, who had been undefeated the past two years, and the Cavaliers.

"It was pretty much a death race from the get-go. First it was the Cavaliers, then the Blue Devils early in the season in other shows. In East Rutherford, N.J., we finally beat the Blue Devils and that carried us. We finished first," Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he is automatically in next year and can't wait for the next season.

"It was always my dream to march in a drum corps, but I never expected to win DCI," said Mitchell, who was one of 16 tubas.

He said the skills he learned in the corps will help him when he becomes a band director. Mitchell said he's seen how a "first-class organization" is run professionally and smoothly.

Mitchell said it was good to return home, but he missed having a large group of fellow corps members around constantly.

"I learned a lot of great life lessons this summer, something The Cadets really focuses on. No one works harder than The Cadets," Mitchell said.

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