Holy Name Cadets returned to roots for diamond anniversary

by Mike Ferlazzo, DCW staff

History called for 2009 to be a monumental year for The Cadets — whether it’s the Holy Name, Garfield, Bergen County or contemporary variety. That’s because the nation’s second-longest continually operating junior drum corps — and one of its most decorated — is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

More than 4,000 men and women have marched with the Cadets and the organization has planned quite the birthday party for its alumni at the “Cadets Summer Diamond Bash” on Saturday, August 1, in Montclair, NJ. The celebration and concert at Montclair State University, just minutes from the corps’ birthplace in Garfield, will be part of a series of weekend festivities that includes the corps’ Giants Stadium drum corps show the following day.

John Baumfalk, a 91-year-old founding member and first drum major, will make the trip from his California home to be an honored guest at the celebration. Cadets Director George Hopkins credits Baumfalk with beginning what the Holy Name Cadets are today.

And Hopkins wanted to make the anniversary a more spiritual experience for all those who have come before by returning the corps to its original Holy Name moniker this summer.

“That was my idea just in terms of a tribute, I think, to all the people who made this happen — and not just the corps that won,” Hopkins said. “That’s one of the things that annoys me a little bit about our activity. You know, everybody wants to recognize the 19 Cadet corps that have won, but what about the 56 corps that didn’t? Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

The special, one-year reinstatement of the name Holy Name Cadets was just the start of Hopkins’ anniversary contribution. Dave Shaw, a baritone for the Cadets from 1950-1958 and who then served three different stints on the corps staff, says Hopkins has energized the alumni behind the celebration.

“They’ve come out of the walls all over the place because George picked up the ball and ran with it really,” said Shaw, who has assisted in the anniversary planning. “We had all of these events planned, but he expanded on them.

And the Cadets — now as they travel around the country — are holding alumni receptions before as many contests as practical, depending on how much time they’re spending in that particular town. So all the alumni around the country, who for one reason or another won’t be able to make the big reunion in August, have a chance to reconnect with the corps as they travel around.”

For Holy Name shall always be

Baumfalk’s return in August will reunite him with former Cadet colleagues, including Al Mura, Holy Name’s drum major from 1939-1942, who has already played a big hand in this summer’s anniversary season.

Upon a request from Hopkins, Mura visited the corps’ Chambersburg, PA, rehearsal site on June 16, three days prior to the start of the competitive season, to help the current Cadets learn the traditional version of The Holy Name Hymn, the corps song. Hopkins reports the song had been turned into more of a fast-paced pep song through the years.

Shaw and fellow alumnus Ken Shedosky took Mura to the rehearsal site that day. What happened next was a memory that will last long after this year’s anniversary fades.

“It was a wonderful highlight and this was George’s idea,” Shaw said. “He [Hopkins] had attended the 50th anniversary of the 1957 championship a couple of years ago, which was a Holy Name affair. It was held down in Atlantic City at the Convention Center where the contest was actually held. I think that was the first time he had ever heard the Holy Name Hymn sung in the traditional fashion and it really turned him on. Ever since then, he’s been working to convince the kids that they should pursue that.

“So he invited our drum major, Al Mura, the first national championship drum major [American Legion national championship in 1940], to come to rehearsals out in Chambersburg and it was quite a moving experience,” he continued. “He [Mura] was up there explaining how the song got written and he had all of the older kids who knew the song the correct way to stand.

“Then he invited the drum majors to take their turn at conducting. And instead, the drum majors called all the kids up on the stage and they formed this very tight circle around this 85-year-old man, who then directed them in the singing of the Holy Name song. It was a very, very emotional experience.”

Shaw wrote on Hopkins’ blog about the experience, summarizing the end result this way:
“So now, once again, when we stand and place our hand on the shoulder of one of our brothers or sisters, we will sing in unison; one undivided chorus of voices, one unified version of our hymn, one unified corps stretching from 1934 to 2009. Oh Holy Name, my Holy Name . . . the joy you bring us knows no bounds.”

The corps hymn isn’t the only thing that connects Cadets, past and present. The West Point-style maroon and gold uniform has remained largely unchanged over the past 75 years, weaving a maroon and gold tapestry around all who participated in the organization.

“The two unifying things between all these different decades of Cadets are the Holy Name song and the uniform. Those are the two core things we have,” Shaw said. “And then we have our corps values, of course, too, which have been consistent. And the work ethic has been consistent. So we identify with each other over the years.

“If you attend one of our social meetings or our gatherings, you’ll find that the younger kids mix very freely with the older people,” he said. “The older people are fascinated to hear what life is like now and the younger people are fascinated to hear what life was like then. So we don’t like disturbing these chains that link us together.”

Today’s corps members do feel linked to those who wore the maroon and gold before them. And they draw inspiration from their proud past.

