An interview with the Cascades’ board chair, Mike Bujnowski

by DCW Publisher Steve Vickers

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

My memory of the Seattle Cascadesgoes back to the early 1970s when I was invited by Fred Lopez to attend several Drum Corps West Championship events in Washington. I was there partly out of curiosity about the significant number of western corps and especially the Pacific Northwest representatives.

The other reason was because my friend Ed Downs from Audio House in Lawrence, KS, was hired to record the championship and he produced sets of record albums. I worked for Ed as student at the University of Kansas, designing album covers for his largely school-oriented studio. His recordings were some of the finest drum and bugle corps material I had ever heard because of his re-recording the audio at his building, the empty sanctuary of a 100-year-old church which produced incredible “presence.”

The corps in the Northwest were all wonderful including the Seattle Marksmen, Seattle Shamrocks, Percussion-naut Patriots, Tri-City Columbians, Flamingos and Spartans, along with corps up and down the West Coast.

Jumping ahead almost two and a half decades, the Cascades re-emerged from their primarily Western show schedule to begin touring on the DCI circuit in the early 1990s. They worked their way up the DCI Class A/Division II ladder, then made the leap into Division I in 1999, placing in the 2002 finals. Financial concerns took the corps off the field in 2008, but they are returning to World Class this summer.

Mike and I have talked about what the corps has faced the last few years and I thought it would be timely to let our readers in on what has changed to allow the corps to come back in 2009.

Steve Vickers: How did you get involved with the Cascades and ultimately chair of the board?

Mike Bujnowski: I marched in the Cascades from ’72 through ’78. My time in corps did much to shape my life, for which I will forever be grateful. In 2003, I became active in the alumni association, feeling it was time in my life to pay forward to a new generation what many others had provided to me. I see in the faces of the corps members today that same passion I felt decades ago. Making those experiences possible must continue. In 2005, I became a board member and in September 2006, I stepped into the role of president/board chairman.

SV: Can you briefly tell me what happened two years ago that caused the corps to not come out last season?

MB: 2006 and 2008 presented different challenges. In 2006, the Northwest Youth Music Association (NYMA) Board and the Cascades management were in upheaval, combined with the disastrous crash of the bingo operation right before the 2006 tour. While the Cascades were on the road, we were uncovering debt, which grew to about $250,000.

The obvious sane thing would have been to fold (Chapter 7). However, we stuck with it to rebuild the organization and resolve the debt. 2007 was a rebuilding year on all fronts, with great progress made, plus the corps had a pretty successful tour.

In 2008, NYMA (parent organization to the Cascades) was on solid footing. The guard and percussion would have been quite good, but we failed to retain/recruit brass players (and brass staff) sufficient to field a World Class corps, so we reluctantly cancelled the Cascades’ 2008 tour.

SV: So you’ve been through a review process involving representatives of DCI visiting to observe your board and check out the corps’ progress prior to allowing re-entry to the DCI schedule. How has that gone this winter?

MB: DCI’s process for review is understandable and pretty straight forward. Maintaining a World Class presence is an important part of our objectives for expanding drum corps in the Northwest. We appreciate DCI’s support in allowing the Cascades to field what will be a smaller World Class corps in 2009.

SV: I understand you’ve temporarily “absorbed” the membership from the Spokane Thunder. Was this primarily to ensure a World Class-size group for 2009?

MB: Thunder decided not to tour in 2009 due to the financial realities of a small corps in the Northwest facing an expensive tour spanning   several thousand miles. With that decision, the Thunder Board decided to join NYMA. Since then, it has become very clear as the Cascades’ auditions proceeded, that the added members of Thunder are making it possible for the 2009 Cascades to tour in World Class. The Cascades and Thunder are now very much one.

SV: What does that mean for the Spokane corps after this season?

MB: The re-emergence of Thunder in 2010 is a critical component of our plans. We firmly believe that Open Class must thrive if World Class drum corps are to prosper. In fact, both Open and World are equally needed for drum corps to survive in the Northwest. As such, we are aggressively working on not just the re-fielding of Thunder, but also launching two new Open Class corps as early as 2010.

