My own top 10 drum corps memories

by Adam Burdett, DCW staff

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

As the quiet off-season of drum corps continues, I feel that now would be a great time to reminisce a bit about some great drum corps moments of the recent past. Many of you may have seen articles written by me before. For those who haven’t, here is a little background information.

My name is Adam Burdett, born and raised in Northeastern Pennsylvania in a town called Pittston. I am 33 years old and am currently the high school marching band/concert band/jazz band/chorus director at Pittston Area High School. I am a big drum corps fan and have been attending shows live since 1991.

Before being introduced to drum corps, I was first exposed to the world of competitive marching band. My older sister (also a current music teacher) was in the Pittston Area Marching Band in its earliest days of competing. I was only 10 or so at the time, but I did enjoy watching the band at football games as well as at band competitions. I especially enjoyed the large bands at the competitions, notably Montrose High School and Shikellamy High School, both from Pennsylvania.

From here, my sister was told by her band director one year that PBS would be airing a drum and bugle corps competition on Thanksgiving morning and that she may enjoy it. Our whole family sat down and watched that program in 1986 and I was hooked. Even my brother, the non-musical one of the three Burdetts, found enjoyment in the program.

From here, I guess you could say I was a drum corps fan. So with that background, I now present in this cold, snowy off-season, the favorite top-10 live corps moments of my life thus far.

10 — Drums at the Meadowlands, 1991

I found it fitting to begin the list with my first live drum corps show. I swear I didn’t sleep from Monday on in eager anticipation of what I was about to witness on that Sunday in late June. It was a DCI show featuring seven corps: L’Insolite, Boston Crusaders, Spirit of Atlanta, Dutch Boy, Crossmen, Cadets of Bergen County and Phantom Regiment. Before the show, my sister Laurie and I attended the fair outside Giants Stadium, a time which included riding a roller coaster that could’ve been built by any local shop class and put together with Duplo Blocks.

But I digress. The show was outstanding. I was a junior in high school and enjoyed all of the groups. The two that stood out the most were Spirit of Atlanta and their production of music from my favorite movie, “Glory,” and the Phantom Regiment with their operatic program which concluded with Bacchanale.

I had heard this piece many times from my VHS of the previous season, so to see and hear it live was a thrill. Despite excellent performances from all of the groups, the Regiment took the show with about a two-point victory. Notable from that show was the Crossmen finishing within striking distance of Cadets. They would beat the Cadets later in the season, only to finish eighth at the DCI Championship in Dallas, TX.

9 — The return of the Bayonne Bridgemen

I had heard of the Bayonne Bridgemen and had even seen them on a DVD or two or some old VHS tapes, but I never had the opportunity to see this corps live. In 2005, there was a campaign to bring back the Bridgemen and rehearsals began. In my daily scouring of the Internet drum corps circles, I saw an advertisement for the “Tournament of Stars” in Bayonne, NJ. It would be here in 2006 that the Bridgemen would make their return to the drum corps field.

I think the show started at 6:00 PM and my brother and I probably arrived around 3:30 PM. To say I was excited would be a major understatement. The corps leading up to the finale were incredible and the night certainly lived up to its hype. But when the police sirens abd cars became visible leading the Bridgemen back to the field, myself and the others in attendance were in a frenzy.

I swear, the MC’s intro seemed to last 20   minutes in anticipation. When it began, from the opening strains of Pagliacci to the deafening conclusion of “William Tell Overture,” not to mention a Battle Hymn encore, I was clearly witnessing history and proud to be a small part.

8 — 2001 Syracuse Brigadiers

This was a show for the drum corps ages. The Brigadiers were in the midst of a drum corps winning streak and were not showing signs of letting down. While all performances were exciting, the DCA Prelims performance was the most memorable for me.

It was an unseasonably cool day, but that hardly mattered once this group took the field.   It was a “drum corps’ greatest hits” of sorts, including God Bless the Child and MacArthur Park. Soprano soloist Roland Garceau was in the zone and carried the corps at times.

It was the closer of this show that brought the house down in the Brigs’ hometown. Percussionists played one of two things: either a marching snare drum or a large concert bass drum on wheels.

When all was said and done, they had about 21 snare drummers and a small army of bass drummers. Factor in the 60 or so brass players and mission accomplished. I can’t imagine how corps members felt at the conclusion of the performance, but can I say I, as an audience member, was drained. Brigs won the title the next night, but only by a scant 0.1. Regardless, the winning streak continued.

