New Stockton, CA, corps based at Children’s Home

by Cozy Baker, DCW Features Editor
This article originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Drum Corps World (Volume 36, Number 17).

The Children’s Home of Stockton, CA, has its own drum and bugle corps, thanks to the efforts of David Trujillo, et al. I appreciate Jeff DeMello, husband of DCWorld photographer Francesca, introducing me to Trujillo.

Trujillo is doing it the “old way” in our fast-paced world, helping kids who need nothing more than the opportunity to learn and perform. Corpsdom could use many more like Trujillo.

Cozy Baker: How long has the Children’s Home of Stockton Drum and Bugle Corps been in existence?

David Trujillo: The CHS Drum and Bugle Corps is four years old. The school had a brass band for seven years before I arrived in August 2003.

CB: How did you come up with the concept?

DT: I was retired, when my daughter-in-law called. She was teaching at CHS at the time and said the school was having problems finding a music teacher. The job sounded out of the ordinary (working with troubled kids). I interviewed and the school offered me the position. All I really knew was that we were going to be a drum corps.

My drum corps experience started as a member of the Stockton Commodores playing French horn during the 1967, 1968 and 1969 seasons. As fate would have it, Jim Ott was my first and only horn instructor. We became fast friends.

I fell in love with the activity, which led me into teaching. I was part of the visual staff for the 1969 and 1970 seasons with the Commodores and extremely blessed to be the head M&M guy in 1974 and 1975 for the Sacramento Freelancers. Back in those days you did it all — wrote drill, taught it, cleaned it and did the color guard.

Since the kids at CHS know nothing about music and I mean less than zero, it was very easy to teach them how to be a drum corps.

CB: Tell us about the corps. How many kids?

DT: When I arrived, there were six kids in the program. Today we have a horn line of 34 to 38, depending on who comes to school that day, and a drum line of six — this is out of 100 students who attend our school.

None of the present kids were here in 2003. The longest stay for a student is about two years. The turnover is continual, but since we have a drum corps program in place, the new kids come to understand what is expected of them rather quickly.

Do you remember when drum corps used to teach kids HOW to play their horns and drums? Well, that’s how it is at CHS. In the years I have been here only one horn player has had any previous experience.

We play nothing but “old school” charts. Stuff like Jim Ott’s Georgia, Truman Crawford’s Birth of the Blues and Alexander’s Ragtime Band, and Ken Norman’s Moonlight Serenade.

Frank Dorritie even did an arrangement of the 1966 Long Island Sunriser’s exit, Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody for us. The kids love playing this music because of the great melodies and the crowds, well, they just go nuts when they hear our sound.

Visually, we have a very classic cadet-style uniform. Colors are those of BD. We look very sharp standing still. We are not very good marchers. That is a whole other story. The horn line is very good because the kids practice a lot.

CB: What instrumentation do you have?

DT: We play on B-flat horns. Trumpets, mellophones, baritones and, of course, tubas. The drum line has two snares and four bass drums.

CB: While the concept may be new to some, it is actually an old idea, to provide a place for youth who need guidance to receive musical instruction. Your thoughts?

DT: You are absolutely correct with your assertion. And while there is nothing new here, it has come to my attention that there are a number of remarkable variables, which have presented themselves in such a format as to produce an experience for this student population, which is nothing short of a phenomenon.

As you stated, music has been used in many places to realize countless admirable goals and for good reason. It is because music is PERFECT! When a sound is started (the attack) precisely on one and is stopped (the release) precisely on five, perfection is the result.

And there isn’t a person on the planet who doesn’t respond to perfection, much less a troubled youth. Let’s add drum corps to the mix. By definition, drum corps is a very unique musical experience/activity unto itself. What other musical form allows the performer to simultaneously combine the two most dynamic elements of music? Which are:

A) Producing the music, playing an instrument.

B) To personally produce the physical movement, which reflects the music you are making.

