An interview with former Crossmen director Scott Litzenberg

by Steve Vickers, DCW Publisher

Scott and I have been acquainted for probably the better part of the last 25 years, although we don’t seem to be in the same place at the same time very often. Back in August at DCI in Indianapolis, I saw him only once. Time allowed only a quick “hello.”

Nevertheless, Scott has always been someone I’ve admired for his obvious dedication to the activity and his work running one of the movement’s favorite corps, the Crossmen. His involvement in the drum corps activity goes back to the 1980s when he was a member of the Garfield Cadets.

Perhaps he’s best known as a director of the Crossmen during some of their most challenging years when still located in the suburban Philadelphia area. Since then, he and his wife have been very active volunteers at the DCI Championships, on the DCI Regional event staff, the Cavalcade of Bands organization and Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

Steve Vickers: Let’s get this started by covering what your drum corps involvement has been most recently through DCI and USSBA.

Scott Litzenberg: I have been on the DCI event staff since 1999, helping to run the DCI regional events and championships in various roles. I’ve parked buses and trucks, worked gates, been the field starter, coordinated the volunteers and done whatever Dale (Antoine, DCI’s day-of-event manager) tells me to do. I am a DCI contest coordinator on the tour shows as the representative to assist the tour event partners runing shows to DCI standards and I assist the corps at those events.

I returned to the Crossmen in 2006 under YEA! as the corps director until the corps moved to Texas and I judged with the USSBA for a couple of seasons before getting more involved as a judge and band director with the Cavalcade of Bands.

SV: What were the years you performed with the Garfield Cadets like?

SL: I was a member of the tenor line in 1982 and was the timpani player in 1983. To be a part of that amazing corps in those years was very memorable. To be a part of so many firsts, when you look back on it now, was crazy. I am so thankful that I made the drum line in ’83 and that Hopkins didn’t kick me out. It took a lot of work for me to be able to play with those guys and I was very proud to make it to the end of that season.

The friends I made in that corps are still so huge to me. Our West Chester University crew who went up every Sunday for rehearsal in my ’65 Chevy van — Bob “Chicky” Gross, Mike Klesh, Tom Aungst, Shorty Bartholemew, the Quinlain twins, Merle Rutherford, Ira Kessler, etc. Wow, what an amazing crew that took that leap of faith to go with a corps that still was climbing   the ranks when the Crossmen were just 10 minutes away.

Funny how the Crossmen would end up being the corps that became my home after I marched with Garfield Cadets.

My favorite memory, even over winning in 1983, was after unexpectedly winning in Huntington, WV, in 1982 and beating SCV that night. We left the field and walked a few blocks away from the stadium, in total silence, to some random house’s front yard and stopped there while George Hopkins and George Zingalli stood in front of us and spoke.

The pure emotion of that magical moment, beating the defending DCI Champions for the first time ever, was incredible. To see Zingalli there with his Rosary in his hand and tears streaming down his face, was a moment that I will never forget. In many ways, that touched us more than he could have ever imagined.

To see Hopkins speechless — well, that’s all that needed to be said… I get that, after all the Crossmen went through with our own issues later in the ’80s, their hearts and souls were all poured into that moment and it was very special to be a part of.

From ’83, it was on tour when the staff decided we should take part of the day off and use a local pool for a few hours that they had managed to talk the people in charge into letting us use. The members said, “No way.” We were there to rehearse, not go swimming. If we wanted to swim during the summer, we would have gotten jobs at the beach!

The staff left. We kept rehearsing and they realized we were serious and came back awhile later and finished rehearsal. That was the members deciding that we wanted to get better. That attitude still is there today and I’d like to think we helped to set that standard. It set the corps’ passion and efforts up for many years to come.

The retreat in ’83 at Miami was an amazing moment as well. Chants of “East” and the whole SCV issue (Huntington, WV, ’82), it was just a whirlwind of a night.

To look back after all of the success of the Garfield Cadets organization and think that I was able to be there from the beginning, is hard to comprehend at times. The ring from ’83 means so much more that just a championship. It validated so many good people and their efforts, some of whom are still very involved in the drum corps activity.

My part-time bus partner in ’82, so many top instructors and designers of today, and just damn good people who learned how to be that way, in no small part due to our common experience of those years helping to build that tradition.

I thank George Hopkins, even though it’s hard to explain to the people who rant and rave about him, for making my Garfield experience possible and for being there when needed. He drove me as nuts as anyone at times, but what he has done to make this activity better is amazing.

SV: How did you end up being director of the Crossmen?

SL: My wife, Mary, marched in the Crossmen color guard from 1979 to 1982. She taught the corps in 1983. After we were married in 1984, we wanted to get involved with the corps. We lived in West Chester at the time, so we contacted Robby Robinson, the founder and director of the Crossmen, and he took us both on as staff members in 1985. She taught the guard and I worked with the pit.

After the 1985 season, the corps went through some serious turmoil, director change and financial issues — like many corps of the day. Even though I was on the instructional staff in 1986, I assisted helping run the corps and get them down the road.

