Inside the Corps

What does it take to be a champion? Find out the character, the history, the traditions and the inside stories, told candidly by directors, members and alums of last year’s top five drum & bugle corps.

On the night of Aug. 11, a champion will be crowned at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif. But, this event isn’t just any “bowl game”—it’s the pinnacle of the 2007 Summer Music Games, where the best drum and bugle corps will compete for the Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championship. Who has what it takes to be a champion? Let’s review last year’s top five finalists—The Cavaliers, Phantom Regiment, The Blue Devils, Bluecoats and The Cadets—to get a pulse on the competition.

The Cavaliers

The Cavaliers, nicknamed the “Green Machine,” did it again at the 2006 Drum Corps International World Championships by capturing their seventh overall title with the ultimate Cavalier show: “The Machine,” a fiercely intense program that exuded command and authority. Their program paid homage to the importance of machinery—past, present and future.

Executive Director Jeff Fiedler comments on how the show evolved. “We gave our members some freedom to come up with their own characterizations of the machine,” he says. “It was interesting how they created unique personifications of the concept, and it worked well.”

Winning three consecutive DCI World Championships in 2000, 2001, and 2002, The Cavaliers are this decade’s dominant force. Only one other group in the history of the competition has managed to attain this honor. (Garfield Cadets, now known as The Cadets, were the first to achieve this feat with their first three titles in 1983, 1984 and 1985). The Cavaliers also won in 2004 and again in 2006 to earn five titles in seven years. Championships in 1992 and 1995 bring their overall wins to seven.

The Cavaliers have set the bar high with their dazzling innovative visual design and impeccable musicianship. “We’re always looking for ways to improve our overall show program,” Fiedler says. “Even today, we continue to seek out ways to be better than the day before.”

Indeed, with three decades of experience under his belt, Fiedler knows what it takes to build a program’s prestige. He began his career playing baritone with The Cavaliers’ cadet corps in 1973. Two years later, he joined The Cavaliers’ “A-Corps.” He completed his performing career as drum major in 1979 and 1980. After that, Fiedler stayed on as an instructor and assisted with tour management until he became director of the corps in 1990. In 2005, Fiedler’s induction into the Drum Corps Hall of Fame honored his lifelong dedication to the activity.

“Although some things have changed over the years such as brass lines switching from G-bugles to Bb and the evolution of show design, I am still very passionate about staying involved for the people,” Fiedler says. “We have great people in drum corps, and that makes it worth the hard work; we do it with smiles on our faces.”

His advice to prospective drum corps members: “Don’t be afraid of failure; it could mean success in the future,” he says.

Assistant drum major and fourth-year member Kevin Gates shares this sentiment. “Go to an audition,” he says. “That’s how you learn.”

Of course, the fortunate few who make the cut gain not only the opportunity to join the ranks of the elite, but they also have the opportunity to make lifelong friends and memories.

Gates, who hails from The Woodlands, Texas, relates a humorous story from last year’s tour. “We were in Oklahoma looking for a laundromat late at night,” he says. “We finally got to one and had to bribe the manager to stay open. At first she refused, but when she smelled all 135 of us standing at her door, she gave up and let us in for a couple hours. We didn’t get everything dry, but at least we all got our clothes cleaned.”

This summer, The Cavaliers are exploring the music of Billy Joel. “Billy Joel’s music has the distinctiveness and diversity that is so important to a great show,” says Scott Koter, the program coordinator. “The design team is excited about combining our process with his melodies.”

Phantom Regiment

A major force in the late 1970s, Phantom Regiment’s recent resurgence can be largely credited to the leadership of board president Tim Farrell, program director Dan Farrell and former director Patrick Seidling. Now, newly appointed Executive Director Rick Valenzuela brings his experience and staff to Rockford, IL.

“I am very honored and thrilled to be working for an organization with a very long and rich history, such as the Phantom Regiment,” Valenzuela says.

Valenzuela began his career with the Santa Clara Vanguard where he marched soprano for five years. After aging out in 1989, he instructed visual technique. In 2000, Valenzuela became the fourth director of the Santa Clara Vanguard in its 35-year history. Two years later, he was voted “Director of the Year.”

The 2006 competition brought Phantom Regiment a notable accolade: their highest placement since their first and only DCI World Championship in 1996. Their program “Faust” featured a cast of characters who wanted to have it all. The classic good-versus-evil tale challenged The Cavaliers for the DCI World Championship.

“Hearing our corps announced in second place at the 2006 DCI World Championships was awesome,” says Phantom Regiment member Emily Fetcho. “It was an incredible feeling of accomplishment and pride. Playing ‘Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral’ for The Cavaliers before we left the field at Finals was one of the proudest moments ever as a member.”

Fetcho loves the camaraderie she finds in the corps. “Before every show, we all come together as a corps and yell a big ‘SUTA’ before we take the field,” she says. “It is a very special way to bond everyone together before the show.” The significance of this ritual is only understood by members.

This summer’s program, “On Air,” pays tribute to the glory of human and avian flight.

The Blue Devils

No other drum corps has won more DCI World Championships than The Blue Devils. Established in 1957 as a Drum and Bell corps, the organization has grown into a world-renowned performing arts organization. They will celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2007.

“This has been a great organization to be a part of,” says David Gibbs, executive director and 2002 inductee to the DCI Hall of Fame. “We’re all looking forward to continuing the legacy of The Blue Devils for 50 more years.”

