Kaapana Takes on DCI Casper Troopers


Alicia Getty

     Concert Band and Marching Band Director Derek Kaapana is expanding his reach as a band designer by working with Drum Corps International (DCI), particularly the Casper Troopers, in summer 2018. DCI is a non-profit marching band organization formed in 1971 with the intent of creating a unified platform for the world’s most highly trained marching bands to display their expertise. The yearly event spans from May to mid-August, with participating corps performing and touring the United States.

    “For teaching groups like this, I enjoy seeing how more selected students take instruction. It helps me to understand what I’m doing as a teacher—how I explain things, how I write for different groups. It helps me to just better understand myself and I think, for me, that’s what I enjoy the most. I do like flying out and getting to work with other people, but it made me such a stronger designer and choreographer that, when I get back to Mililani and get to work with our marching band, I feel like it makes that a lot more interesting and a lot better,” said Kaapana.

    Kaapana is a part of a group of band visual organizers and designers that includes the Mililani Color Guard Director Susan Sagawa, along with people they networked with while in Indiana. “One of the people that are on our design team, he works with groups in drum corps, had asked me back in 2014 if it was something I was interested in doing; and I said definitely because that would only make me better as a teacher—getting to experience things at that level,” said Kaapana.

    All participants undergo a careful selection process, and must be able to contribute to the group. Interested students under the age of 22 can audition to be a part of the Troopers. “During the audition process you’re able to choose the absolute best people that had applied to be a part of the group. So you don’t get the normal things that would happen with any school band, where you have such a wide range of skill and talent. Everyone is pretty much at the same level so you can talk to them, teach them and write things in a way that’s more appropriate because you know the level that everyone’s at,” said Kaapana.

    Kaapana has assumed the position of brass body writer and tech for the Troopers, which requires him to adapt to the dance and performance abilities of the group members. “Choreographing just means that whatever the designers put onto the field, if there’s elements that need to actually be choreographed. Let’s say some parts of the music, it sounds like their bodies should be doing certain things, not like forms or movement, but just like a plie or a lunge or something—then that’s stuff that I would write in for them,” said Kaapana.

    Kaapana doesn’t hesitate to initiate peer-led learning. Mililani Color Guard Captain Senior Kayla Tamayo often assists with the teaching and execution of color guard choreography. “Mr. Kaapana trusts student leaders to assist him in teaching other students. Rather than trying to teach 150 students at once he splits the work among responsible students,” said Tamayo.

    Student’s aren’t the only ones learning and improving. As someone who did not have a dance background to begin with, Kaapana has been able to develop his skills through consistent practice. “I know that there are strong students we have that do take dance, like Kayla takes dance and some other students,” said Kaapana. “I translate (ideas) to people that are good at dancing, I feel like that kind of thing helped me to become a little bit better.”

    Being involved with a group off island has allowed him to adopt a more inclusive viewpoint of what it means to direct a marching band. “What I’ve learned is that the activity is evolving in such a way that it’s continuing to push not only my self and other teachers, but push the student’s also to do more things. Marching band has changed from being marching from point A to point B and playing music, and now is starting to incorporate a lot more elements in it, including dance,” said Kaapana.

    As the time spent practicing and performing grows, so does the students’ abilities. Kaapana is able to witness this growth within his students. “Seeing it at day one and then seeing it at the end is very rewarding because you see how much that they understand and you see that they start to connect with the music and connect with the audience a little bit better,” said Kaapana.

    The Troopers will have their first tour performance in June. Kaapana is currently in talks with the Troopers visual staff, gathering information about the current progress of prospective Troopers to gain a better understanding of what he can contribute to the Trooper Corps.