Crash Course

The Detroit Party Marching Band seeks to inspire musicianship and creativity with its new youth corps.


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On a cool July afternoon, the Crash Detroit music festival is taking over Corktown. Hundreds of people stroll around Roosevelt Park, bobbing their heads to the rhythm of brass bands and drumlines. Hulahoopers twirl on the pavement while kids and adults stroll past food trucks, a face painting station, and a new festival addition — a DIY instrument booth, where members of the Detroit Party Marching Band are working to get kids jamming, building, and eventually, “crashing” as part of the group’s fledgling Youth Crash Corps.

The Detroit Party Marching Band, a guerilla-style marching band that performs spontaneously throughout Detroit, hosted its first Crash Detroit festival in 2013. Since then, the free event has grown substantially from a small gathering to a two-day celebration of music, dancing, and art.

Today, the summer festival features street marching bands from around the country like the Jefferson St. Parade Band, Black Sheep Ensemble, and the March Madness Marching Band. During the first day of the event, the bands “crash” through different parts of the city playing for unsuspecting audiences around town. On day two, the bands perform at the more stationary festival.

The recent growth in attendance and interest has been a welcome experience for DPMB, and several community partners have latched on to keep the not-for-profit festival going. This year, festival coordinators from DPMB collaborated with sponsors such as Charity Music Inc. and the Corktown Business Association to secure tent rentals, chairs, and city permits. An IndieGoGo campaign also raised $3,125 for the event, allowing DPMB to expand its horizons and launch its newest addition, the Youth Crash Corps.

The Youth Crash Corps is the brainchild of Nichole McUmber, a middle school music teacher and sixth-year saxophonist with the Detroit Party Marching Band. As a punk rocker turned band teacher, McUmber wanted to provide an alternative music education project for budding musicians and share the fun of DPMB’s unique performance style. Thus, the idea for the Youth Crash Corps, a “radical street band” for kids 11-18, was born.

“It’s like DPMB for kids,” McUmber says, adding that the goal for the corps is to provide a unique musical outlet for children outside of traditional band class. As part of the corps, kids will learn a number of useful skills, including the ins and outs of performing in a unique setting, methods for connecting with their audience, and how to implement new, original musical techniques in their performances.

“They can really get into it, and feel the music and move to it,” McUmber says. 

At this year’s Crash Detroit Festival, DPMB launched its Youth Crash Corps with a “soft reveal.” A band of mostly toddlers paraded around Roosevelt park with homemade instruments made from cardboard tubes, construction paper, and household items. The corps gained a few members at the festival, McUmber says, but at press time, official practices still had yet to begin. The organization is recruiting new students to become members this fall.

Other members of DPMB will be assisting McUmber to advise and teach the young musicians as the group plans to include the corps alongside regular DPMB performances. McUmber and other DPMB members will also provide instrument-specific lessons for individual students, focusing on things like improvisation.

“I envision Detroit Party Marching Band as kind of mentoring the kids,” McUmber says.

There’s still a lot to be done before the Youth Corps makes its first surprise performance, but in time, McUmber says, the group will hopefully be a highlight at Crash Detroit in 2017.

“The ultimate goal ... is that they will crash around the city on Friday and they would have scheduled performances on Saturday,” McUmber says.

Until then, keep an eye out for any sudden, youth-filled marching bands.

For more information on Crash Detroit, visit crashdetroit.org

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