7 — Parking lot encores

It has become a tradition for some drum corps to play their show one final time before the season ends, after their retreat and awards ceremony. Two of these such situations proved to be exciting experiences for me.

The first would be at the 1994 DCA Championships. The Hawthorne Caballeros had just suffered a hard-fought defeat at the hands of the Empire Statesmen. On a whim, I decided to head to the lot to see if there would be any encores. As luck would have it, I found their pit percussion section setting up for a run-through and proceeded to stand right next to the drum major podium. The horn line arrived shortly thereafter and the heavens opened with sound and emotion. The performance would be one of my loudest to that point.

In 2004, at the same venue, Lackawanna Stadium in Scranton, PA, the San Francisco Renegades were setting up for a performance of their own a few hundred yards from the stadium site. After a warm-up and about one-half of their performance, the police arrived with complaints from neighbors a mile or so away.

Knowing the noise would not stop, the police politely offered that if the corps went within the confines of the stadium parking lot, there was nothing they could do. So the small army of corps members and fans went back to the lot and, much to the delight of the fans, the corps restarted their awesome performance.

6 — Drum corps in the rain x 3

Except for lightning, the show goes on. This was the case for several chaotic performances in my day. The first goes back to the 1993 DCI East show in Allentown. The Cavaliers were last to perform. The beginning of the show was in front of 12,000 or so enthusiastic fans. By the time the show ended, a deluge of heavy rain, and some lightning and thunder, dwindled the crowd to a size of about 75. I was one of them. The corps performed admirably and finished in first by a scant 0.1 over the dry Blue Devils. Blue Devils would turn the tables at DCI Finals a week later.

The 1997 DCI Semifinals were going off   without a hitch in Orlando for about 90 minutes under sunny, humid, 95-degree skies. As Carolina Crown finished their performance, the skies darkened and rumbles of thunder were audible in the distance.

Magic of Orlando, the hometown corps, took the field to a light drizzle that turned into rain and the rain turned into the pairing of animals, two by two. The corps never faltered and the harder it rained, the more fun the crowd and corps began to have. A 30-minute delay followed, but the crowd was now refreshed from a great performance and a well-deserved shower.

The worst such case of bad weather would have to be the 2006 DCA Prelims. A gentlemen from the Atlantic known as [Hurricane] Ernesto made it to Western New York with heavy rain and gusty winds, conditions that lasted through the entire preliminary competition.

I only braved about half of the corps, but those who performed that day should be commended for surviving these raw conditions. Several corps felt the heaviest of the rains. For me, it was during the CorpsVets’ performance when the wind seemed to make it rain from ground to cloud that I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. The CorpsVets’ show ended with “Elvis” (Vic Kulinski) leaving the building, with my brother and I not far behind.

5 — The Cadets’ 2002 encore

Due to renovations, the DCI Eastern Classic was moved to Philadelphia’s Franklin Field for the 2002 season. The competitive portion was won by The Cadets in a close call over the Blue Devils. For the encore, The Cadets played several   exciting selections that weren’t part of their field show. Then the drum line played their solo from the show and the corps blew the stands down with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. Pandemonium ensued. The corps began to leave and the crowd began to boo. Mind you, this is the only city whose fans have booed Santa Claus — true story.

The corps returned to the field for another, even louder and more energetic playing of the same chart and the crowd response grew to an even larger frenzy. Again, The Cadets attempted to leave, and again, the crowd would not have it. So for the hat trick, corps members went up the stadium ramps into the crowd for the final playing. Whether the corps or crowd was louder is up to debate, but the audience’s appetite was finally fulfilled. All left happy that night after an encore that certainly had people dancing as far away as Geno’s Steaks.

4 — 2000 Boston Crusaders

If it’s possible to put more emotion into a program than a corps even has, the Boston Crusaders did just that at the 2000 DCI Finals. First off, the Crusaders were coming off a magical season in 1999 where they achieved DCI Finalist status for the first time in their long history.

The momentum continued into 2000 with a strong, emotional program that picked up steam as the season went on. A top-seven finish looked possible, but unlikely. At the quarter- and semifinals shows, the Crusaders upended the powerhouse Blue Knights and Phantom Regiment, finding themselves in an unlikely spot, opening the live PBS broadcast in the fifth position at Saturday’s finals.