“We have a very strong alumni base and it’s such a great atmosphere to be around this corps that is so close to its roots and it’s very connected with the people who have come before us,” said 19-year-old Ben Pouncey of Columbia, SC, a current Cadet drum major who is a music education major at the University of South Carolina. “So to carry that on is such a great thing.”

Turning to a Cadet classic

This summer’s “Conflict and Resolution” show, featuring the music of Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” also serves as a daily reminder of the corps’ championship roots. Many past Cadets have played music from “West Side Story” and the drill also tells the story with sets that form “HNC,” the Garfield “G,” “CBC” and finally, a “75” at the start of Tonight.

“That’s Jeff [Sacktig, visual designer] again,” Hopkins said. “We had kind of been kidding around about stuff like that. In fact, a friend of mine sent me a note about putting the ‘G’ in and other things. And I sent it to him [Sacktig] and said, ‘Hey, maybe you’re looking for an idea?’ And the next thing I know, he put them all in — in a space of about 20 seconds, you know, the history of the Cadets. So that’s a lot of fun to look at.”

This summer’s vintage Cadets program has also given alumni and fans more reason to celebrate the corps at shows, particularly following more controversial modern programs earlier this decade.

“The ‘West Side Story’ thing, I’m not so sure that was important to every alumnus,” Shaw said. “It was certainly important to a lot of different alumni because they marched in corps where they have fond memories when numbers from ‘West Side Story’ were being played. Most of us are just wildly happy not to be booed again.”

Hopkins initially announced plans to do an anniversary program named “Lenny,” featuring music of famed composer Bernstein, a Cadet favorite, but not necessarily built around a particular story. That all changed when Hopkins and the corps’ legendary designer, Marc Sylvester, were moved by a new production of “West Side Story” on Broadway, currently playing in NYC.

But before bringing the music back to the field, Hopkins knew it couldn’t simply be a rehash of the Cadets’ 1984 championship classic.

“I think from day one when we first opened the door, it was like, ‘We’re not going to do ‘West Side Story,’ per se. We’re going to do another version of it,’” he said. “And I had a lot of interpretations of Cool, so I knew I could make that something different.

“I had A Boy Like That from the beginning. I knew we were going to split the corps. As soon as we split the corps, that made it different. And then yet at the same time, the company front in Tonight is from 1984. I wanted that to be exactly the same so all of those guys from 1984 respond. And they do and I do.

“But you’ve got to remember — and I think it’s an interesting phenomenon — that in 1984, none of the kids in this corps were here on Earth,” he continued. “So to say it’s doing it again, they weren’t here. They don’t know what we’re talking about. I asked them a couple of weeks ago how many of them had ever seen ‘West Side Story’ — the movie, play, something — and it was over half of them. It’s a band chart to them.”

An educational experience

Now, thanks to Hopkins and a more active alumni base this anniversary season, the current members know more about that 1984 season and beyond. And the educational exchange has gone both ways.

“It’s turned into an educational experience for alumni — most of whom have been away for a great number of years — to finally get to understand modern-day drum corps, to finally get to grasp that kids today have just as good of an experience as they had, but a different kind of experience,” Shaw said.

“For me, the best thing of all has been to watch the alumni come out of their shell. Whenever the Cadets have a gathering of any kind and we sing the corps song, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 95 years old or you’re a 20-year-old. And to see alumni who haven’t been around for any of these events and they start to sing and all of a sudden they realize they remember all the words — and you can watch tears rolling down faces — and you can realize that just as my experience was extremely important to me, theirs was equally important.

“And I’ll tell you, of all the transformations that are happening this year with alumni and with kids and with anyone connected with the Cadets, I think the biggest transformation is George’s [Hopkins],” he said. “I don’t want to say something like he finally understood why all of this stuff was important to everybody, but I think this year it became important to him as well.”

The corps’ complete history will be available through a new book — some 250 pages — on the Cadets’ souvenir stand in August. And by the time this anniversary season is complete, the corps will have already written a new chapter — with or without a 10th DCI title.

“People don’t believe this, but if you’re an older alumnus, you’ve won so many different kinds of titles, whatever the premier title was in that decade, that we’re just happy to have a corps we can be proud of and cheer for,” Shaw said. “And we’re just totally in awe of the kids that they have in the Cadets now.”

“It’s tremendous that an organization can exist at this high level for that many years and it’s really a tribute to the kids and to the pride of the alumni and certainly to the administration and the instructors keeping it going on this level. I’m very proud of them,” said Jim Drost of Randolph, NJ, who served on the Cadets’ board of directors for 10 years and was proudly wearing a 75th anniversary t-shirt in Annapolis on June 20.

And during this anniversary season, there’s more pride in the Cadets’ organization than ever before!