Part 2: An interview with Carl Ruocco about his 50+-year involvement

by Harry Heidelmark, DCW staff

This interview originally was published in the April 2009 edition of Drum Corps World (37th Anniversary edition — Volume 38, Number 1).

In this part, Carl and I discussed more of his recent experiences and fond memories from over 50 years in an activity he deeply loves and appreciates greatly.

Harry Heidelmark: A few years ago, DCI rules were changed, allowing brass instruments of any key. Do you think it made a difference?

Carl Ruocco: Harry, I think you are leading me into an area where DCI is intelligent enough to realize that it needs to go down a different road and create different modules for trombones, woodwinds, sousaphones, etc. I think drum corps will remain as it is now, with a new division or grouping of these instruments which I think will expand the organization tremendously.

HH: Do you think the change in instrumentation has made it easier to start a drum corps?

CR: The change in instrumentation really has nothing to do with starting a drum corps. Some people think starting a drum corps is easy. First you need a home base, then you need a group of people with organizational experience and you need a financial base of about $250,000 along with a business plan.

HH: Have you noticed any significant differences between drum corps using three-valve G bugles when compared to corps using B-flat horns?

CR: Naturally the pitch, but more players are comfortable playing B-flat instruments because that’s what they play in high school or college.

HH: Do you believe DCI will some day allow woodwind instruments and, if so, how should the maximum number of corps members be increased to allow for them?

CR: If this was to be a reality, it would have to be a separate division.

HH: Besides instrumentation, what do you see as the biggest change in drum corps when comparing corps of the 1970s to today’s corps?

CR: The corps in the ’70s were eating off paper plates and today’s corps are eating off fine china. There are such vast differences in the way the organizations are put together between then and now. In the ’70s, the corps were neighborhood organizations, now each corps draws for all 50 states and abroad. So the differences are well beyond instrumentation.

HH: How different are touring corps compared to being on the road with a corps 20 years ago?

CR: The differences . . . 20 years ago touring corps didn’t travel the distances they do today, nor did they have the equipment we have today . . . where an 18-wheeler is a full kitchen, souvenir vans, equipment trucks, staff busses. We organize differently, travel differently and have advance planning and scheduling.

HH: While on tour . . . have you had many of those moments that make you want to pull your hair out, but can now sit back and laugh? Could you share one with us?

CR: Not on tour . . . but. The staff just finished warming the Bucs up to perform at the DCA Championship and I just got finished speaking to the corps just before going to the gate. We got to the gate and were told we could not go on until the fireworks exhibition at the minor league baseball game was over . I asked the contest coordinator if he was (# X # X #)   kidding. I look back at this and shake my head!

HH: During the latter part of the 1990s, you were program director for Jersey Surf and then Spirit of Atlanta, before moving on to various administrative positions with Santa Clara Vanguard over seven years until 2007. Do you prefer working with a corps staff producing a show or taking on the responsibilities of tour director?

CR: I worked with Jersey Surf and Spirit of Atlanta in the roll of staff coordinator/show coordinator. Both Bob Jacobs, director of Jersey Surf, and Bill Duquette, director of Spirit, allowed me to bring in people and put a staff together and plan a show around the talent that we had.

With the Santa Clara Vanguard, I was asked to come in by Rich Valenzuela, the corps director.

I was there to assist him in his new position. My roll with Rick varied . . . my first year as a tour director, my second year as assistant director and the years after that doing whatever he needed me to do. The title wasn’t important. What was important was getting the job done and moving the corps down the road safely and on time. Also, working with Alan Dekko made things go very smoothly.

HH: What has been your biggest challenge as a program director?

CR: The biggest challenge is finding the right people, putting them together and developing the chemistry and camaraderie, then working with the staff to develop the correct vehicle for that particular drum corps.

HH: How important is chemistry between staff when putting a program together?

CR: The chemistry is, in my mind, the most important component of a successful program. When you have good chemistry, the staff works as a team, things get done properly for the greater good of the drum corps.

HH: How rewarding has it been to lead the New York Skyliners Alumni Corps, both on and off the field, these last 10 years, as one of its field conductors and staff coordinator?

CR: Being with the Skyliners Alumni is like being a kid in a candy store. It’s both rewarding and fulfilling. Floods of memories happen each time we get together. These are some of the guys I’ve know for over 20, 30 years . . . boy that sounds old . . . but you forget that when we are all together. It’s like time stands still.

The alumni corps is made up of extremely talented people who still enjoy doing what they do and still have the “chops” to do it. Conducting this corps, standing in front of them,    feeling the sound and power of the horn and drum line . . . it’s amazing. And last year and this year, having the added responsibility of helping put things together, pick some music and working with a staff of truly dedicated people.

HH: Why do think the alumni corps have been able to thrive as they have the last 10 years?

CR: Alumni corps are doing well because there’s no pressure. They are there to entertain.
It’s a vehicle for the members to still showcase their talents. They have lots of fun doing it, not a lot of pressure and they enjoy performing in front of the truly receptive crowds.

HH: For the last four seasons, you’ve been staff coordinator for the DCA World Champion Reading Buccaneers. What is the secret to your success?

CR: It’s not a secret of “my” success . . . it’s “our” success . . . and . . . it’s no secret. I am blessed to be working for an administration that says, go ahead, do it. They have allowed me to put together and work with a group of creative people who make it fun to be there. They have allowed me to assimilate a group of very talented teachers who bring out the best in each other.

