From drum corps member to published author

by Barbara Ferrer

This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of Drum Corps World.

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Once upon a time, there was this young girl who loved music. She sang, she played piano from the age of four and, when she hit junior high age, she joined band. By high school, she loved band so much that when instructors from the Florida Wave Drum and Bugle Corps stopped by her high school to talk up their organization, she was immediately fascinated.

Fast-forward a . . . lot of years and that young girl who loved drum corps and music is now an award-winning author. Seriously. And she’s written a young adult novel — “when the stars go blue” — that’s a contemporary retelling of Bizet’s “Carmen.” To bring things full circle, it’s set within the world of drum corps. So, that young corps member, Barbara Ferrer, is going to have a chat with author Caridad Ferrer about how she went from 15-hour rehearsals and peanut butter sandwiches to 15-hour writing days and pretzel M&Ms.

Barbara Ferrer: So, you were in corps?

Caridad Ferrer: Yep. From 1983 to 1985 the late, lamented Florida Wave, which actually had evolved out of the former Florida Vanguards. During my tenure, we were what was known as A Class (Division II); we were small, perpetually broke, lived off a lot of PB&J and Kool-Aid, and we played our butts off. In 1984, we actually made history as the first corps to perform during every night of DCI Championship Week since we competed (and won) in A Class, then turned around and made it to semi-finals of Open Class. As the A Class champs, we then opened the show on finals night in exhibition. I was never so exhausted in my entire life. I had hoped to age out with Wave, but Real Life sort of got in the way.

BF: These days, though, you’re a writer. How’d that happen?

CF: Well, I went off to college thinking I was going to become a band (and corps) director. I spent a lot of years as a music major, then realized that, while I loved teaching, I didn’t play well with administrations. I loved music, I loved teaching, but in the end, I might have wound up hating both.

Writing, however, is something I’ve done almost as long as I’ve done music and that came just about as naturally. Maybe even more so. Even during my corps days, if I ran out of books to read, I’d just make up stories and write them down. Best thing, though, is that I can incorporate my love of music in writing — I always listen to music while I’m working and it often informs what I’m doing on a deep level.

BF: Like Carmen, maybe?

CF: Yes and no. My Carmen book, “when the stars go blue,” will actually be my third published novel, but even before I wrote it, I was writing musicians and artists into my work and using music as inspiration. It seems to be a thing with me.
BF: So how, exactly, did “stars” come about?

CF: It was suggested to me that “Carmen” would be a fabulous story to reinterpret as a young adult novel. I agreed, because really, as a story, it’s got everything: intrigue, a mysterious woman, a love triangle, tragedy . . . what more could a writer ask for in terms of inspiration?

I’ve also always wanted to be able to do a story that would incorporate my love of drum and bugle corps and, again, “Carmen” is just a natural fit, because there are few activities out there that so naturally lend themselves to the kind of passion and drama this story demands.

What was really fun about it was being able to incorporate it in two different ways — I have the love triangle that is so central to the original story playing out with my primary characters, as well as having the drum corps actually performing the “Carmen” story. So we have a case of “story-within-the-story,” as it were, with the bulk of it playing out against the fabric of a summer tour.

BF: Did you use any real drum corps as inspiration?

CF: Well, no one corps in particular, but I did take elements of different corps. I named my corps the Florida Raiders and based them out of South Florida, like the Wave once was.

They’re an all-male corps that recruits a female dancer to portray “Carmen” for their show (ala the Madison Scouts) and they’re well-off financially in a way that corps like the Santa Clara Vanguard and Star of Indiana were when I marched.

Keeping in mind that this is entirely a work of fiction, I did my best to represent the universal elements of what a summer tour is like — the hours of rehearsal, the adrenaline of performance, the sweat, the buses, the bugs . . . while at the same time trying to make it accessible and interesting for someone who might not have the first clue of what drum corps is.

BF: Now, going back to your time in corps, anything you wish you had when you marched?

CF: Um . . . that list is maybe too long? Inflatable mattresses for one. Cell phones would’ve been nice, too. Regular hot showers. Strangely, I’m a little on the fence about iPods. I mean, these days you’d have to pry mine out of my cold, dead hands, but I have to admit that some of my fondest corps memories and one of the things I’m most thankful for is the fact that all those hours on the bus exposed me to so much music I might not have experienced otherwise.

Someone always had a boombox and everyone had cassettes or CDs to share (it was the Dark Ages, okay?). At any rate, I always tell people that my real music education really started on those endless bus rides.

BF: Speaking of iPods, what’s on yours?

CF: What’s not on it? I wasn’t kidding when I said music remains a huge factor for me. Right now, though, I’ve been listening to Sting’s new “Symphonicities” release as well as a lot of Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop; “Ghost in the Shell” composer).

BF: Any particular hopes for the book?

CF: Well, always, I hope people enjoy it — but really, what I hope is that it’ll resonate with people familiar with the activity and, for those for whom corps will be something they’re reading about for the first time, that they’ll find it an interesting setting for a story.
I’m currently in the process of rebuilding my Web site and when it’s up, I hope to provide links to performances and information about the activity — make it a really interactive experience.

BF: Finally, any favorite corps or shows that you recall?

CF: Well, again, I’m going to date myself monumentally, but my favorite shows date back to when I marched. So much interesting stuff was going on in the activity at the time — so many   innovations in terms of overall show design.

But if I had to choose, I’d say that 1984 Suncoast Sound (the Vietnam show) and the 1983 Garfield Cadets’ interpretation of Bernstein’s “Mass” really stand out as memorable shows. As far as favorite corps, Wave, of course, the Blue Devils because they’ve always played my beloved jazz so well and I’ve always held a massive soft spot for the Madison Scouts.

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Caridad Ferrer’s “when the stars go blue” was released November 23, 2010 by St. Martin’s Press and is currently available from all major booksellers. For more information, visit her at: or