After that season, I was asked to take on the job of corps director. There were three of us who helped to run things — myself as the corps director, Tom Campbell handling operations and Mike Dennis, financial. It was a real team effort.

I was the young and stupid kid who didn’t know any better, plus I was the only one who could go on tour all summer because I was a teacher and was off from work. Oh and I could drive the tractor-trailer — so I was hired!

SV: You were in charge of the Crossmen during a period when Drum Corps East hosted a fairly full schedule of competitions up and down the East Coast. Tell me a little about those years competing with corps like the 27th Lancers, Boston Crusaders and, of course, your alma mater, the Garfield Cadets.

SL: We couldn’t focus very much on other corps for a couple of years. We were in survival mode and just had to get our own act together. We realized that we had to focus on our priorities as an organization to set the corps up for the future by stepping back and making sure that we had a solid foundation.

Times in drum corps really changed from the days of corps run by the founders and families, like the Robinsons, Bonifiglio’s and Jones’s, as well as just a small group of alumni. They did amazing things to get the corps to the point that they did, but the financial and touring models changed so much that we had to re-group and figure out how to run the corps within a budget while paying off some substantial debts that had grown over the years.

Trying to progress while still taking care of old business was a slow process, but we were able to do that with great support from members, alumni, staff and volunteers.

Robby Robinson really wanted to see the corps succeed and he was very helpful and thankful that we were able to continue his legacy of this corps. He is a true friend of drum corps and an avid fan to this day.

It was very heartening, as the corps progressed, to see other corps in the same position, going inactive while we were able to keep going. It’s something that we were very proud of accomplishing, while at the same time, very sad to lose some of the corps that were so integral in making DCI what it was in the ’80s.

Our motto was, “Not bad for a dead drum corps” for many years!

I miss those relationships that we had with those corps while doing the DCE tours. But the activity has done what it had to do to survive with the newer tour model. There are so many reasons why different corps fell by the wayside over the years. It makes me sad as people continue to blame “DCI” for people just making bad business decisions and jeopardizing their corps’ survival.

SV: What are you doing now, outside volunteering for DCI?

SL: I am in my 26th year of teaching high school band in Pennsylvania, the last 12 years at Unionville High School in Kennett Square, PA. I conduct two bands, jazz band, the marching band and the musical pit orchestra. I perform with the Chester County Pops Orchestra as well as at my church when needed.

My hobbies include flower gardening and woodworking. My daughter, Kristin, is a freshman in college and is majoring in Musical Theater at AMDA in New York City. She sings the Star Spangled Banner at some of the DCI events and has done so since she was 13. We are very proud of her.

SV: No doubt you had some incredible experiences over the years through marching as well as managing the Crossmen. What are some of the things that stand out?

SL: A few moments really stand out to me. The first competition in 1986 at Caesar Rodney HS in Delaware was one of them. Everyone considered us a dead drum corps in the activity. We even had to send pictures to DCI of rehearsals to prove that we had kids. Good thing they didn’t look too closely, because some of the kids were in every section for those pictures. We had everyone holding a horn, some holding flags and used the actual drummers, since we always had a full drum line at every rehearsal!

When we actually showed up and made it on the field that night, you would have thought we won the DCI Championships. Anyone who thought that we’d even get on the field that year was nuts! We had six horns in May . . . SIX! It was rough, but we were there. The staff was in tears during the show and we didn’t even come in last.

Second was watching other corps and staffs view us in the Camp Randall Stadium parking lot in August of that year, celebrating and acting crazy after making it to the end of the season. We were twenty-first and thrilled to death.

Probably one of the most poignant moments was in 1989 while standing on the field for the Friday night score announcement of who made finals. When we were announced in twelfth place, the entire corps had gathered in the rear upper deck of Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City) inside the outline of the Maltese cross and went crazy just cheering and celebrating. It was such a huge emotional moment for all of us after four years of just working so hard and going through so many ups and downs.

As with any corps, there are so many stories, there are not enough hours in a day or space in any paper to tell them all. I am so thankful for the good people who have had the passion to make this corps survive. Its’ legacy is so much more to members, past and present, than just their placement.

SV: Where do you see the drum corps activity in five or 10 years?

SL: Here is my take on it. I think the tour model will be different due to rising costs, going back to shorter tours and weekend shows in some regions. The corps will integrate more ideas like electronic visual effects that will make our activity more marketable and enable more sponsorship by mainstream companies.

The bottom line with drum corps will still remain top-notch performances and exciting music, but the ability to integrate technology, both audio and visual, will help our activity to survive.
SV: Anything else you’d like to add?

SL: My final thought is how blessed we all are to be around drum corps people. As members, alumni, fans and volunteers, the one thing that has changed very little over the years is the passion and excitement of people when you realize that you have drum corps in common.

It’s hard to explain to non-drum corps people. I guess if you have to explain it, they just won’t understand. My family is so thankful that we “get it” and for all of the friends and relationships that we have developed over the years in this activity. It has made us who we are!

What tour cost would ever be too high to pay for a lifetime of relationships like that?

SV: Thanks for taking time to chat.