My daughter’s life in drum corps

by Bob Fields, Drum Corps World staff

This article was originally published in the April 2009 issue of Drum Corps World (Volume 38, Number 1).

As a writer, I have always wanted to tell the story of our little girl, who has made her dad and mom very proud growing up in the activity that we love so much. So here is the story of our little Leighann, who came from parents who both marched with and have been involved with drum corps our entire lives.

When she was just a few weeks old, we took her to the DCA Championships in Allentown, PA, and we sat with her in the shade up on the hill under the pine trees looking down at J. Birney Crum Stadium. The music far below seemed to make her smile or perhaps it was just gas.

Her mother Terry (Crossmen alumni) and I thought we detected her wiggling her little toes in time with the music.

As she became a little older, I constantly worked with her, teaching her the “beat” to each song, hoping she would some day become a drummer. I spent 10 years playing drums professionally around the San Francisco Bay Area to get through college and had great hopes Leighann would become a famous female jazz/rock drummer like Sheila E, so that she could buy mom and dad that big retirement house with the white picket fence.

Being actively involved as drum corps volunteers with the Crossmen, we held out that Leighann would catch the drum corps “bug,” even though other Crossmen alumni parents had chosen sports over music for their kids.

While Leighann was growing up she would often come to rehearsals for what was then the Archer-Epler Junior Musketeers, where I was the business manager. At rehearsals, the little kid would constantly be asking the young marching musicians to hold her up to the water faucet to get a drink. The corps kids soon took her under their wing and before long, guard instructor Trish Murphy (Archbishop Ryan HS) presented her with her own little flag pole and later we bought her a baby rifle.

I always suspected they gave her that flag to keep her mind off the water faucet, but little Leighann spent hours watching and copying the big girls in the guard. The kids gave her plenty of encouragement and soon the seeds of a future guard member were starting to sprout. Interestingly enough, unlike other parents, we never pushed, we just enjoyed watching her become addicted to the activity.

As the years went by, Archie Junior blossomed into the Illusion, competing locally and at DCI nationally. Like many corps in the East, Illusion did many parades to earn money to travel to those competitions. She soon became a banner carrier and even marched along carrying her pint-sized rifle, much to the delight of the crowds lining the parade route. Ah, how cute she is!

Mom Terry soon decided to get her involved in dance or sports. We tried T-ball and softball, but the kid found that too boring. Mom then enrolled her in Miss Adele’s Twirling Class and Leighann seemed to enjoy that very much except for one little problem — she was terrified to throw the baton over her head!   No amount of work could convince her it was safe to throw it up high without it bonking her on the head. So mom decided to move on. Ironic because she now has no problems throwing sevens and higher with rifles or sabers!

Next came tap dance classes. In retrospect, it should have been jazz dance, but we were not thinking that she would join drum corps then. For several years we loved watching her perform on the stage with all the other little girls in their cute costumes. In later years, I have kidded with her that she could have started a whole new guard phenomenon had she stuck with it . . . tapping and spinning at the same time! Tap classes did wonders for her. No throwing stuff in the air and her shyness to perform slowly subsided.

About the time that she was ready to do some serious guard work with Illusion, the corps folded. It had been around for 10 years when two of director Lou Mauro’s three kids decided it was time to march with a Division I corps like Bluecoats and Crossmen. We searched in vain for a new Illusion director among local band directors, but no one seemed to want to commit to a life of craziness as a drum corps director, so Illusion became a statistic like so many other great little corps from the past.

Leighann was still determined and so she became a backyard performer. She and her dog Cinnamon spent hours in the backyard making up work to show mom and dad. It was now obvious that she was ready to get involved, so we turned to our old friends, George and Carmen Growcott of the Tournament of Bands Circuit, asking for help. They had been there when Leighann took her first steps and George helped us as an Illusion instructor. He thought they might know of a place for a 10-year-old to march, but those beginning groups were few and far between.

We were referred to a new local group called Apex winter guard in Wilmington, DE, not far from our home in Pennsylvania. They were just getting off the ground as an Open Class guard and soon to go World Class a few years later. But they had no place for a 10-year-old, nor did they have a junior guard.

After my call to Raul Reyes of Apex, he said he would see what he could do. A few weeks later we were invited to the first meeting of their new junior guard called Bpex. Since Leighann was tall for her age, she fit in well with all the high school students, even though she was only 10 and still in elementary school.

Few people knew she was not even in high school yet and she was soon able to spin her first full-size rifle. As years went by, she became a yearly rifle soloist, which you may have seen in the last year’s 2008 Crossmen summer show about two-thirds of the way through the production.

During her first years with Bpex, our family was constantly at Crossmen camps helping out. I was camp manager in those days and Leighann so enjoyed being everyone’s little sister. One day she was given a saber from Bpex and told to learn to spin it. Standing in the hallway at one of the international camps where future Crossmen and Cadets came to try out, she got her first compliment.

