Holy Name Cadets: Celebrating 75 Years

Photo courtesy of The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps

Few ensembles can boast the achievements of The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps. In 75 years, it has become a household name in the performing arts. the group has won nine Drum Corps International (DCI) World championships and 19 national championships prior to the formation of DCI, performed at the Summer Olympic games, appeared on a late-night talk show and marched in a presidential inauguration parade. it is considered one of the oldest continually operating and most honored drum and bugle corps in the world. Here, we salute the past and toast the future of The Cadets.

What’s in a name? The Cadets— formerly known as Holy Name Fife and Drum Corps, the Garfield Cadets and Cadets of Bergen County— has endured many forms of adversity during the course of its history. More than just name changes, these hurdles include the financial and logistical obstacles that have eliminated thousands of other drum corps.

But The Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps is more than just a survivor; it has maintained its role as a perennial powerhouse in the marching arts by being a top-ranked group in DCI Finals since the early 1980s.

If you ask George Hopkins, executive director, The Cadets’ success is reflected by more than just points on a scoreboard.

It is about positively affecting the lives of thousands of youth who have come through the program.

Diamond Anniversary

The Cadets, founded in 1934 and currently based in Allentown, Pa., as a program of Youth Education in the Arts, is the second oldest continually operating drum corps (behind the Racine Scouts) and one of the most revered marching music ensembles in the world. Originally named the Holy Name Fife and Drum Corps, The Cadets won nine DCI World Championships and 19 National Championships. The Cadets placed in DCI Finals for 28 consecutive years, never below sixth place since 1982.

Known for making the unconventional conventional, The Cadets organization has been considered controversial by some fans for its use of amplification, voice, narration, costuming and props.

Such innovation is part of The Cadets’ legacy as the corps was among the first to bring symphonic music to the football field, to use a contra bass bugle and to use a symphonic keyboard and timpani. It is also a leader in integrating percussion and guard into the visual design process. Thanks to highly skilled instructional staff and designers throughout the years, the group was also among the first to move at fast tempos, to perform whiplash drill and to bring “story” shows to the field.

While the corps has often performed music from Leonard Bernstein as it will this year, it has also experimented with a variety of musical genres. With themes ranging from flight to the Knights of the Round Table to Alice in Wonderland in the Twilight Zone, the group has been at the forefront of the new and innovative.

Overcoming the Darkest Hour

But The Cadets’ fame and glory haven’t always come easy.

Hopkins, who has made the performing arts his mission in life, has led The Cadets for 26 years—since 1982. After aging out with the Crossmen in 1978, Hopkins began his time with The Cadets as a percussion instructor in 1979. By the winter of 1980, he became the assistant director and staff coordinator.

Since then, he has been one of the leading architects of modern-day drum corps and was named to the DCI Hall of Fame in 1997.

But in 1986, after a first-ever DCI championship three-peat (1983, 1984 and 1985), The Cadets faced deep financial difficulties—to the point where its debt equaled its operating budget: nearly $400,000.

“With the assistance of a friend and board member, Gregory Pych, we worked out a $50,000 grant from a local corporation,” Hopkins says. “Somehow, over the following years, we were able to hold the wolves at bay and eventually rise to a fiscal status I would say was distressed versus doomed. … We talk about the days when we had no money, when we lived on the edge going from place to place, but frankly, those are the stories that do not bear repeating.”

Building a Legacy

Hopkins notes that the corps’ instructional staff, great kids and hard work have kept the corps at the top. “We have been fortunate to have great people on board here for long periods of time,” he says. “Tom Aungst, April Gilligan, Marc Sylvester and Jay Bocook, to name a few, have laid the foundation of today’s corps for over 20 years. With dedicated and enthusiastic members who are willing to work as hard as anyone in the country, we are bound to be successful.”

