DCA Turns Golden

Drum Corps Associates celebrates its evolution, its traditions and its goals of education and entertainment as it turns 50 years old in 2014.

Photos by Chris Maher, corpsreps.com

The Drum Corps Associates (DCA) organization celebrated its 50th anniversary over Labor Day weekend in Rochester, N.Y. Like every year, the championship prelims and finals were held; however, many festivities were added, making the entire weekend a big celebration.

Along with the championship prelims on Friday, a large parade took place on the streets of Rochester, in which many DCA corps participated. An invitation-only gala was held on Saturday evening as well as a mini corps show. Sunday started with the alumni corps spectacular. The entire weekend came to an exciting conclusion with the championship finals on Sunday night.

The entire DCA organization is excited to have reached this incredible anniversary. “Entertainment and education have been the driving goals for DCA for 50 years,” says Gil Silva, DCA president. “Hopefully we have been making those strides correctly.”

The DCA-participating corps seem to think so. “It’s a huge milestone,” says Ben Chaffee, show coordinator and brass arranger of White Sabers—two-time Class A Champion—from Dansville, N.Y. “DCA has been around a long time and has a long history. It has high standards, and corps work really hard to be a part of DCA.”

Gretchen Endres, the assistant director of Fusion Core from Morris County, N.J., agrees. “It’s very exciting, and we’re very happy to be a part of it,” she says “There are a lot of people in the organization that have been in drum corps for 20 or 30 years who are very excited to hit 50.”

Evolution but Not Revolution

Through the last 50 years, DCA has evolved greatly. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, before DCA was formed, the drum corps contests were controlled by The American Legion. This group provided judges and contests that all-age corps could attend.

Silva says that back then, there was no continuity on judging criteria. “DCA formed to create its own contest and create a standard way of judging. The second task was to get revenue for performing. We initially started in 1963, then eventually settled and had our first championship in 1964.”

Since its start, DCA has added, changed and reformed the entire idea of an all-age drum corps. “In the early days, it truly was a senior corps,” says Larry Visconti, director of the Long Island Sunrisers, which is celebrating its own 60th anniversary. “As junior corps have declined in numbers, DCA has provided an opportunity for some younger members to perform without giving up their entire summers.”

Visconti also adds, “It has evolved into a professional organization with leadership that looks forward to looking at the big picture.”

Instrumentation of the corps has also evolved throughout the years. The early days of DCA saw corps that only included brass and field percussion instruments. “There was no pit when DCA first started,” Chaffee says. “If you couldn’t carry it on the field, you couldn’t play it. Now pits are amplified.”

Education and Entertainment

Throughout the years, DCA has seen an increase in membership and is welcoming more younger members than ever before. Aside from local corps membership, DCA also has international groups.

Silva attributes this increase in membership primarily to the education that DCA offers. “Drum corps have been around for awhile, but DCA is an organization that was started 50 years ago and is still going strong today,” Silva says. “The biggest thing we’ve done is gotten to the point to continue the education of music.”

Chaffee agrees that education is one of DCA’s most important accomplishments. “It elevates kids to a higher standard than they would receive in a public school environment,” he says. “It teaches a lot of valuable lessons to kids, so they can reach what they didn’t think they could.”

Endres echoes this sentiment as well. “The staff tries to make it an extension of music education,” she says. “A lot of kids want to be music majors, so we try to provide a family atmosphere for kids. We have a staff that is going to push them to be their personal best.”

Furthermore, members of all ages learn from their participation in DCA. “DCA tries to provide the best possible education and best possible experience for its membership, whether its members are adults or kids,” Chaffee says. “Their interest piques because people are pushing themselves to be the best they can be and contribute to the full ensemble.”

In fact, part of the draw of DCA is that many generations within the same family can perform together. “The movement keeps growing primarily because there are families … that still compete in the same corps and pass it on to their children,” Silva says. “It’s drum corps for life if you’re interested and have the ability.”

Visconti adds that another reason for DCA’s increase in membership is its more traditional nature. “DCA is trying to keep the somewhat traditional drum corps intact,” he says. “We are much more GE [General Effect] oriented. A major factor for DCA is entertainment.”

Through completed evaluations and surveys, DCA has discovered a high audience enjoyment rating. “Our goal is entertaining,” Silva says. “People like to go to a show and understand it instead of being taught a lesson. We’re going to continue to entertain folks and get the word out about what drum corps is all about—anything we can do as a strategic partner of DCI [Drum Corps International].”

In addition, DCA finds other ways to keep audience and corps members engaged. Silva says that DCA holds seminars during the course of the season and in the winter to encourage new judging and new philosophies. “There’s so much out there we have to compete with,” he says. “With video games and all the things that are being offered today to the public, it’s a challenge to get people involved in a drum corps show.”

Flexibility and Accessibility

The accessibility of participating in a DCA corps is another reason for the organization’s continued growth. “DCI corps get on a bus in mid-June and travel around, probably doing four shows a week,” Silva says. “DCA has maybe 20 shows, and we don’t’ do a lot during the week—mostly just weekends. People can have a full-time job and still participate in DCA.”

He adds that money is a big factor in people’s decisions. “Auditions and camps are basically the same. The difference is that DCA is $600 to $700 a year whereas DCI is $2,000 to $3,000 a year.”

Corps directors agree with Silva. “Not everyone can jump on a tour bus and spend all summer [touring] and thousands of dollars in tuition,” Chaffee says. “DCA is more affordable, and people can stay involved as members or educators for a long time. DCI is limited in terms of [members] having to be able to afford it and spend the time performing all summer.”

DCA’s survival can be attributed to even more than its accessibility to its members. Endres believes that DCA has thrived for so long because of its attention to its member corps. “DCA tries very hard to run the organization based on what the voting members want to do,” she says.

She adds that the Class A division of DCA is a great way to grow the organization because it “creates an opportunity for some of the smaller drum corps to compete against drum corps that are a similar size … Fusion moved into Open Class from Class A; it was a great stepping stone as a smaller corps to be in Class A, then move to Open Class.”

The Next 50

The fact that more and more people are being drawn to DCA is the reason that it has thrived for 50 years. Its survival is no mere coincidence. DCA and its participating corps work hard to keep their reputation alive, grow their membership and keep the audience interested in attending shows.

Silva hopes to continue DCA’s growth over the next 50 years. “We intend to do more on the expansion,” he says. “There’s no reason why someone who has a fulltime job and can’t afford to go on tour can’t have this opportunity.”

Members of DCA hope that the future brings the same accomplishments that the past 50 years have brought. “I’d like to be celebrating DCA’s 100th anniversary in 50 years,” Chaffee says. “The powers that be need to stay open-minded in the activity and selectively engage the audience.”

Visconti believes that the future of DCA looks bright. “If we continue to follow the tenants that DCA has followed, I don’t see it doing anything but getting bigger and bigger,” he says.

About the Author

Liz Wright is an editorial intern at Halftime Magazine. She is a senior at the University of Cincinnati (UC) studying creative writing, communications and journalism. She marched trumpet for five years in the Kenston High School Marching Band in Bainbridge, Ohio, and for three years in the UC Bearcat Marching Band. After graduation, Liz hopes to pursue a career in copyediting.

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