Drum corps travel makes for one amazing summer

by Danny Gottlieb

It has been three years since my last article for Drum Corps World in which I described, from the prospective of a jazz drummer, my new-found fascination and enjoyment of drum corps.

Many of the revelations came through my drum corps family — stepson Brian Radock played in the pit with the Boston Crusaders and won DCI I&E on timpani in 2006, stepson Scott Radock was playing snare in the Glassmen and wife Beth had been a snare drummer with Spirit of Atlanta in 1980.

Well, after this amazing 2009 season, I am happy to report that not only am I still in love with drum corps and an avid follower, but, through drum corps, friendships, family ties and the ability to expose these incredible events to a wide variety of musician friends, my love of the activity continues to flourish!

After the 2007 season, Scotty joined The Cadets’ snare line (he’s played the last two seasons) and played an indoor season with Timber Creek. Watching his non-stop practice and growth has been just unbelievable. His control, technique and finesse has grown by leaps and bounds — I can only marvel at these advanced rudimental variations that you all practice and perform.

In addition, the work ethic of The Cadets has been just astounding and inspirational. After watching hours and hours of rehearsals this summer, I use their intensity and perseverance as a source of inspiration in every project I attempt. And after seeing all three days of finals week in Indianapolis, all who marched and participated should realize the impact that you have on those of us in the stands (whether we are musicians or not). Your hard work does not go unappreciated, and again, it is truly inspirational.

Because we are traveling performers and educators, we were able to base our entire summer around gigs and drum corps competitions, which made 2009 one of the best summers I have ever had.

For the past five years, my wife Beth and I have played in the Lt. Dan Band, the touring band of actor Gary Sinise, who plays bass in the band — check out www.LtDanBand.com. The majority of gigs are benefits for the troops through the USO, which, of course, in itself is very rewarding.

As we do one two-week tour per year (usually the last week of June and the first week of July), with the rest of the concerts being one- or two-gig weekends based around Gary’s “CSI NY” shooting schedule, it makes it possible to fly to and from events and incorporate drum corps shows as part of our travels.

And since Gary’s son Mac (for whom he named his CSI character) is a drummer, it’s an event that we can all discuss and share . . . and it ties in perfectly with our touring schedule.

This past June we flew to Baltimore and then drove to The Cadets’ first show in Chambersburg, PA, on June 19. Then we drove to Annapolis for their second show — and also watched a wonderful   exhibition performance with the Navy band.

An additional highlight of the evening was finding world-renown percussionist Janis Potter, along with her husband and daughter, watching as spectators in the stands.

After viewing the show and a fun hang with Janis and her family, we drove back to Baltimore and flew to Korea to play eight shows with Gary and the band in Korea and Okinawa for the troops, including a special July 4 show, which was amazing.

After the tour, I flew from Japan to New Jersey, arriving on Sunday, July 5, to take my 87-year-old mom to The Cadets’ show in Jackson, NJ, the following day. Although a violin player (and still performing at 87!), she played French horn in her high school marching band and now, after never even knowing what a drum corps was, has become an avid fan. She follows the scores (as we all do) like baseball stats — Crown gained two points yesterday, etc! What fun and something great to share.

A few weeks later, Beth and I performed a concert at Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls. We booked our travel the next day to take us to Atlanta, where we watched the incredible show in the Georgia Dome on July 25. With so many corps in attendance, we saw the cream of the crop. Many of Beth’s current and former students performed, including Mitchell Beckman, now in his second year with Boston Crusaders. It was just magical   . . . and really like family.

The following week, we headed back to New Jersey where we discovered that, somehow, our gig with Gary at West Point coincided with the Holy Name Cadets’ 75th Anniversary weekend! We attended the Allentown show, again with my mom (this time in a wheelchair for convenience) and again watched an incredible competition. With handicap seating available, it was an easy access, with a very accommodating staff and a great vantage point.

As we watched the Allentown show, we noticed Jeff Prosperie running around the field, making judging comments and trying to not get whacked by the changing grids and blocks. When thinking about our upcoming West Point gig, we realized that Jeff would most likely be at West Point. We got in touch and sure enough, two days after watching him run around the field in Allentown, he was back at “work,” playing in the Hellcats Drum and Bugle Corps.

Jeff attended our performance and we, in return, watched him perform one of his daily rituals, playing snare drum for the West Point cadets to march to their evening meal.

On this particular day, it was just snare and bass drum, and Jeff improvised around the basic cadences. He is such an amazing player, it is easy to see why he has won so many competitions and why he is such a perfect person to judge drum corps.

