Interview: Larry Hershman has wide-ranging history in drum corps activity

by Steve Vickers, Drum Corps World Publisher

Larry and I have been friends for probably 25 years. He’s one of those people who has had a hand in a variety of corps and organizations, on both the DCI and DCA side of the activity. He’s well-known as a corps director, program coordinator, show promoter, judge, administrator and consultant, and his involvement spans a major part of the drum and bugle corps movement’s storied history.

For many years he was director of the Harrisburg, PA, Westshoremen, then became involved with the Canton, OH, Bluecoats. Throughout this time, he has been a key individual in Drum Corps Associates. He is also one of the founders of Five Star Brass and director of the “Serenade in Brass” indoor show held each spring at The Forum theater in Harrisburg, showcasing a wide variety of competitive, alumni and military drum and bugle corps. In fact, his latest production was held last month and was again a huge success.

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Steve Vickers: Let’s start with a review of your background in the activity. When did you first get involved and what organizations have you been associated with over the years as a member and a staff person?

Larry Hershman: I joined the Westshoremen senior corps in 1964 and was with them for 20 years. I was their business manager and later their director. From 1983 until 1986, I was the program coordinator and drill designer for the U. S. Naval Academy Drum and Bugle Corps.

Ted Swaldo invited me to become the program director for the Bluecoats in the fall of 1985 and I did that until 1991 when I “retired.”   When the Bluecoats fell out of the top 12 in 1999, I came out of retirement and finally retired again in 2006.

I was also involved in producing and teaching the All-Star Corps in the three Macy’s parade    performances. Of all the corps I have had the privilege of teaching, the Macy’s/“Today Show” experience was clearly the most fun.

SV: Your show in Harrisburg has provided fans with performances by corps that are not always readily accessible, like the U.S. Naval Academy Drum & Bugle Corps. How are you able to do that?

LH: I was asked to do some consulting work for the Naval Academy drum corps back in the late ’70s. While I was there, I invited the corps to perform at “Serenade in Brass.” As far as I know, prior to “Serenade,” they had never performed in a concert setting. The corps had a great time and the audience loved them.

Through my involvement with USNA, I got to know the people at the Air Force and Coast Guard Academies and they also accepted invitations to perform at “Serenade.” One year (I think it was in the mid-’80s) we had all three corps in the same year. That was an event.

SV: Next year is the 35th anniversary for “Serenade in Brass.” Any big plans?

LH: We have a few things on the drawing board right now, but nothing firm as yet. We are concerned about the longevity of the show, however. The production costs have continued to rise and obviously there is a limit to what the audience is willing to pay.

SV: How many years did you direct the Westshoremen?

LH: The corps did not field in 1974 and I took over as director in 1975 and remained in that position until 1983. Dan Bowman took over in 1984.

SV: The Westshoremen now have a once-a-year alumni corps. Have you been part of the rebuilt organization?

LH: The concept was started by Bill Toomey and another former director, Dan Rippon. The group was made up primarily of members from the ’90s. After two years, there was some interest from others and at that point Bill and Dan asked me to become involved. Today we have members from the ’50s through the ’90s and this year we added a few sons and daughters of those members.

We rehearse only three times, the last Sunday of January, February and March, and then do “Serenade.” Because the time commitment is small, we have great turnouts and enthusiasm. The horn line is wonderful and numbers in the 80s and the drum line is killer.

SV: You hold the position of vice president for DCA now. How long have you served on the management of the all-age circuit?

LH: I was the judging coordinator for four years in the ’80s and again for five years in the ’90s. When DCA President Mickey Petrone died suddenly in 2003, I was asked to become an advisor to the executive committee. I was elected as vice president the following year.

SV: About your years with the Bluecoats . . . what position did you hold and what kind of an experience was that for you?

LH: As I mentioned before, Ted Swaldo was the corps director in 1985. The corps was very local at that point and I don’t think had finished higher than 26th place. Remember when there were that many World Class corps?

Ted wanted to take the next step and make the corps better. They had never had a “coordinator” role and Ted felt that was important. He asked me to take the position.

Please understand, both Ted and I had full time jobs in the corporate world and this was a “hobby” for both of us. We agreed he would handle finances, equipment and support staff, while I would take care of members, teaching staff and the program. I brought some of my former Westshoremen staff along and as they say — “the rest is history”!

In 1986, the corps went from 20-something to 15th and one year later made finals. That was a thrill. After finals in 1987, my friend, the late Steve Brubaker, took a jab at me by referring to the Bluecoats’ show concept and remarking, “Bluecoats are the first senior corps ever to make DCI Finals.” He thought it was a jab, to me it was a great compliment.

My “real job” was requiring me to spend a lot of time out of the country, so at the end of 1991, I left the corps in the hands of some great people.

As you know, the corps slipped out of finals in 1999 and I agreed to come back to my former position beginning in the 2000 season, this time working with Director Bill Hamilton. Again, I brought along some senior corps talent — Rich Templin, visual, and Dan Delong, percussion — to supplement the Bluecoats’ ace horn staff. Getting the corps back into finals was much harder than getting to finals the first time.

As I have said publicly many times, the members who stuck with the Bluecoats in 2000 made the difference. They could have marched with any corps, but chose to stick it out — something rare today. It was their talent and dedication that not only got the corps back into finals, but set the stage for the years that followed.

SV: You’ve run contests and concerts through your Five Star Brass Productions and I know you have some excellent people who assist you. Tell me about the organization and those people who help you put on the shows.

LH: Five Star Brass Productions was founded in 1984 by five former Westshoremen administrators. Along with me, the other four were: Bill and Rose Light, Chuck Saia and Craig Kern. Craig left several years ago, although he remains our accountant, and was replaced by Dan Rippon. Chuck Saia is having some health problems right now and we wish him well.

SV: The economy is changing how the activity operates and who can participate. What do you see for the future of not only the general drum corps activity, but DCA specifically?

LH: The costs associated with producing a top DCI touring corps are tremendous and continue to rise. With every rule change that permits more and more electronics, those costs go up and the financial bar is raised that much further for any corps attempting to enter the arena. There is a limit, perhaps already reached, that members can be asked to pay for the experience.

Time will tell, but I am not counting on many new corps on that side of the aisle.
DCA has experienced growth during the past several years. The creation of the Class A division has provided much of this opportunity. The organization always has been “the weekend warriors,” members tend to have jobs during the week and drive to rehearsals, not fly to them. The key to continued growth will be strong, community-based corps being able to compete during the summer in a strong regional setting.

SV: Thanks for taking time to chat. I’ve always had a great deal of respect for the way you handle your various tasks on behalf of corps you’re associated with and the organizations you’ve helped lead! Continued success in your future endeavors.