Posted by: guinness222 | July 13, 2018

Drum Corps was more than you could imagine, and still keeps those of us who were involved in it regardless of how long, as Comrades, and concerned like nothing else could!! Part I

Back in the dark ages of 1963, I was “smitten” by a young lady named Pat McGrath, who was a Cashier when I worked at the local Super Market in Braintree, Massachusetts, the “A&P” supermarket, at Braintree “Five Corners” As it happened every time I tried to ask her out I was greeted with one ofthe same three excuses, #1 “I’ve got M&M practice tonight”, #2 “I’m working with the Color Guard tonight, and finally, #3 “I’ve got a competition tonight”.

As a “vibrant”, seventeen (going on 18) year old , and having the usual “young adult feelings”, also the attitude of “this can’t happen to me!” of an 18 year old “pre-macho dude”. So I was faced with the questions of , “is she just ‘blowing’ me off, (I’m not that bad a guy!). Or is there anything to what she’s telling me! I found out a week or so later there was a “Drum & Bugle Corps” competition at the local High School FootBall field.

So I did what any 18 year old “smitten” young man would do,….I went to the “competition”. There were probably ten or so “Drum Corps” competing. The difference in programs of music, the marching programs and the “guts” of every single kid on that field literally “astounded me”. Talk about commitment, dedication, passion and sheer “love”of what they were doing was incredible!!

As per “Tom Corcoran’s” M.O. (modus operandi), I went into the “research” (pre-computers and google, kids,… else would you do it)? What I found out is they(nobody except the two or three instructors a) get paid for it, nor the three nights a week practice, and long “school bus” rides to compete for “11-13 minutes” on the field, wait three hours to sit on “pins and needles” to find out how you did based on the opinions of four Judges, a “Bugle Judge”, a “Drum Judge”, a “General Effect” judge, and an “M&M (Marching and Maneuvering), competing against the other corps! Everyone else was a parent, DONATING all those hours of their time for the cause. They were, a manager, an equipment Manager, a squad of Mom’s who took care of the uniforms, hats (a/k/a shakes), flags, and in general all the things a “mom” was, someone to console you when you lost, someone to listen to, (or know there were boyfriend girlfriend problems that you needed a good shoulder to discuss, cry, or otherwise listen to what “MOM” had to say,…usually great advice as well I must add!) It was an ENTIRE SUPPORT TEAM all rolled into one that you could trust to help. More on that later.

Then I went to one of the “practices”one night to see what the “kids” were doing. I was hooked immediately. The practice was held in the parking lot of a Raytheon factory, Where else would you contain about a 100 kids + a lot of their parents, siblings etc., and have the same amount of room to practice as an entire high school football field. (It was almost impossible to use the football field because 100 kids and instructors could damage the turf before the next game as fast as those little gopher “critters” on the movie “Caddy-shack”!!

The name of the Corps was “Sir Thomas More” Cadets. It used to be St. Thomas More, but the local Catholic Church saw fit to get rid of the entire program and save money. Some of the parents bonded together formed a 5013c corporation and talked the church into giving everything to them, (I’m sure there was some cost to it, but no one ever talked about it. That included an old Bakery delivery truck to carry, all the equipment, all the uniforms, equipment, horns, drums, cymbals and all!)

It all happened about eight on nine years before my time, and they still were keeping the organization afloat, doing parades to cover the gas, and the other costs.

Anyway I joined the corps and was given a Bass Baritone bugle and put in a three man “squad”, that first night I told them I could not play a note,, and they said “that will come” a,d since I was relatively tall compared to the other kids, I was paired with another “Bass Bari” named Jimmy Patz, and Jimmy spent a ton of time from there on trying to teach me how to play the bugle. It had one valve, in or out, and one slide which was used by the managers to set the “key” or something else, that we never changed. Jimmy told me they were getting two “Contra’s” (Contra Bass Baritone) bugles, brand new, and he and I were going to get them. (They were similar to Tuba’s, but they sat on your shoulder, a great workout for your biceps by the way! It took two hands to hold the horn and it was really the REAL Base notes for the music. They taught me how to march, and learn to count again. On the field everything was geared to “counts”, besides lifting your feet when you marched, but actually counting your steps to turns, staying “dressed”, (a term meaning essentially in a straight line, while keeping our distance in front of us beside us, and behind us. The M&M Instructor (Marching and Maneuvering) had us carry our horns and all, but only two drums, a Snare and a tenor drum and a bass drum played to provide the “beat” for the rest of us. Our job was to keep in step and the M&M guy would run around counting with us and then telling us to turn left or right, as a “squad” and exaggerate the volume and sound of the count, oh year and other stuff. Like “two, three, four, Keep your head straight, six, seven, right turn, one two three four, mark time. (Meaning stop and march in place) while still silently counting to yourself.