Emma Roberts, who has been a part of the corps for nearly a decade, agrees. “The Cadets have always been a symbol of excellence and integrity in the activity,” says Roberts, who is now the color guard caption supervisor. “Through the years, I have learned a few things about why kids come to this special corps. They want to work harder than they ever thought possible. They want to feel the strength of 75 years of tradition behind them. They want to innovate, inspire and entertain.”

The Cadets organization has also been a major part of Drum Corps International’s development through the last three decades. In fact, the group was a charter member of DCI in 1972, beginning what has become known as the modernday drum corps era.

“The Cadets have been such a contributor to the overall success of the drum corps experience, it is difficult to put words together that would fully describe their outstanding achievements,” says Dan Acheson, DCI executive director and CEO. “Their commitment to innovation, education and entertainment is legendary, and year after year, their work ethic is simply incredible.”

Back to its Roots

Typically known for movement on the field, The Cadets has also been known for its movement off the field. Founded in 1934 as the Holy Name Fife and Drum Corps, the organization was originally sponsored by the Church of the Most Holy Name in Garfield, N.J. Back then, a group of young men (mostly altar boys) in the church competed in auditoriums. In 1936, the group evolved into a marching and maneuvering unit, without the fife instruments.

“In our first contest on June 1, 1936, we took 4th place,” says Al Mura, who was a bugle player and drum major from 1934 to 1942. “Not long after that, we won our first contest in Caldwell, N.J. That was the beginning of many first place winnings over the span of 75 years.”

Mura, a military veteran who served overseas, credits his time with The Cadets as a major influence in his life. “The new West Point style uniforms in 1939 instilled in the members an uplifting pride and determination for disciplined behavior and excellence,” Mura says. “This musical and marching experience motivated me to make music my lifetime career, both as a teacher and music arranger.”

For the 75th anniversary, The Cadets will be recognized as the Holy Name Cadets to honor its history.

“It’s a thrill to belong to an organization with such grand heritage, and I admit, I am in awe,” Hopkins says. “How could they know what they were beginning, and yet, today, here we stand. The same corps, the same commitment to excellence, the same service being offered to young adults.”

Despite its positive early foundation, the church ceased its relationship with The Cadets in 1958, resulting in the ensemble’s first name change to the Garfield Cadets. Then in 1988, the group relocated to Hackensack, N.J., taking the name of The Cadets of Bergen County. In 2004, the corps moved to its current location in Allentown, Pa., and is now simply known as The Cadets.

According to George Hopkins, tight budgets and the high cost of living in the New York area forced The Cadets out.

In Allentown, The Cadets set up shop in a 25,000-square-foot former advertising office and signed a 30-year lease that began in 2004.

“The location of the building is certainly more advantageous than the cramped quarters they previously had,” says Larry Markiewicz, utility brass instructor for The Cadets. “Also, having a youth-based arts organization in that area of Lehigh Valley seems to be a great fit for the community.

Living History

According to The Cadets organization, nearly 6,000 young men and women have marched with the corps. Approximately one-third of those former Cadets currently serve as music educators and administrators across the country.

One notable Cadets alum who has come back to help the brass of The Cadets is Al Chez. He marched with The Cadets from 1978 to 1982 and has been a trumpet player for the “Late Show with David Letterman” since 1997.

The diamond anniversary has helped bring alumni back to support the modern- day Cadets. “The Cadets members love interacting with the alumni when they come by to see the corps,” says Markiewicz, a brass instructor on and off for The Cadets since 1992. “We have always had great alumni support, but the past few years, the alumni are much more visible. For this 75th anniversary season, it is exciting to see such great enthusiasm and energy behind it.”

Hopkins expresses gratitude to everyone who has ever been a part of The Cadets organization. “We thank all of those who support our efforts and congratulate anyone who has ever been a member of The Cadets,” Hopkins says. “And finally, to all volunteers—today and yesterday— thank you! We could not have done it without you.”

About the Author

Gregory M. Kuzma, who simply goes by GM, is a consultant for the performing arts, freelance writer and author of the book “On the Field from Denver, Colorado … The Blue Knights!,” which highlights his 1994 summer tour adventures as a drum corps member.