Not to mention inspiring the corps members to perform far beyond what they think they can. It’s been absolutely fantastic. The drum corps works very hard, constantly, and has a work ethic like no other senior corps I’ve ever seen.

The secret of success is Rich Hammond and Chris Feist in percussion, Jay Bocook, Gino Cipriani, Mike Britcher for brass, Bobby Jones for visual and Steve Vincent for guard. This is the “secret,” having a group of people this talented, this much fun to work with and to be around, this is the “secret.” Having an administration that is amazing and the salt of the earth, that’s also the “secret.”

HH: Is there a wining formula for drum corps?

CR: The winning formula for drum corps is to work hard, set a schedule and stick to it, everybody put their egos aside and tries to produce the best product they can.

HH: What do you see as the biggest distinction between junior corps and all-age corps?

CR: You are talking about apples and oranges . . . A junior corps is on tour all summer and they practice every day. An all-age corps gets to practice on the weekends.

HH: Since the early 1970s, you’ve been in a member of various judging associations. Are you still judging drum corps or marching bands?

CR: I judged for many years at the DCI level and DCA level, plus I was blessed to be mentored by Don Angelica and Dennis DeLucia teaching me about the “gray area.” These days I just do some marching bands festivals and that satisfies my needs.

HH: Judging systems have changed a lot over the last 35 years since you first started teaching drum corps. What do you think of the current methods, DCI and/or DCA, and what do you think could be done better?

CR: Some of the systems have changed over the last number of years . . . some good, some not so good. What I wish DCI and DCA would stop doing is trying to re-invent the wheel so often. For the most part, things work very well.

HH: Do you think there is a way to base part of the score on the audience’s reaction to a show or do you believe it already is by way of the general effect judges?

CR: I think in one way or another the audience’s reactions to performances are taken into consideration now. Because the way the audience is reacting to a show is basically the nomenclature of the judging sheet.

HH: Do you think the judges on the field need to be that close to the musicians and guard members or should they be able to do just as effective a job evaluating musical and/or marching techniques from a spot on the sidelines or in the stands?

CR: I’ll answer your question, Harry, but I am certainly not a one-man driving force of new procedures. I always liked to be on the field. The sidelines are great, but I’d like to be down there, I like to feel, I like to hear. I think effect judges and ensemble judges should be in the stands, but you need to evaluate a corps’ performance up close and personal.

HH: What was your initial reaction when you heard you’d been named to the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 2003?

CR: First thought that came to mind . . . well it’s about time . . . no, no really . . . I was actually very honored because I know a great number of people in the Hall and to be associated with those names, ones I’ve known for years, was quite an honor and I was very humbled by it.

HH:   Aren’t you also a member of the New Jersey Drum Corps Hall of Fame?

CR: Yes. It is an equal honor and closer to home. These are the people I marched with or against and also the people I taught and taught against . . . again to be associated with this group is a really a good feeling.

HH: If you could change one thing about the activity, what would it be?

CR: There are not too many things I would consider changing. The activity naturally grows and evolves every year. I would just want to make sure that the corps continue to travel safe, make sure they are fed and rest properly and, most of all, make sure they are enjoying what they do.

HH: Has there ever been a time when you considered leaving the activity? What keeps you coming back year after year?

CR: I’ve really never considered leaving the activity because it’s been the most consistent thing in my life. My two sons, Chris and Dan, grew up around it; my two grandsons, Christopher, 6, and Nicholas, 3, enjoy it as well. I’m blessed by it.

All my close friends are still involved in drum corps. And, now with the Bucs, I’ve expanded my base of good friends even further by working with Jim Gruber, the Terinos and the entire Buccaneer organization.

HH: Is there anything you haven’t accomplished in the activity?

CR: I guess one of the things I have not achieved yet is a division one DCI world championship.   I’ve won the DCI class A, I’ve won the DCA championship seven times with two different corps (three with the Skyliners and four with the Buccaneers), and there are things, not even thought about out there yet to be accomplished.

I am thankful to be a part of our activity and most thankful I’m still able to be rewarded with my friendships and some successes.

HH: Can you list your three most memorable moments involving the marching arts?

CR: 1) Winning the 1979 DCI Class A Championship in Birmingham, AL, with Black Watch from Willingboro, NJ, a young neighborhood drum corps with a lot of heart.

2) Standing on the backfield track with one of my mentors, Gail Royer, when the announcer, Brent Crocker, announced Vanguard in seventh place and the Crossmen in sixth place. Gail turned to me, gave me a hug and congratulated me on the outcome. This man had style and grace, and will always have a place in my heart.

3) Winning my first DCA Championship with the New York Skyliners and with the Buccaneers.
Harry, I have been blessed with so many more special moments in my drum corps career.

HH: Is there anyone you’d like to thank or recognize as we conclude this interview?

CR: There are many friendships I have been blessed with over so many years — Clarke Williams, Jay Kennedy, Rick Valenzuela, Frank Raffa, Tony DiCarlo, my Skyliner and Buccaneer family and the DeLucia family who treat me like blood and, of course, Barbara Jones . . . and forgive me for not listing many many more names of people I hold as my friends.

HH: Many thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Anything you’d like to add?

CR: I want to thank all of the people who have dealt with my emotions and passion for this activity we all love so much.