Hardcore baritone: From SHHS to DCI to ETSU, Johnson City native excels

Tim Hart in performance with Spirit of Atlanta

Tim Hart in performance with Spirit of Atlanta

By Scott Robertson

Tim Hart started as one trumpet player among many at Science Hill High School. He took playing in the band seriously, but the trumpet section was overcrowded. So when the band director walked in one day toward the end of Hart’s freshman year, asking if there were any volunteers who might consider changing instruments to French horn or perhaps baritone, Hart figured, “Why not?”

It was a fortuitous choice.

While learning to play the baritone, Hart began to discover that not only did he have a higher level of talent with the instrument, he also had something else he’d never really had with the trumpet: ambition.

“Ever since I started in band my freshman year, I was exposed to drum corps,” he says. “When I first saw it, I thought I’d really like to do it one day, but then I changed my mind for a long time because I didn’t think I would be good enough to make it.”

Drum Corps International (DCI) bills itself as “Marching Music’s Major League.” Each year, around 3,500 of the nation’s best high school and college (under 21 only) brass players and percussionists devote their winters to practice and their summers to DCI competition. Those who can make the cut in DCI are generally assured to be good enough to earn scholarships in major college music programs, though there are no guarantees.

“One night I came across a video of Spirit of Atlanta that just changed my mind again,” Hart says. “I decided it would be worth it to at least try.”

During his junior year, Hart contacted the Spirit of Atlanta Drum and Bugle Corps to request a tryout booklet. Each year the corps holds several tryouts during the late fall and early winter. He practiced the music in the booklet every day and it paid off. Hart was offered a contract to be a member of Spirit after the very first round of auditions.

Tim Hart

Tim Hart

Many high school bands (and some college bands) march a little and play a lot, mostly while standing still in formation. The corps of DCI are musical kaleidoscopes, with near-constant motion, even during the most difficult portions of the music.

That means every single member has to be constantly focused. Drummers can be docked points if the upswing of their drumstick after a beat goes to high, or not high enough. A single misstep by a single member can cost the entire corps in the judging. One mistake is often one mistake too many. That increased intensity was exactly what Hart wanted.

“In high school, it could be frustrating because not everyone took what we were doing as seriously as I did,” he says. But with Spirit, everyone had to be dialed in from day one. “I could guarantee that I would be around people who are willing to work hard just as much as I am.”

Hart and Spirit of Atlanta finished the summer season last weekend with the DCI World Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Spirit of Atlanta placed 21st in the world, a respectable showing considering the corps, one of the oldest in DCI (DCI was established in 1972, Spirit of Atlanta in 1976) almost folded its tents following a financial crisis in 2015.

Hart says he may take the next season off to spend the year raising funds to participate again in the remaining two years of eligibility he’ll have after that. It costs each individual corps member $3,000 – $5,000 a year to take part.

The folks at Spirit know he won’t stop practicing in the meantime though. In fact, he’s already started. Monday marked Hart’s first day of practice as a member of the Marching Bucs of East Tennessee State University.

And you can bet Hart has earned his scholarship to march with the Bucs.


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