Thunder in 2010 will be somewhat different than the 2008 corps. Thunder and our other planned Open Class corps will recruit younger members, the corps will perform more locally and tuition/tour fees will be targeted in the $500-$700 range. It may be that many Thunder members elect to stay with the World Class corps, but we do hope that a number rejoin Thunder as leaders and mentors to the new 2010 members.

SV: You told me last fall that one of your goals is to rebuild a small circuit in the Pacific Northwest involving not only the Portland and Spokane corps, along with the Cascades, but several other revivals or new start-ups. Can you give me any details on the long-range plans for accomplishing that goal?

MB: Without getting too far into future plans, if we fulfill our 2010 objectives, there will be five drum corps in the NW, plus our all-age mini-corps. With that, we can assure there will be NW drum corps shows, thus providing increased exposure to the activity within our communities. At the same time, tour costs can be kept low, thus placing the drum corps experience within reach of more young people.

These are aggressive plans. Just getting Cascades back on the field for 2009 and Thunder back on the field for 2010 will be a big accomplishments. However, even though the plans are a stretch, we think this could be within our reach — and that it’s worth the effort.

SV: The corps’ past director from early in this decade, Dr. Sal Leone, has become reinvolved. What is his role now?

MB: Fortunately, Sal has remained a vital part of NYMA with his involvement crucial to the organization’s survival since 2006. His acceptance of the role of director of the Cascades both provides confidence that the Cascades will have a successful year in 2010 and allows other volunteers to focus on the expanded objectives of NYMA. Hopefully, Sal will continue to be involved in steering the organization’s future. He is one of the rare breed, volunteering a ridiculous amount of time to make this activity possible for a new generation of young people.

SV: Several issues ago I ran a press release for the Cascades that reported on some service-type projects the corps accomplished during the year away from DCI. Can you briefly tell me about what that involvement has done to help your program along?

MB: We believe that NYMA can do more in the community than sponsor a single drum corps. In fact, we know that NYMA must do more to connect with the community, in particular music educators, if drum corps in the NW is to prosper. Last year we started a program called “Partners in Education” to loan marching instruments to high schools and we partnered in a new project called Music4Life to support elementary school music.

This coming year we intend to expand our “Partners in Education” program to increase the number of high school marching bands we support from four to as many as eight. Our goal is to continue to build our instrument inventory and further the advancement of competitive marching bands in the NW, which better ties us to music programs and in turn benefits our drum corps objectives.

We are also exploring sponsoring an honor band program this summer that may involve as many as 450 band members and we are looking into hosting brass and percussion clinics in the next school year.

SV: My friend Dave Endicott, a Madison Scouts alum, has been working with the Seattle Rotary Club — the largest one in the world, I believe — by starting a new foundation called Music4Life. It involves accumulating used musical instruments and placing them in Seattle Public Schools to encourage the reinstatement of music programs. Is this something that is directly connected to your Cascades organization?

MB: Rotary Music4Life is an exciting project that may grow to support communities far beyond Seattle. NYMA was fortunate to partner in the launch of the project, benefitting the Seattle School District, locating about 150 instruments and paying to increase two part-time music teachers to full-time status.

Led by Dave Endicott, Rotary Music4Life is now officially being created as its own entity associated with Rotary. 2009 plans have not yet been fully defined, but I expect details will soon be coming.

SV: What kind of program will fans see when the Cascades hit the road this summer — musically and personnel-wise?

MB: The show is titled “Beyond the Forest.” It represents a movement toward creating a unique Cascades style that is enjoyable and memorable for the fans. Most important is that the show is intended above all else to be exciting and fun for the Cascades members to perform.

SV: Is there anything I haven’t touched on that you’d like to share with the readers?
MB: Over the last couple years we have confirmed to ourselves that we want to provide young people with outstanding, life-shaping   experiences, which drum corps does so well.

Whether the experience is with World Class, Open Class or at a community level, it is the experience of each young person that matters. As an organization comprised of committed volunteers, as long as we intelligently give as much as possible to the young people and the Northwest community, we think success for all will follow — for NYMA, the Cascades, Thunder and for NW drum corps.

SV: I’m very excited to see the corps back in 2009 — a feat that only a handful of corps have ever accomplished — and appreciate very much your taking time to discuss your plans. Have a great tour and we’ll see you and the Cascades along the road and in Indianapolis come August! Thanks.