A life in drum corps for Michael “Red” Corso

by Manny Correira

This article was originally published in the January 2009 (Volume 37, Number 10) edition of Drum Corps World.

Throughout the many years I’ve reported the news, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some wonderful people. Among them is 81-year-old Michael “Red” Corso, founding father and director of the former Rhode Island Matadors that was based in Providence, RI.

I’ve know “Red” since the early 1970s when the Matadors were riding high in Drum Corps Associates circles as one of the premier senior corps in the country. He literally took the corps from a no-name entry to a power aggregation in a very short time. Drum corps has always had a special meaning in my heart, like it has for “Red.” As the old saying goes, once you’ve been subjected to a drum and bugle corps competition, you’re hooked for life.

For “Red,” starting with the entry-level Boy Scouts Troop 77 corps of St. John’s Church in Providence, drum corps quickly took over his time and enthusiasm. Even today, it’s an activity which he still believes in strongly.

“Drum corps means the world to me,” he has said repeatedly. “This activity has gone a long way in developing lasting friendships.”

Indeed, if you know “Red” Corso like I do, no matter where he travels, he’ll run into someone he knows. Even at his advanced age, people marvel at this man’s passion for drum corps. For the last 34 years, he’s served as treasurer for DCA.

Currently president of the Rhode Island Matadors Alumni Association, he saw his corps operate successfully from its founding in 1969 until 1987, when the group disbanded. In addition, he helped organize a 30th anniversary reunion corps in 1999, which saw the Matadors rekindle its glorious past in a big, big way.

They paraded in Rhode Island towns like Tiverton, Bristol, East Providence and in Massachusetts, then topped it all off with a stirring exhibition at the DCA World Championships in Allentown, PA.

To watch “Red’s” eyes glow with excitement and appreciation was worth every solid note blown by members of the brass section and every beat doled out by the drum line. Tears filled his eyes as he watched while his beloved Matadors made a lasting exit.

For most of his life, he has lived his dream. There have been so many highpoints, they’re too many to list here. However, life hasn’t always been rosy for the Corsos. He and his wife of 60 years, Terri, had to endure the agony and pain of losing their only son. Michael Jr. lost his life in a motor vehicle accident some years ago, leaving behind a scar that has never healed. “Red” and Terri have felt that tormenting pain every day of their lives since.

His son was as big as life, just like his father. He played in the brass section of the Matadors and was one of the corps’ most likeable members. “Red” doesn’t talk about it much these days, but you know the hurt is still there. He just tries to carry on as best he can.

Serving as the new president of the alumni association obviously helps. He continues to work full-time at Darlene Jewelry in Pawtucket as well. When he sits down in his home, there’s hardly a minute that passes when he isn’t thinking about drum corps. He remembers the days when the Matadors began, when former members of the Skylarks and Holy Rosary Caballeros teamed up to form the new corps.

He also likes to discuss his long-time friendship with the late Anthony Carcieri, who was the corps’ business manager.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a better man,” says Corso. “Tony loved drum corps as much as I did, especially the Matadors.”

Corso also founded the Rhode Island Picadors junior corps in Bristol during the 1970s.

“It’s amazing how many wonderful people I’ve met because of drum corps,” he reiterated. “People like Gil Silva [current president of DCA], the late Michael “Mickey” Petrone [long-time DCA president] and Jackie Lopes have made drum corps what it is today. I’m so thankful to have been associated with all of these and so many other extraordinary people.”

One such person he has drawn considerable admiration from is Gerry Mederos, former member of the Matadors and one of the originators of the Generations Alumni Corps.

“I’ve known ‘Red’ for over 30 years,” he said, “and all I can tell you is that he’s one of a kind. He’s a real gentleman. You couldn’t ask for a better friend. He has a heart of gold. He would do anything he could for you.”

Mederos was also part of the Matador’s 30th anniversary season and said Corso’s dedication toward excellence is unrivaled, but that wasn’t all.

“He wasn’t always about winning the judges over,” he said. “He made sure we won the crowd over with our performances. The perfect example was the show at Madison Square Garden in 1977. Many thought we should have won that contest.”

“In conclusion,” said Maderos, “he is just a great person and a leader. But most of all, he’s a man I call a friend.”

Now, aside from his involvement with DCA and the Matadors Alumni Association, he spends time with his wife and daughter, Elaine, his four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“Right now, I want to see the alumni association flourish,” he stipulated. “We meet regularly and I’d like to see better attendance. I want the Matadors’ name to continue long after I’m gone.”