Reliving an experience with the Cavaliers Alumni

by Dr. Fred Olin, DCW staff

This article was originally published in the July 2008 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 4).

When I pull out my driver’s license and look at the date there, it tells me that I’m 70 years old. But when I look between my own ears, I’m 20. The reason? I’m marching drum corps again. I’m practicing with a three-valve baritone (the one I played 50 years ago had only one valve) and I’m learning the “dot system” of marching . . . not recapping the old “guide and file” military style.

“Big deal”, you say? “Lots of people that old march in all-age corps.” It’s a big deal for me because the corps I’m marching with is the CAC — the Cavaliers Alumni Corps.

My time in The Cavaliers was one of the most influential periods of my life, in the sense that it aided my maturation into an adult, taught me lots of important life lessons and supplied me with life-long friends. When I showed up at the first CAC rehearsal in December, I discovered that I had a lot more of those friends than I knew and that those who followed me are no less my brothers than the guys I marched with.

The CAC horn line is being taught by Cavaliers of years past, Wayne Karge and Bob Rada, as well as Jim Elvord, who worked with Cavaliers’ horn lines in the 1970s. The music comes from all eras, with material written and arranged by Sal Ferrara, Bob Rada, Tim Salzman and others.

Jim Campbell, who taught the corps’ drum lines for several years in the 1980s and 1990s, wrote the percussion parts, and an alumnus, Dale Hallerberg, is working on their performance.

The guard is all home-grown, with Rich Slupinski and Joe Paul doing the work. The performance level, so far, is higher than any of us really expected. Our supreme leader, corps director, shepherd and wicked stepfather is another alumnus, Chris Hartowicz.

One of the primary beneficiaries of the CAC may be the Cavaliers Endowment Fund. The Alumni Association is working on getting a base of cash in the bank so that the junior corps will have more financial stability than it has had at times in the past. The marching members of the CAC are among the most active in their support of this effort.

Now, for the nuts and bolts of this adventure. In real life (if such exists) I’m a semi-retired orthopaedic surgeon who plays trombone in a local marching band here in San Antonio. I had never played an instrument with more than one valve in my life. When the CAC was announced, I bought a B-flat marching baritone on eBay and have managed to learn to play it well enough to be a journeyman third bari, standing near the tubas in the arc, in awe of the first’s ability to finger sixteenth-note runs in some of our music. I am still leaving out a couple of eighth-note phrases, but I’m getting there.

One modern development that has helped a lot is my new iPod nano. The CAC music staff has made MP3s of the various parts available on the Web and, by playing along, I’ve managed to (almost) master the music in appropriate tempo and rhythm.

Then there’s learning how to do a drill. A younger Cavalier tried to explain the dot system to me a few years ago and all I got was confused. At our two most recent rehearsals, I’ve started to catch on. It is not easy for me to remember the distances and direction and step size and cues, but, again, I think that I’m seeing progress.

I painted three five-yard lines with hash marks in my driveway and I try to get out there regularly and work on the technique. I haven’t done it while playing (yet) and have only seen one neighbor look quizzically at me when he saw me repeatedly walking backward and forward along a white line. Perhaps he thought I was practicing for a field sobriety test, I don’t know.

I may have access to a football field at a private high school soon, but when I looked at it a couple of days ago, it didn’t have any lines on it. It’ll probably make a donation to their athletic fund to get them to put some yard lines out for me, but it’s worth it.

That brings up the subject of money. This undertaking is costing a lot of men considerable cash. We have former marching members coming to rehearsals in the upper Midwest from all points — Oregon, Southern California, Texas, Florida, New York and places in between.

The recent oil price fiasco has doubled the airfares to O’Hare in six months. That didn’t help a bit, but people keep showing up anyway. There appear to be plenty of tolerant wives and families, friends and employers out there . . . thank goodness.

After several winter rehearsals in the Chicago area, highlighted by climactic conditions unknown where I live in South Texas, two spring-time sessions — one in Indianapolis, the other in the Chicago suburbs — a lot of memorization and a significant level of frustration with my stumbles and gaffes, I’m beginning to believe that it’s actually going to happen.

On August 8, 2008, I’m going to march a real, mostly modern-style drum corps show.

Son of a gun!