A visit with the Boston Crusaders’ Tom Spataro

by Art Kellerman, Drum Corps World staff

It’s been a cold winter by Florida standards, but the drum corps gods must have smiled favorably on the Boston Crusaders as their February camp was held in warm, sunny conditions.

I got to sit in on an ensemble arc and, though I gave my word not to reveal this year’s program as things have yet to be finalized, I must say that even the drum corps traditionalist in me was satisfied. The music’s composers are names you have heard and I would describe the opener as driving and majestic. There is a ballad that I feel will really move the audience and appeal to the vast majority of drum corps fans. I think the Crusaders have the program, the talent and the staff to make this, their 70th year as an organization, a most successful one.

Corps Director Tom Spataro and I sat down for a chat and I started off by asking about where the corps is right now in terms of progress for the 2010 season. He said that, although they can control only what they can control in regards to competition and corps placement, he is very pleased with where they are right now. He feels they are ahead of the game compared to the same time last year. They had an excellent turn-out with about 60% of the corps returning veterans (I counted about 70 brass in attendance, so I’d predict around 80 when everyone is there).

I’ve always wondered how the top corps deal with those who audition and don’t make the line, and whether the returning veterans have a leg-up making the corps or whether vets even have to audition at all. In the Crusaders, though, it’s obviously an advantage to “have been there before.” All potential members must audition. Only the drum majors are guaranteed a position.

Those who don’t earn a spot are not just cut loose. They are offered help to improve, may attend camps and workshops, or may choose to go with another unit, though the staff hopes they will choose to stay with the Crusaders.

One measure of a corps’ success is placement on the field, the scores. When asked what he considers a successful program, he disavowed having any goals in terms of corps ranking because, “We can’t control what the other corps do. We want to build on what we have done the last couple of years. We want to have a program that is entertaining and audience friendly — one that the members and staff can get into — but also appeals to the audience.

“The last couple of years we’ve had a good blend of music — some new and some familiar to the audience. This year we will do the same thing, as long as we have an entertaining package that fits our style: aggressive, powerful.”

In terms of on-the-field measures of success and the hierarchy of corps in competition, perhaps from the perspective of the marching members, do they start off the year thinking, “We could be a contender this year?” or do you have to do a few shows just to see where you fit in to the order of things?

Tom said, “Where you fit in is really up in the air. You have no idea until the first show. Because of that, we place very little emphasis [on placement]. They can’t focus on that. We can’t control what other corps do. It may sound like a cliché, but we just strive to be as good as we can possibly be. It will all fall in from there. If we need to make adjustments, we do. At times the kids may want to beat certain corps, but generally they just want to improve.”

This year marks the 70th year of the Boston Crusaders organization (founded in 1940). I asked if there was anything special planned to commemorate the corps’ founding. “In our 70th year, we are the fourth oldest active junior corps (behind Racine Scouts/1927, The Cadets/1934 and Madison Scouts/1938). At each of our standard events we will have a 70th Anniversary opportunity — we’ll have an anniversary spin on most of our activities.”

I noted Boston’s strong sense of tradition and was curious how that tradition was maintained with the reality that the corps’ recruiting base is no longer centered in the Boston area.

“Everyone in our organization wants to be a Boston Crusader and knows who the Crusaders are. It doesn’t matter where they are from. Obviously we have lots of local [Florida] people, kids from all over the country and other countries as well, but all want to be part of the Boston Crusaders and identify with the Boston Crusader tradition. The fact that we have been around for so long is one of the things that attracts them.

“We do have some history nights, where some of the alumni come around to talk to the corps and we have memorabilia to show them. The kids long to hear about what came before them. In Quincy, MA, last year, senior corps members met them for lunch and the kids from Florida, California and Colorado . . . they want to hear the stories because that’s part of who they are. They loved it!”

Does the corps still play Giant as a warm-up?

“Absolutely! Once a Crusader, always a Crusader. Their home is the Boston Crusaders, wherever we are.”

I’ve seen a few “Waldo” tattoos among the kids. “And there are a couple more coming,” Spataro added.

What do you consider the corps’ strengths?

“Definitely longevity and tradition. We have 70 years of passionate supporters and history to fall back on, to build the corps up. One of the good things we have is a kind of dual citizenship between Boston and Florida. We have a very strong Boston base, a strong Florida base and a strong Texas base as well. It’s great that we have the ability to draw on a few areas and not on just one. The majority of the corps in the top 12 have a national membership.

“What attracts kids is the style of music, the style of marching, maybe placement a little bit, maybe location a little bit. It’s our history that helps us attract kids from far and wide. Florida has many strong music programs and the Boston area has great corps histories, so I am happy to use those regions to bolster the strength.

“A parent of a kid in another corps told me that from her perspective, kids today aren’t loyal to a corps, they are loyal to specific instructors. I’m glad your kids want to be in Boston.
“We want to foster and build loyalty to Boston,” said Spataro.

For my own self, personally, I was wondering how the kids in the Crusaders look at the senior corps when they see us. Do they think we are a bunch of “old fogies”? Do they think we are good for our age? What is their impression?

“See if you can get a picture of the kids at the ‘Spring Fling’ when they come in to see you guys play. They absolutely love it! They light up listening to you. Do you remember at last year’s home show, when they lined up in the end zone to watch your performance? They love to see 70 years of history before them. I can’t emphasize that enough.”

What are some of the things the corps looks forward to each year?

“Getting on the road on May 29, escaping from the ‘real world’ of school or a job, the first show, getting into town [Boston], the Fourth of July, doing local shows in Lawrence, Beverly or Lynn. They love to see the hometown fans at the ‘East Coast Classic’ and the Allentown show is a nice tour stop.”

Any chance of playing a song like Giant or Conquest along with the senior corps?
“We’d love to. I’ll talk to Jack about it.”

When asked about controversial changes in DCI like warm-ups with woodwinds or amplification, Tom said, “I voted against it. I like to see the distinction between drum corps and bands, but if something is implemented [like amplification] that we are adjudicated on, we’ll use it to the best of our ability.”

Is there anything else to tell the folks back home?

“Just tell the long-time veterans like Richie Carlevale, Gil MacDonald and all the other alums, how much the kids identify with the Boston tradition. They’re here for Boston. If they want to go anywhere else, they can go, but they are here for Boston. They want to be here and hear your stories. Just see their faces light up!”

Thank you. I’ll look forward to seeing you and the Crusaders back up North.