Marching with the Cavaliers Alumni Corps

by Fred Olin, DCW staff

This article originally was published in the October 2008 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 7).

A couple of months ago I submitted a piece to DCW commenting about my excitement as I prepared to march with the Cavalier Anniversary Corps, also called the Cavalier Alumni Corps (CAC for short). Mr. Vickers was kind enough to publish it.

Well, I did it. To refresh your memory, I’m 70 years old, retired from a career as an orthopaedic surgeon and had taught myself to play a 3-valve baritone . . . baritones had only one valve when I marched in the mid-’50s.

The experience was, overall, stupendously, spectacularly wonderful. Let’s discuss the good (as opposed to great or amazing) points. I had the pleasure of going to Chicago from San Antonio in the middle of winter and experiencing several weekends of the kind of weather that makes me glad to live in the southwest.

I got to fly back and forth no fewer than eight times and American Airlines broke off only three of the four latches on the baritone case (I then switched to Southwest).

This summer, at our rehearsals in May and June, I had the great joy of evening music sectional practice next to a sewage treatment plant in the Chicago suburbs, where my 98% DEET insect repellent was almost strong enough to keep the mosquitoes away. I will admit that this same suburb has a wonderful park with a good practice field where I finally almost learned how to drill using the dot system. About the time I really caught on, the whole experience was over.

Then there’s the drill field we had in Indianapolis. It could be used by NASA to simulate moon landings . . . the man in front of me in one set stood in a 4-inch deep, basin-shaped depression in the grass. It did make it easy to find his dot when we reset, however.

I had the privilege of marching in a parade where my file marched the long way up a rumble strip, along with the universal parade experience of standing around in the sun for hours waiting for things to get moving.

I learned how to get dehydrated, exhausted, greased up with sunscreen (SPF 50 is amazing!) and bruised by running into a bass drum at full speed. The Monday evening before DCI, I joined the audience and everyone else under the stands and in the field house at North Central College when a storm with 90 mph winds, horizontal rain and tornado warnings hit just after we left the field at an exclusively Cavalier event.

I got to march in and play a standstill on the dirt track at the Indiana State Fair on a hot, sunny day . . . did wonders for the uniform and shoes. Those are the good points. Believe it or not, I look back on all of them with fondness!

Now for the great stuff: I met, practiced with, marched with, ate with, lived with, showered with, rode the bus with, joked with, grumbled and complained with about 170 of my Cavalier brothers, ranging in age from 23 to 75. There were guys who are entrepreneurs, plumbers, corporate executives, single, married forever, multiply-divorced, teachers, drill designers, insurance salesmen, high-powered research scientists, truck drivers, still in school, totally retired, and on and on.

Every year of the Cavaliers’ 60-year history was represented in the CAC except for 2007 and (obviously) 2008. I have made friends with men whom I didn’t know existed and hope to be able to keep those friends.

I made a project of taking a picture of every one of them, both for the record and to help me know their names. Those portraits are posted on the Cavalier Alumni Web site’s forum, and seem to be popular, considering the number of hits they have.

I was treated as an equal by men who are young enough to be my grandsons (this is not how things usually go for the codger class). I sang the corps song and Rainbow wearing greens for the first time in 50 years.

The experience brought tears to my eyes.

There were members’ kids around who worked their little butts off, adult volunteers who kept everything moving and a marvelous group of women who did wonders fitting uniforms to a diverse set of “mature” physiques.

Now for the really amazing things: The horn instructors were presented with a group of men that included both professional musicians and individuals who hadn’t picked up a horn in 40 years. Somehow they produced the best ensemble I’ve ever been part of.

At our first rehearsal in December, their stated wish was that we “wouldn’t suck”. That was accomplished. Would we have taken the horn caption versus the top corps? No way . . . but go listen to the sound on the video posted on the DCI Fan Network. There’s a level of precision, power and musicality that I find hard to believe.

The percussionists were equally impressive for a bunch of retreads. While you’re watching the video, listen to the long roll in the middle of Bully. It’s 20 counts long and even I, totally non-knowledgeable about things percussive, can hear every beat until it ends with a bang. Listen to the bass drums do what I am informed are “split singles” and hit every one of them. Watch the snares’ and tenors’ sticking in the drum solo in the middle of the second standstill piece, called Salzman Medley.

Watch Sammy Geati reproduce the single-tenor solo in Sing, Sing, Sing that he played 51 years ago with at least as much flair and energy as he put into it then. Check out the drill, then go to YouTube and take a look at how much and how complex the drills were that the other alumni corps had done in years past.

What did I learn and relearn, you ask? Well, I relearned that run-throughs take forever, but performances last only milliseconds. I learned that I can keep up in a 14-hour practice day with people literally half my age and come back for more.

I discovered that I can still memorize music, even dull (but essential) third baritone parts that are heavy on whole notes. I was astounded at the effect that the drum major’s shout of “Drum corps, ten-hut” had on a mass of skylarking (allegedly) adult men, even when they had been away from it for a half-century.

I relearned why The Cavaliers are special to those of us fortunate enough to have become part of a really classy organization that inculcates several levels of responsibility and brotherhood into young men. I had the astounding feeling that comes when an undertaking is really “cooking” and bystanders erupt into applause at the end of a practice . . . much less the sound of thousands of people on their feet cheering, throwing babies and promising to name their first-born after us.

I discovered that I owe a great debt of gratitude to Don Warren for his vision 60 years ago and to Chris Hartowicz, who essentially single-handedly honchoed the CAC into existence and managed it through to the end.

I again am thankful to my wife of 47 years for putting up with my drum corps mania and not complaining about the time and expense the CAC involved . . . but then our first date was to a drum corps contest, so at least she was warned.

And, finally, but related to every word above, I had the immense pleasure of discovering that the brotherhood of The Cavaliers is real . . . whether the man is 17 or 75. That is the greatest gift of all.