By Craig Marx, Editor
In a musical organization that lies somewhere between prestige and intrigue, Antigo native Matt Hornbuckle has been presented with the opportunity of a lifetime – performing with the world-class Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps of Milwaukee on its drum line this coming summer.
The Pioneer Drum and Bugle Corps performs across the nation over the course of a grueling, summer schedule of 21 performances, where venues range from the turf of D.C. Everest High School in Wausau to the Georgia Dome of Atlanta. Hornbuckle, now 18-years old, a recent graduate of Antigo High School and member of the Red Robins Marching Band, has now joined the Corps after music has proven to be a key element of his upbringing.
“I’ve always been involved in music,” Hornbuckle said. “My dad was in a heavy metal band growing up and I started playing music when I was five. I began with the trombone, but my freshman year I was introduced to the drum corps.”
The young percussionist auditioned for Antigo’s drum corps when he was a sophomore and the rest is now history. Joining the ranks of nearly 150 top-level junior musicians and entertainers (including front ensemble, drum corps, and the color guard) at the Pioneer Corps, Hornbuckle is now part of a prestigious and competitive history of musical talent which included a two-year run for current Antigo band director Jeff Dewey. The Pioneer Corps was founded in Milwaukee in 1961 with roots to St. Patrick’s Catholic Parish and has since spawned into a nationally-renowned traveling group that takes its recruitment and admission process to heart.
After opting out of the Shadow Drum and Bugle Corps of Oregon, Wisc. in favor of the Pioneer Corps early last year, Hornbuckle fulfilled the exclusive and demanding admission standards necessary to join the ranks of the Corps after a successful audition.
“They really expect a lot from you. If you make a mistake or they need to correct you, they expect you to learn it for the next rep right away,” Hornbuckle said. “You end the [audition] weekend going in front of the percussion head and he asks you how you did. I said I thought I did okay considering everything they had thrown at us. He told me my attitude and musicianship were really good.”
Hornbuckle’s humble self-evaluation was enough for the Pioneer Corps to offer him a contract for the 2017 season. The Pioneer Corps sticks to its Catholic-Irish roots in its productions, with this season’s show entitled “Irish on Broadway: The Music of Les Miserables.” With the music for the performances written and the musicians themselves now in place, the demanding practice schedule begins this spring.
The Pioneer Corps hosts its camps at “Pioneerland,” an area of practice fields and work space located in the Milwaukee suburb of Cudahy. The Corps meets once a month until the end of May when spring training officially begins and the Corps is brought together in its entirety. For three weeks, the young musicians work on the complete show over 12-hour days before taking to the road in June.
The traveling performance spans the country, including five performances in Wisconsin along with shows in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Minnesota. With 21 total stops on the tour, the travel and extensive performing makes for long yet rewarding days on the road.
“We’ll be sleeping on gym floors and on the bus, but I am really excited just to make so many people’s nights [on tour],” Hornbuckle added. “I’ve developed a lot of friendships, too, especially with my fellow bass drummers.”
The honor of being a member of the Pioneer Corps is not cheap, however. Despite the difficult audition process and subsequent travel, selected musicians are expected to raise $2,900 by June as a member of the Corps. Hornbuckle has established a GoFund Me account to help raise money for his expenses, which are paid in four $725 increments.
The Pioneer Corps’ motto is “Better Every Day,” focusing on aiding these young musicians in using their immense talents to their full potential. The Corps recruits musicians from ages 14 to 21, and Hornbuckle has expressed his intent to try and stay with the group until he “ages out” in three years.
For more information on the Pioneer Corps itself, please visit http://www.pioneer-corps.org/ and https://www.gofundme.com/pioneer-2017 for Matt’s GoFund Me page.