We’ve just gotten back from an amazing week of vacation.

We were at the theater. It was Broadway and Holly wood, the Silver Screen and the community playhouse all on one stage. The stories were raw and moving, each one unfolding a deeply spiritual saga. There was wisdom from ancient lore, contemporary dramas enacting the eternal human predicament of sin and redemption, and there were modern, avant-garde tales filled with ecstasies of joy and the blinding pain of suffering and death.

Interwoven into the theatrics was the festive panoply of a grand parade. There was pageantry to beat the band: flags and rifles and batons, spectacular dance and intricately woven choreography. The colors bespoke the spectrum of emotions told in all of the stories: lush, dark shades and somber earth-tones, a rainbow of vibrant hues and the soft tones of the pastel spectrum. The stage was a visual carnival, a feast for the eye.

Tying together the message and the color was the music, and it was a concert venue to beat all concert venues. In one arena we heard it all: the driving, edgy pulse of rock-n-roll, the fanciful melody of the musical stage, the triumph of classical harmonies, the syncopation and dissonance of the big band, the proud patriotic anthem, the soaring strains of the opera house, the cadence of the marching band, and the brash brilliance of the brass band.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, put all of this in a covered dome big enough for a franchise in the National Football League, and wrap it all into a national championship, and you get 25,000 screaming fans and all the excitement befitting such a competition – all the athletic strain, all the strategy, all the tension, all the “thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

Someone with an untrained eye might scoff: “It’s just a bunch of marching bands. Sissies… band geeks… music nerds…” The operative word there would be “untrained” – through it doesn’t take much training to recognize that the 154 competitors that make up a Drum Corps International corps are anything but sissies.

Our younger son just completed his second DCI summer, and the rigor and discipline and stamina and perseverance and coordination and strength required to run and jump and plank and leap-frog and dance – while playing a trumpet in a DCI-inspired show – far out-pace any athletic discipline he has ever faced, even as a high school baseball player.

The season started in mid-May, and from the first day of move-ins until that championship night in Indianapolis, he spent 77 days of toil and travel, all the while practicing perfection. In those 77 days, the corps enjoyed a full 3 days off. Practice days consisted of 12 hours of rehearsal, most of it outside in scorching summer temperatures. Show days included 3 to 6 hours of rehearsal, and after the evening competitions the 10-vehicle entourage would travel overnight, so the corps didn’t miss any daylight rehearsal time. This summer they covered 8,600 miles, zigzagging the U.S. in the dark. When corps members did get “floor time,” they slept on the gym floor of some local high school. When they had the luxury of a shower, it was usually cramped and cold.

By a loose estimate Bennett’s corps, “Spirit of Atlanta,” rehearsed 680 hours in 77 days. That’s 24-hours-a-day for one solid month – or, 61.8 hours for each minute of their 11-minute competition performance. An old band director of mine once said, “Practice does not make perfect. (You only get what you practice.) Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

The members of Spirit of Atlanta, and the 154 members (each) of the 23 other DCI corps spend their summers practicing perfection. The end result for 3,696 teenage musicians and staff members and volunteers is the satisfaction of cooperation, the creation of a show of amazing beauty, a feast to sate the senses.

We traveled with the corps for one week, working on the food truck, helping with repairs, driving one of the overnight equipment vehicles. Behind the scenes it’s just as crazy as it sounds from a distance! Some might wonder why: what’s the appeal of such relentless discipline? Asking the question might provide its own answer – and,

Who knew relentless discipline could be so beautiful?