The performance was very memorable for many reasons, but the fever pitch in the crowd grew to a climax as the corps performed one of the most beautiful ballads in the history of drum corps with Con te Partiro/Time to Say Goodbye. The audience was in tears, pit members bawling their eyes out and the reality hit that the show still had a closer to wrap up.

The corps concluded mightily and the audience probably had some emotion drained for the four super performances that followed. But for one night, Boston was on top of the drum corps world with the most memorable performance of the weekend.

3 — 2006 Westshoremen Alumni

I was never a member of a competitive corps, but — one dollar to Jeff Ream — Jeff got me involved in the Westshoremen Alumni Corps. I joined the group as a baritone player in 2004 and was placed in the bass drum line for 2005.

The rehearsals and performances were very enjoyable and Jeff always quipped that for one night in April, we would be treated like rock stars. This was not more true than in 2006.

For a little background, the Westshoremen World Tour, with the exception of 2006, consists of one performance in Harrisburg, PA, annually at the “Serenade in Brass” concert.

I was on bass drum 4 of 6 and the corps started solidly with flawless execution of the beat. This was followed by the parade tune of America, as well as an arrangement of Impossible Dream that had the crowd buzzing.

So far, the score was three charts, no dropped notes. And then came One More Time, Chuck Corea which, incidentally, is my favorite drum corps chart ever. The energy of the corps and my section-mates just kept snowballing into a flawless performance.

I knew Jeff spoke of rock star status, but it wasn’t until this chart was over and the crowd exploded that I knew truly what that felt like. When things finally calmed down, we still had Blues in the Night and, with the exception of one little note (bass 3, I believe), the flawless performance was concluded and the audience erupted. Let’s just say being part of that performance with a huge percussion section and 65 horns or so made the next day’s jazz band competition with my group a little anti-climactic.

2 — 1995 Madison Scouts

This is a show that is discussed often, whether it be on drum corps chat rooms, newsgroups or between fans reminiscing about past performances. 1995 was the second finals I attended and I had been reading about this show all year long. The semifinals contest was great, but for some reason, my friends and I felt maybe the hype was a bit much.

Then came finals! From the first notes, you could tell there was something in the air different from the previous evening. The opener clicked on all levels and the crowd gave standing ovation number one — actually two, if you count taking the field. The ballad of Concierto de Aranjuez was gourgeous and the color guard performed more expressively than ever.

Bring on the drum feature with some cool gimmicks involving cymbals and timbales, and the audience was primed. The opening strains of Malaga set off car alarms in Ontario (finals were in Buffalo) and I never heard the last 90 seconds of the show due to the audience response.

I truly believe that if the Scouts would have won the show that night, nobody in any corps would have complained.

If you haven’t seen this show, you need to!

1 — 1999 DCI Finals Week

For years, I had wanted to go to Madison for DCI week and, in 1999, I had that opportunity. My brother Matt and I, along with our friend Tim and his father Bob, made the trek to Madison, WI, from Pittston, PA. We made a stop in Erie to pick up Tim and Bob, then dropped off my wife in Cleveland. In the annals of Burdett travel, I set a family record that day with 911 miles driven in 18 hours (left at 4:00 AM, arrived in Madison at 9:00 PM through a time zone).

The week began for us with the exciting division II and III championship and some fantastic performances. The next day took us to Wisconsin Dells and Big Chief Karts and Coasters. I strongly recommend the Cyclops Coaster, but have some Advil or a heating pack/ice ready for the ribs. This took us to the quarterfinals show with 26 outstanding performances. It was one of the most solid, top to bottom, quarterfinal line-ups in recent history.

The semifinals were top-notch, with Blue Devils and Santa Clara Vanguard waging a nice battle for the top and not much settled below that. Throw in a DCA show Saturday afternoon as the appetizer for finals, with a spirited performance by the Syracuse Brigadiers.

Finals was a hootenanny. Exhibitions from division III champ Mandarins (fourth in a row), division II champ Patriots, encore from the Brigadiers, the U.S. Marine Drum Corps and, in my opinion, the best top 12 I’ve ever seen. The memorable week ended in a tie at the top, but full of great times, great fun and some outstanding memories from drum corps’ friendliest city.

While I’m sure everyone has their own “top 10” lists or their own memories of events, these are some of my fondest. Perhaps people have their own list they’d like to share or may have been in attendance for a few of mine and have their own memories of the events.

Feel free to share any of that with me at