Catching up with the Glassmen . . . 10 years later!

Kevin Gamin, DCW staff, DCP Managing Editor

It has been 10 years since I last stepped foot into Glassmen’s rehearsal facility, affectionately known as “G-West” to the many members, staff, volunteers and fans through the years. Walking into the former Oakshade High School this past February was like walking into a time machine.

The paint on the walls was fresher, the chances of a hot shower were much greater and the number of familiar faces was fewer, but the feeling of being home and surrounded by my corps family had not changed one bit. I even slept in a sleeping bag, just like when I marched, although I had the luxury of a bunk bed as opposed to a piece of floor in the members’ sleeping area. It didn’t matter. It felt good to be back.

After observing the spectacle of the cook staff whipping up mashed potatoes in mass production quantities (two cooks kneeling on the floor next to a large bowl of hot water, one stirring while the other slowly adds dehydrated mashed potato mix from a giant carton), I found Bill Verhelst. He has been around the Glassmen since the ’70s, having marched with the corps alongside my uncle, Bruce Gamin, and has become the Bob Vila to “This Old G-West.” If it needs fixing, he is the man to talk to.

Many of the improvements to G-West over the years can be attributed to Bill and the help of many hard-working volunteers, which Glassmen past, present and future are very grateful for.

After saying hello to Bill and catching up with him on the events since we last met, Glassmen Director Brian Hickman appeared. He is very excited about the 2009 edition of the Glassmen.

The turnouts at rehearsals have been higher than expected and the retention level of veterans is extremely high. For example, of the 14 mellophones in this year’s horn line, nine are returning vets.

Brian also talked about the 2009 production, which has already undergone major changes. Gone is the original opener, although it will remain as a concert piece for standstill performances and after-show encores.

The new opener, One, has a completely different feel, while retaining the intensity of the original opener. I can only imagine how great it sounds now that everyday rehearsals are almost here.

One issue that Brian is not excited about is the state of the economy. The current economic crisis is especially hard on non-profits like drum corps. The corps has to look at many effects of the economy. Will ticket prices for shows have to come down to ensure people come?

How much will monetary support from boosters and fans drop? Will members have a harder time paying their fees? What other methods of fund-raising can the corps find to help sustain itself during this difficult time?

These are issues all drum corps will face, but hearing the director of the corps talk about them brought home just how serious the current economic situation is.

The corps proper spent the weekend rehearsing at Morenci High School, just a 10-minute drive across the Michigan border. I headed over to check out brass rehearsal, which started out split between upper and lower brass.

The upper brass was taught this evening by Frank Dorrite. Yes, THAT Frank Dorrite. He has done studio recordings of the Glassmen over the past few years and, for 2009, Brian asked him to help out with the horns.

Dorritie’s teaching style is relaxed, but focused, which the horn line fed off of eagerly. Even after a long day of rehearsal and receiving the new opener this weekend, the horns have a great sound and have made a very strong start for the 2009 season. The night ended with the full horn line running through White Rabbit, Madre, the corps song, and a ballad.

I did not catch much rehearsal on Sunday morning. While all sections broke down into subsections (trumpets, snares, etc.), I found myself downloading and printing out boarding passes for various staff, parents and members who were flying out of Detroit throughout the day.

After lunch, however, I made up for lost time by catching the full corps rehearsal. This was my first experience with an electronic keyboard in the pit. I will admit that I tend to lean toward more “old school” style of drum corps (I own and play a two-valve King baritone), but the use of the keyboard only served to enhance the music and did not overshadow the performers.

The musical book this year is packed with energy and the members have plenty of their own to put through their instruments and bring the music to life. It will be very interesting to see the visual program, especially now that the color guard is back with the corps.

The end of the camp saw me saying goodbye to Brian, Bill and the rest of the Glassmen, some of whom I met for the first time this rehearsal weekend, but now are part of my Glassmen family.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to head out to Toledo for another rehearsal, but I am definitely looking forward to seeing the corps on the field this summer. It’s going to be a special experience for members and fans alike.