GAME FACE — Derek Sexton, back in 2015, marches with the 7th Regiment Drum and Bugle Corps of New London, Conn. Although Sexton has “aged out” of Drum Corps International, he continues his involvement as assistant publicity director for Drums Along the Mohawk.

For RFA grad, Drums Along the Mohawk is opportunity to share lasting memories

Published Aug 6, 2017 at 9:00am

Welcome “back” to the family.

For Derek Sexton, working for the Drums Along the Mohawk committee brings him back to a day when he had a love-hate relationship with music — when his summer days were centered around nothing but preparing for a great show and presenting one. Yet the friends he made along the way became more like family members.

Sexton, now 23, was 19 when he began performing with the 7th Regiment Drum & Bugle Corps of New London, Conn. The 2012 graduate of Rome Free Academy made history in 2013 when he became the first Music for Our Kids Tour Award winner from Rome.

After earning a degree in journalism, with a minor in music from SUNY-Oswego in May 2016, Sexton “volunteered” with Drums Along the Mohawk to help present its 38th season, although he said he doesn’t quite remember how he got involved. This year he was named assistant publicity coordinator for the Drums Along the Mohawk committee.

Sexton remembered back to 2013 when he was a trumpet player with the 7th Regiment and had just finished his freshman year of college. He was on tour in Troy, Mich. when Drums rolled around, so his mom, Gail Sexton, was on hand to accept his tour award as she displayed a poster of her son from the bleachers of RFA Stadium on Turin Street. His mother gushed that Derek had his own cheering section despite his absence that evening.

Now, Sexton is using his journalistic talents to continue sharing the two things he continues to be most passionate about: music and Drum Corps International. This year it was Sexton’s job to release the names of the members of that same elite award group that he was part of four years ago. They are:

Jack Williams, of New Hartford and student of Utica College, a member of the front ensemble, 7th Regiment, New London, Conn.

Katie Bogardus, of Ballston Lake and student of Russell Sage College, a member of the color guard for the Bluecoats of Canton, Ohio.

Devin Fitzgerald, of Schenectady and student of the Crane School of Music at SUNY-Potsdam, member of the front ensemble for the Santa Clara Vanguard, Santa Clara, Calif.

Paul Mangelsdorf, of LaGrangeville and student of the University of Hartford, tuba for 7th Regiment, New London, Conn.

The Tour Award is a grant sponsored by the John Winter Family Fund that is given to New York students who are marching in a DCI corps to help pay for their corps’ tuition and membership fees.

Sexton recalls fondly his days with the 7th Regiment. Despite the grueling days of sun-up to sun-down rehearsals in 90-degree heat, Sexton described his final competition days in 2015 as being “bitter-sweet.” That year he played baritone instead of trumpet.

“I remember specifically the World Class Preliminaries held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, (Ind.) — going out onto the field, there wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium,” Sexton remembered. “For two years we not only helped build a strong corps, but we built a family. We saw a lot of veterans age-out and what we call ‘rook-outs’ or first-year marchers, leave that year. They were all great kids, and some I haven’t seen since that day.”

Once a marcher turns age 21, they automatically phase out of the DCI program.

“It’s funny — most people talk about turning 21 how they’ll go out and party, but if you’re drum corps people, it’s more of a coming of age. You see it as an end of an era — an end to something great that happened to you...there’s nothing that can give justice to what you feel,” Sexton said.

The DCI veteran admits, while
sharing his memories, that he doesn’t know how he survived those long, grueling days of rehearsal and competition. It was like joining the military for musicians, he quipped, recalling the regimental schedule faced each day to prepare for an award-winning show.

“You’d wake up and do the same thing every day,” he said, noting the specific time slots made for meals and chores, like washing clothes, including the corps uniforms. “Everything was planned to the minute, that’s how organized it was.”

As a journalism graduate, Sexton said he now enjoys being on the other side of the camera while being interviewed about Drums Along the Mohawk.

“My bread and butter is talking about music and drum corps, and with this (assistant publicity coordinator) job, I get to keep doing what I love,” he said.

Sexton, who grew up playing in RFA band, continues to have musical ties with SUNY-Oswego and their music department, but he said people don’t need to have musical knowledge in order to enjoy a DCI show.

“What’s great about the show is that you don’t need ties to band or to music in general to appreciate the value of the show being put on by these kids” and all the hard work they have put into it all summer, Sexton said.

Each performance, “isn’t even a little easy,” he said, adding that being involved with DCI is about “having fun, but also being part of something that is bigger than ourselves.”

To accommodate nine corps performances, the 39th annual Drums Along the Mohawk will begin a half hour earlier — at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday at RFA Stadium.

Tickets are available by calling 315-339-6484 or by visiting Additional outlets are Rome Area Chamber of Commerce, Big Apple Music in New Hartford, and Remington Federal Credit Union in Ilion.

The Rome show will feature the following corps:

  • Boston Crusaders, Boston, Mass.
  • Cavaliers, Rosemont, Ill.
  • Madison Scouts, Madison, Wis.
  • Oregon Crusaders, Portland, Ore.
  • Troopers, Casper, Wyo.
  • Mandarins, Sacramento, Calif.
  • Pacific Crest, Diamond Bar, Calif.
  • Seattle Cascades, Seattle, Wash.
  • Genesis, Austin, Texas.