She was determined to learn to spin this saber and spent hours in the hallway while looking into the gym watching the older girls. At one point, Cadet guard instructor Emma Roberts was becoming really frustrated and stopped the guard. She pointed to the hallway and said, “If you all were half as serious as that little girl trying to learn to spin, you would be DCI Champs!”

Leighann continued with Bpex for seven years, but resisted several opportunities to move up to the World guard level with Apex. Interestingly enough, Bpex had become more of a crowd favorite than the older group and was more of a family to the kids in the guard. Creative shows were their forté, including one year where a member stood on a moving bed, which passed over other members lying on their backs. As they passed under the bed, the kids lying on the floor switched to different colored flags as it passed over them.

There was always a lot of buzz when Bpex entered the floor and I suspect there may have been a little jealousy from the older group. As a side bar, Bpex was folded by the AYS organization a year before Apex went inactive, even though they had a group that was eager to march. Some of those Bpex kids are now marching in the newly-revived Field of View winter guard from West Chester, PA.

Leighann also is marching with this new group after a year marching with the World Class Black Watch guard from New Jersey. She says it is nice to be back with her old family and their director, David Stillman.

One of her proudest moments is that she was one of the members of the 250-member guard from YEA! that marched in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, just before she tried out for drum corps. At a huge indoor practice facility in Upper New Jersey, the staff lined the guard members up in four long lines of about 65 members each.

We were there helping to cook out in the cold in the Cadets’ mobile kitchen and she made quite the observation at lunch. She started out in the back row on the outside. Then they moved her up a row and then another. Soon she found herself in the front row closer to the center and was quite surprised to see she was standing next to kids she knew were in a number of big East Coast World Class corps. I think that is when the guard staff got to see her perform for the first time before trying out for a big-time drum corps.

Soon after, Leighann turned 13 and she tried out and was offered a spot in Jersey Surf, located just across the river in New Jersey from where we live south of Philadelphia. We were quite impressed that she had made it into such a great group, but were surprised when she called them the following Monday after the camp on her own. She told them that, although it was an honor to be chosen, she felt that the Crossmen (then from Allentown, PA), were her family and she wanted that to be her first experience in drum corps.

Shortly after, she tried out for the Crossmen and that started her career as a guard member in drum corps. Interestingly, she actually toured the summer before when she was 12 with Crossmen, helping out with the kitchen crew as “drink wench” before trying for the corps.

That turned out to be good for her to be away from home and also from mom, who was afraid of her baby being out in the big drum corps world. Leighann has never been home in her teenage years for her birthday in July since she has always been on tour with the Crossmen.

When the Crossmen moved to San Antonio, TX, quite a number of the Pennsylvania Crossmen went along as well. Some of those guard members were the same kids she marched with in Bpex. To this day, there are still quite a number of members from Bpex marching in Crossmen, along with quite a number for other Pennsylvania Crossmen kids who have continued.

In addition, there is still very strong support from the alumni here in Pennsylvania. This includes her mother Terry who also was a guard member in the beginning years of the merger which became the Crossmen (Keystone Regiment and 507 Hornets). Like mother, like daughter apparently.

This year marks Leighanns’ sixth year with the Crossmen and she still can march two years after this. She will be one year short of former DM Becky Terrys’ record of nine years when she ages out.

I can certainly say her mom and I have been proud of her accomplishments thus far. After two years as guard captain with her high school (Ridley Green Raider Band), she continues to help out there. She spent a year teaching Apex’s high school group called Cpex. She is also in her third year teaching the Abington HS indoor marching band guards as well, which have taken several high guard awards in USSBA competitions.

In addition to teaching, she has been a tabulator and an assistant coordinator for the USSBA during the past two years. She is attending college to major in computer graphics for advertising.

This year came the best news of all when she was asked to be guard captain of the Crossmen, along with her good friend from Bpex, Holly Stover, who is in her second and age-out year.
We have a lot of pride in Leighann and especially her drive and her dedication to the Crossmen. We can honestly say that the drum corps activity has shaped her life and her dedication to the activity. Who knows what the future will bring, but I know that she will continue to perform and then teach until her body gives out.

Oh yeah, that is the downside of being a life-long guard member, but so far that super glue is holding her together pretty well.

FINALE — It is amazing how many kids out there that have similar stories of growing up in the activity like my daughter and her mom. Drum corps has so much to give kids and it is a shame that the days of the local neighborhood corps have passed us by. Perhaps that time will return when these groups find it too hard and expensive to take those 11-week tours of the United States.

So even though the economy seems to have tanked, we can look forward to a great 2009 season with most all the corps themselves reporting great turnouts. With the gas prices down, hopefully that will continue to the summer and give the drum corps a little bit of a break on what they had to spend last year.

DCI has outlined a great line-up of shows this year, but with unemployment the highest it has been in 26 years, let us hope that there will be people who can afford to buy those tickets to see these kids do their stuff. I hope you will make a point of going to more than one show this year to show your support for these kids.

To all our drum corps friends . . . may this be the best year ever!

Happy Trails from Bob Fields — DCW staff, year 32.