That went on for three hours with one ten minute break for water break, Horn practice was a different day from 6-8:30 in the evening. We sat in our sections,i.e. soprano’s, baritones, French Horns, bass baritones, and in the back Jimmy and I , the “Contra’s”. We sat in the usual school folding metal chairs and kept time with out foot, tapping it as quietly as we could on the floor. The bugle music instructor, would walk around section to section and tell us what to blow. OK using Letter designation equating to the usual Do-Re-Me, every other one note depending on the called for note would determine whether you pushed in your single valve or not, plus “pursing” your lips and kind of blowing and spitting at the same time into the mouthpiece of the horn. I know sounds gross, but that’s what trumpet players actually play as well, except they have three buttons to worry about! He would sing each of the “parts” to us by group, or squads, and then got back up front and like a symphony conductor begin singing the melody and after a time or two tell us to play all the pieces we were responsible to play when he pointed to our squads by horn,and wishing each group, say Soprano’s, they were broken into First Soprano’s, Second Soprano’s, and Third Soprano’s. Since there were only two Contrabasses, Jimmy and I just played one part together, sort of establishing the poured concrete basement of the music. When we played the parts all together as a “song” we could actually recognize it as a song, somewhat “distorted” but we had the gist of it!!

We’d go home and practice all week with little pieces of paper that looked like “secret code”, C-D.C, C, E, E, G, Petal C (supposedly “DO”an octave (eight notes lower) than regular “DO, or “C”. That’s how I learned to play!! To this day I still have my “mouthpiece” on my desk and periodically will pick it and try a note or two, but my lip is not as “tight”as it used to be, but it does bring back memories.

The drummers would learn basically the same way with the use of all these crazy “slang names” for various patterns of drumming, and actually different combinations or strokes. For example there was a simple on called a “par-a-diddle”, as I remember) it was one stroke of the left stick, a immeasurable slight pause, and then a double tap with the right stick, try it yourself and as you play it say “Par -a-Diddle” with a little more emphasis on the “par” and the “did-dle” . By changing the “tempo” , “poof”, you can be a drummer, (but you have to learn another 30 or so strokes as well!)

In my first Corps, Sir Thomas More, we actually had a drummer who was DEAF!!!, He would watch the others drum his part, and then have one of them “drum it” with their sticks on his back and he would begin to follow them with his sticks until he literally had it “down pat”. We would always “declare” Rocky, “his real nick-name” to the drum Judge and as far as we could tell Rocky was always prepared and executed his parts perfectly and was never penalized. (In those days you learned fro your mistakes, took pride in what you did, and finally had that almost impossible pride and possessiveness of “doing your part as well as you possible could to support the Corps, and bring honor to your “CORPS”. Just what the Marine Corps does.

SIDE NOTE: Many of us joined the military, and a large number of guys “made it” to the “Commandants Finest” the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, The U.S. Navy Drill Teams, and other assorted honors learned from our Drum Corps days. As well as those things a lot of old Drum Corps members died or were seriously wounded during the Vietnam Nam War. If you read this and could help me out and let me know if you know of any former Drum and Bugle Corps members, what they did or played and for which Corps they played who were killed captured or otherwise served our country I would appreciate it. I am sure what they learned about discipline, honor and what they learned in Drum & Bugle Corps translated to SUCCESS in service to their Country, would love to honor them as LOYAL AMERICANS, and write a column for them for publication. THANK YOU.

Drum Corps was an unforgettable time of our lives, I married the Drum Major of an All-girl Drum and Bugle corps from Salem Massachusetts, and am still married to her. We celebrated 51 years this year, and it is still a strong memory, but more on that and the “behind the scenes” of commitment, respect, honor, and what we learned, and how it made us all better folks in Part Two.


July 13, 2018

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