GAINESVILLE - One of Georgia's music ambassadors to the country just wrapped up two weeks of training in Gainesville over the weekend.
Riverside Military Academy hosted the Spirit of Atlanta Drum and Bugle Corps as it prepared for a summer of competition across the U.S. Think marching band, subtract the woodwinds and push it to an unimaginable level of complexity, performance and artistry.
Percussionist Taylor Ransom is in his fourth year at the University of Georgia and second year in the corps. He said it's preparing him for the future.
"I'm a music major so it's going to be really good for me. I'm in music composition so I kind of want to get into this after I age out. I want to be an arranger. Another big reason I did it was I just love the performance," Ransom said.
Despite the high level of performance he's experienced at UGA on the field, Ransom said his work with Spirit in the snare line is exponentially tougher.
"Yeah, exponentially. The music, the drill and everything is way more physically demanding, musically demanding and more mentally challenging."
Spirit of Atlanta is a member of DCI or Drum Corps International. Students ages 16 through 21 compete as a World Class Corps, the highest level category in the activity.
Corps. Director Doctor Todd Snead said the corps has a maximum of 150 members. That includes 80 brass players, 31 percussionists, 36 color guard members and three conductors.
Of the Spirit group, Snead said about half of its members are from Georgia, 30 percent from metro Atlanta and about 90 percent from the southeast, although there are members from as far away as California.
Doctor Snead has been teaching drum corps for about nine years. Before that, he worked at the University of Minnesota, performed in the Broadway show 'Blast' and served as a high school band director in Texas.
"I tell parents and members when they come, if they're new to the organization, that this will transform them. I believe it instills in them a sense of discipline that is hard to find these days," Snead said.
Members, including a caravan of volunteers, instructors, drivers and cooks give up summer jobs and vacations to take the corps on the road.
"They get to have a really high level of artistic performance and a high level of athletic achievement ," Snead said.
The process of getting ready to compete is a physically and musically demanding affair. Every detail of the show is examined and perfected.
North Georgia's own Sarah Stuart is a rising senior at North Oconee High School and is in her second year in the corps color guard. While it means a summer away from home, she won't miss family.
"My parents actually volunteer here. My brother goes with them. A lot of my friends volunteer here too, because they have siblings in the organization," Stuart said.
And she said it's a way to meet friends that become almost as close as family.
"When I went home I had a bunch of friends that went to UGA and were really close and are still really close," Stuart said.
This year's show from Spirit is 'Sin City' a tribute to the famous storied city of Las Vegas, something the students and staff have spent hours, days, weeks and months honing and perfecting, the last two weeks at RMA.
"I think Riverside Military Academy is incredible. This is our second year at Riverside. They've been more than accommodating for us. They have plenty of rehearsal space. The facilities are incredible," Snead said.