Gibbs has been with The Blue Devils since 1974. He marched soprano bugle for four years, served as drum major for three, stayed involved in various capacities for several more years and became director in 1991.

“Some things haven’t changed much at The Blue Devils,” Gibbs says. “We’re still teaching the same principles of performance that Jerry Seawright taught back in the 1970s as well as striving for excellence to be the best in the activity. Family is very important to The Blue Devils’ success. We firmly believe you can go further as a team than as an individual.”

In 2006, The Blue Devils performed a drum corps version of the best-selling novel and award-winning motion picture, “The Godfather.” The eclectic collage told the story of the Corleone family with the sounds of classical jazz and symphonic band.

Chuck File, a Blue Devils alum who marched mellophone in 1998, traveled from his hometown in Winter Haven, Fla., to Concord, Calif., to participate. “I chose The Blue Devils because of their commitment to excellence on the field, particularly with the horn line,” he says.

File feels that playing in drum corps afforded him a valuable life experience. “Aside from the educational aspects, drum corps is one of the best places to send a child to grow up,” he says. “It is a good balance of freedom and responsibility that is unique in the world today.”

The Blue Devils take to the skies in 2007 with “Winged Victory.” This mythological journey features a cornucopia of characters from Pegasus to Icarus in a collage that will delight the ears and eyes. Watch The Blue Devils take flight for their 50th year of success.

Bluecoats

In 1972, Canton police officers formed a youth musical group for the Canton Boys’ Club. The young musicians chose the name Bluecoats in tribute to the police department’s retired police officers. They made their drum corps debut in competition in 1974.

Although the Bluecoats have not yet won a DCI World Championship, they are making quite an impression today. Executive Director Dave Glasgow remembers the first time he saw the Bluecoats on the field.

“They were the first corps that came on the field in Ypsilanti, Mich., and [they] made an impact that I will never forget,” he says. “Even though I was a saxophone player in school, I knew I wanted to march drum corps.”

Glasgow has been the Bluecoats’ director since 2004. He marched baritone in 1998 and 1999, then served as drum major in 2000 and 2001. He has stayed active in the organization ever since.

“One aspect of the activity that has changed for the better is amplification,” Glasgow says. “I hope to see electronics as another step in creating new avenues.”

The 4th place finish at last year’s DCI World Championships marks the highest placement ever in the Bluecoats’ history. Their 2006 production entitled “Connexus” combined two concepts—connection and nexus—that demonstrated the ways in which individuals and groups of people intersect.

Jared Buchsbaum, a member of the Bluecoats, explains his reasons for marching drum corps. “It’s not just a Bluecoats thing; it’s the nature of the activity as a whole,” he says. “Drum corps really does make for some of the most tenacious, persistent, motivated people I know. The urge for self-improvement and the constant raising of standards is what makes drum corps great.”

The Bluecoats’ 2007 show focuses on its origins as Canton crime fighters. “Criminal” will feature music inspired by great mystery thrillers. The five-movement production blends unconventional music and visual events, portraying a prison break, an evil scheme, a crime spree, a heinous crime and a full throttle chase.

“It’s a wild ride and not what you’d expect from the Bluecoats,” Glasgow says. “We often refer to the show as the ultimate ‘whodunit?’”

The Cadets

What’s in a name? The Cadets have also been known as the Holy Name Cadets, the Garfield Cadets and the Cadets of Bergen County.

The Cadets are one of the oldest and most honored marching music ensembles in the world. Formed in 1934 as the Holy Name Fife and Drum Corps, The Cadets are a nine-time DCI World Champion and 20-time drum corps National Champion. The group is sponsored by Youth Education in the Arts, also known as YEA!

Executive Director George Hopkins has led The Cadets since 1982. Hopkins celebrates his 25th anniversary as director this year. 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 1997 DCI Hall of Fame.

Hopkins reflects on The Cadets’ innovation in the drum corps activity. “For decades, these fearless individuals have come together on the field to create what sometimes can be magical,” he says. “Of course, there are times all doesn’t work as we hoped. But in the end, to be a Cadet is truly the most amazing experience of many of these members’ lives.”

Paula Hyman, who marched for five years until she aged out in 2006, recalls her tour experience with The Cadets. “Waking up everyday at the crack of dawn, getting your butt kicked and doing it all over again for 90 days—you can’t get these great experiences anywhere else,” she says.

Hyman, who served as mellophone section leader, urges future drum corps hopefuls to take hold of their dreams. “Getting over my fears and actually auditioning was the best thing I ever could have done because marching here changed my life for the better,” Hyman says. “Never give up on your goals. If you can dream it, you can achieve it, especially in this activity.”

Last year, in “Volume 2: Through the Looking Glass,” the audience followed the adventures of schoolgirl Dani as she entered a surrealistic “wonderland” dreamscape known as “The Zone.” This summer, The Cadets’ program is entitled, “This I Believe.” It will relay The Cadets’ 73-year history of ethos and excellence in a completely innovative program loosely based on the National Public Radio show of the same name.

The show incorporates the members’ beliefs about who they are as people and as Cadets. This season will also mark the return of The Cadets’ classic visuals and West Point-style uniform.

About the Author:

Gregory M. Kuzma, who simply goes by “GM,” is the 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. He currently resides in San Antonio, Texas.

Photo by Jolesch Photography, www.jolesch.com. All rights reserved.

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