School may be out for summer break but more than 700 young musicians will put on their uniforms this week to march once again under the bright lights of a football stadium.
They won't be there for the usual gridiron contest. They are performing in "Bugle on the Suncoast," a competition hosted by the Tampa Bay Suncoast Sound Drum & Bugle Corps of Pinellas Park.
To prepare, the 48-member Suncoast Sound has been practicing on weekends in a corps camp since January. There have been 12-hour practice sessions in the two weeks before the competition.
"The dedication these kids have really amazes me," said volunteer Frank Kocsis, whose son, Chuck, played drums in the Suncoast Sound this year.
"The training and practice they go through is worse than being in boot camp."
Jeff Still, a bugle player, said, "I like the discipline. . . . I love the discipline, the pride, the dedication and the friends you make into family."
The competition begins at 7 p.m. Friday at the Chamberlain High School stadium in Tampa as the first of 20 competitions for the Suncoast Sound. The event will help raise money for the group's upcoming tour of Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.
Members of the Suncoast Sound range in age from 14 to 21 and come from as far away as Gainesville to play in the group. The majority are from the Tampa Bay area. Musicians from seven corps will participate in Friday's competition with a combination of music, marching and visual artistry.
A drum and bugle corps is significantly different from a marching band.
Drum corps play primarily with brass instruments that are bivalved and have bell fronts, percussion and a precision guard. Unlike marching bands, the corps use no woodwind instruments, such as clarinets, oboes or flutes.
Elaborate uniforms and props are characteristic. Suncoast Sound, which was formed in 1979, will be performing "Voices Exposed," featuring Big Band and jazz music.
"Each corps has a different performing style," Kocsis said. "This becomes such an obsession with some of these players that they go to great effort and expense in the competitions."
"I decided to try it out, its addicting . . . fun," said Joel Moody of Suncoast Sound.
It is not uncommon for the larger corps to spend $250,000 on costumes, props and touring for one season. The Suncoast Sound operates a bingo hall in Pinellas Park all year to raise money.
Last year, the Suncoast Sound went back on tour after a two-year absence caused by low membership and lack of money. It was recognized as the Most Improved Corps in Division II/III, which must have more than 28 and less than 60 members.
The corps hopes to bring its membership up to 120 within two years. About 80 of 300 national corps tour each year.
Through practice and tours, the members find time to have fun. "I come here for the friends," drummer Chris Webster said.
"It's fun, something to do over the summer besides work," drummer Josh Bula said.
This is the first year the competition has been held in Tampa.
Kissimmee's Delta Brigade will begin the competition. Each corps will perform 11-minute programs. Judging is based on a 100-point scale.
"There are really stiff standards that make this competition compare to the Olympics," Kocsis said.
IF YOU GO
General admission tickets to Bugles on the Suncoast are $10. Chamberlain High School is at 9401 N Boulevard in Tampa. For information, call the Suncoast Sound Corps Hall at 546-1956.
_ Staff writer Patrick T. Walker contributed to this story.