Photo by Ken Martinson/Marching.com
Known as “America’s Corps,” the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps has been a fan favorite for more than half a century even though the group hadn’t made finals in 23 years. That all changed last season. Fred Morris, the current director and 2009 Dr. Bernard Baggs Leadership Award (Director of the Year) recipient, talks about his three-year journey with the corps that fulfilled a lifelong dream. From Halftime Magazine, the sights, sounds and spirit of the marching arts.
Taking the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps from its struggles in 2006 to a finals birth last year, Fred Morris—recipient of last year’s World Class Director of the Year Award—has a lot to be proud of. Here, he discusses his steps toward that achievement and the corps this year.
Halftime: How did you become Troopers’ director?
Morris: They had the 2006 season off. And I got asked to take over the corps May 2006.
Halftime: Going back even further, what was your musical experience like?
Morris: Well, growing up as a kid, I was a drummer. And I was in a marching band that was sponsored by a VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] post. I had no idea what drum corps was, and I was up in Michigan in a contest. After competing, I hurried up and changed, so I could figure out what this drum corps thing was. And the very first drum corps I ever saw in my life was the Troopers. I knew then that I always wanted to march [with the Troopers], but my parents said I wasn’t allowed to go to Wyoming. It wasn’t even a settled state (laughter). Anyway, so it was kind of a dream come true to become the director. I’ve followed this corps, and it’s always been my favorite since I was 15.
Halftime: Last year, the Troopers made finals for the first time in 23 years. Describe that moment.
Morris: Boy, that was quite a thrill. … I was personally on a three-year program. I kind of thought we could do that. I had seen other organizations, and I knew our programming and our design team. I just felt we could accomplish that in three years. And we did it!
Halftime: What challenges did you face?
Morris: This corps was in some financial constraints. We hurdled that the first year. And then it was just setting up a program that was worthy of recruitment. We upgraded the instructional staff and everything from our office management to the administrative end. We set goals each year that we obtained or surpassed. And we just kept upgrading every year.
Halftime: Describe the group’s 2010 show.
Morris: The design team and I sat down at finals [last year] and started mapping out where we wanted to go with this show, we titled “Wanted.” We figured, “Well, we’re in 12th spot, we’re going to have a target on our back, and everyone is going to be after us.”
But as the thing evolved over the winter, we decided, “Well, we don’t want to look like we’re desperados out on the range.” We kept our cowboy theme going, but we’ve now taken that word, “Wanted,” and moved to an emotional level like desires and needs.
Halftime: This is the largest membership in the corps history, with 142 kids. Why?
Morris: This is our 52nd year on the field, and I think the history of this organization is so deep and historic. It was one of the founding fathers of DCI, and the kids respond to that.
Halftime: Last year, you won the Director of the Year Award for World Class. What was that like?
Morris: We’re literally sitting in a director’s meeting after having been announced that we made finals night. I’m sitting there looking at the schedule and looking at a sheet of how to get on the field. And they announce director of the year. And I’m sitting in the back of the room, and I heard my name. I’m like, “What?”
I was shocked. Particularly coming from your peers, they relate to your everyday road woes and what it takes in the wintertime. So coming from all those guys, who’ve been at this a lot longer than I have, that’s pretty special stuff to me.
Halftime: What’s your favorite memory from directing the Troopers?
Morris: Watching this program go from zero kids to our very first camp back in November 2006 when we had 22 kids to what it is today. … Bringing this corps back to what it is with the rapid success that we’ve had, it’s staggering. I have to pinch myself every once in a while.
Note from the Editor: To relive the Troopers’ amazing 2009 season, check out the documentary “Hell Bent for Victory.”
About the Author
Sabrina Lochner is an editorial intern for Halftime Magazine. She recently graduated from Syracuse University with bachelor’s degrees in magazine journalism and political science and a minor in architecture. She served as drum major of the Syracuse University Marching Band for three years and has played the clarinet since fifth grade. She will be attending law school in the fall.