We were able to enjoy a meal together. I asked him about judging drum corps and what he looks for when out there on the field. Jeff told us that he takes into consideration the material that each corps is playing and then evaluates how they are executing it. He explained that he sets a standard and tries to give each corps a fair assessment based on their performance. I was wondering how he doesn’t get nailed out there and he told me that he really does learn the show so he knows what is coming.

Jeff is also so experienced that he can pretty much anticipate what will occur next. I asked him about his comments on the tapes and he explained that, in his opinion, the judge is really the drum line’s best friend. He makes honest assessments and if the drummers make the adjustments, he notices and grades them accordingly. And while from the stands it’s hard to make any kind of real assessment, it sounds like he is a very fair, unbiased and incredibly      knowledgeable judge.

After West Point, we watched the Cadets practice at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ. My mom came along and this was very special as Montclair State was her alma mater.

The next week we visited Beth’s family in Nashville and then drove to Indianapolis for the three days of championships. As it turned out, in addition to watching and rooting for Scotty and The Cadets, one of my best friends — and a great musician — decided to attend a drum corps finals for the first time, which was a special treat.

Gordon Gottlieb (no relation, but we might as well be brothers) and I have been friends forever. He is one of the most unique and amazing percussionists in the world. An icon of the New York studio scene, he has played with the New York Philharmonic for years and, at the same time, won several Grammys for his recording performances with Steely Dan.

Keith Aleo, our good buddy from Zildjian, performed with Gordon earlier in the year when they were both special guests with the Chicago Symphony. Keith asked Gordon if he had ever seen a drum corps show and, while he had heard of it, again had no idea what it really was all about.

Since Gordon teaches at Juilliard, many students have discussed drum corps with him, so he decided to see what it was all about. And he fell in love with it, just like I did three years ago.

Gordon watched the semifinals and finals from three different perspectives: up high in the top deck, down low in the second row and from the lower level suites.

Kathy Beckman, our good friend and mother of Beth’s star student, Mitchell, had a block of seats in the second row, so she could watch her son in Boston’s pit. She had some extra tickets so Gordon, Keith and I watched the semis from the second row.

In Lucas Oil Stadium, it was very ringing and probably not the best acoustics for drum corps, but down in front it sounded like a rock show. We were all blown away and Gordon went crazy.

When the Vanguard took the field, Gordon started singing along with the melodies. I asked him how he knew the music and he told me he had played the Copland with the New York Philharmonic with BOTH Bernstein and Copland conducting. He was so moved — he couldn’t believe they were performing this in a drum corps show. He actually had tears in his eyes.

For me, it was also fascinating to have someone who had performed with Bernstein and played “West Side Story” to hear and watch The Cadets play their 75th anniversary Bernstein show. When the finger snaps part was played, Gordon told me that Bernstein would have the entire orchestra snap their fingers on stage. At the end, as we both were going crazy, Gordon said, “Lenny would be so proud and he would have loved it!”

Another treat was walking to the warm-up park prior to finals. Gordon and I met up with Keith and we watched many of the corps prepare. We started clowning around and Gordon and I ended up doing an interview for Keith. You can see this interview on the Zildjian Web site (www.zildjian.com). You can also see some wonderful clips of the different corps in action.

As we found Scotty, Mitchell and all our friends in the lot after finals — all exhausted, shell-shocked and just starting to realize that their incredible summer had just culminated — Gordon related drum corps to something I had not even thought about: the Samba School performances in Brazil.

Gordon has gone to Rio several times to play in a Samba School and he was so taken with the similarities to drum corps. It is also a large ensemble (although in Brazil it’s 600 people in the ensemble); you have to pay to participate and it’s by audition; it’s a timed event (although in Brazil it’s 90 minutes); and it’s a long practiced, intense regimen with fierce competition. And . . . heart-breaking when you don’t have your best performance or are not judged with the highest score.

Days later, I asked Gordon what he was feeling and he told me that he finally understood what drum corps was all about and loved it. He told me he was proud to see this happening in the USA and felt it was the only thing in America that he had ever seen that rivaled the intensity of the experience in Brazil. He was now a true fan and supporter. I am hopeful that this experience with DCI finals will now be a yearly get-together and hang for the “Gottlieb clan”!

I also asked Gordon which was his favorite corps and he chose Santa Clara. I have to go with Cadets . . . and will never tire of the Bernstein music and the field routine from this historic 75th season.

But all DCI participants should be SO proud of your accomplishments. I am convinced that if you can make it through a drum corps season, you can do anything!

Good luck . . . See you next season!