To us in drum corps, “A” is just playing music and “B” is doing the drill or horn and/or body movements, etc. These two points, which we take for granted, form the basis of a very interesting relationship as to why this population responds so well to drum corps.

First, it would be helpful to realize that this group is consumed with self or as we say, their story. These kids are all neglected, abused, at risk, abandoned and they all have SED (Serious Emotional Disturbances) to some degree, but most of all they are survivors.

A powerful by-product of drum corps on the kids is that it is impossible to think about their story and the music or our little drills at the same time. During rehearsal we are “ON” almost all the time. Just standing in a very specific manner requires a thought process, which doesn’t allow for any other thoughts to be entertained.

The result in the mind is peace, the allusive prize. They aren’t even conscious that this is occurring. And because drum corps demands perfection, all the time, the kids lose track of why their lives are in such turmoil for a brief moment. They become very attracted to the firm requirements of drum corps.

When one’s world is in chaos and you are introduced to something as stable and as fun as drum corps, and you start to accomplish something that prior to being in our corps was beyond your comprehension, there is a fantastic sense that maybe you are awesome after all, which means the kids keep coming back and   getting better and group keeps growing.

When we do a gig, I know the kids are going to blow the house down and that the people are going to love them, but what always gets me is how this group will come to ATTENTION to start the show. Remember, they are all narcissistic. The idea that they would care about being part of something awesome is such a foreign thought that when they “come to”, it is nothing less than a miracle.

They know they aren’t the Cavies, SCV or BD, but sometimes when “ATTENTION” is called, you would think you are watching the Blue Devils.   Drum corps has the power to bring out the best in a person and that power has inspired the kids at CHS to embrace the concept of “Esprit de Corps”.

CB: What are some of the unique experiences you have had?

DT: Wow, you ask a very interesting question. I truly do not know how to respond, because the phase “unique experiences” could mean so many different things. From the somewhat challenging prospective, there was the time a student threw down his bass drum and then physically pushed me to the ground.

Another time a student got so mad at me that he stomped on his flugel horn bell, completely destroying this wonderful instrument. I have had several trumpets thrown at me.

To say this can be a problematic group to work with at times would be an understatement.
When you look past their behavior and see the kids for who they really are, that great kid the world has never seen, that is when the extraordinary things start to unfold. Individually, there are scores and scores of absolutely amazing stories that have emerged from this group of kids.

Just a few months ago, I had to help another teacher physically hold a student on the ground while he got his rage under control. He was defiant toward everyone and was full of anger. When he figured out we weren’t out to get him but to help him, he started to change. He was a natural horn player — there seem to be a lot of those around, if they are given the change to play.

To see his face light up when he plays the right notes during practice was something. Then to see him standing proud, caring about his unit and gaining self respect as he played in our Christmas concert, well, that is pretty hard to put into words what that feels like.

I have cried many times when my kids finish playing our version of Cherry Pink. It is because I know where each of them started. See, there is a percentage of the world that looks at these kids almost as throw-a-way kids. But they are not. And because drum corps demands perfection and we say we are, we act like, we play like and look like a drum corps, these kids begin to believe that maybe they’re not too bad afterall.

From an ensemble perspective, probably one of the coolest things that happened occurred this past year, when the band director from the best band in our area shared with me that CHS Drum & Bugle Corps is far and away the best horn line in our area. Our kids can really blow. It is a real tribute that drum corps lives in all kids.

Knowing all of this is going to come to pass is why I get so excited when a new student is introduced into our world. The development of a program, which has harnessed and directed the potential negative energy of these young people, has been a wonderful experience to be involved in.

CB: I understand you have a “circuit” of other youth drum corps. Do you have or plan to have a competitive circuit?

DT: I do have some very strong ideas and feelings about these local circuits.

CB: Do you speak with others who have similar units?

DT: Presently, CHS is the only facility of this type that has a drum corps.

CB: Have you been contacted about establishing more such groups?

DT: Just recently, a dialogue has been opened with several other facilities similar to CHS in different states, about the possibility of implementing the Kids-In-Need Drum Corps Program in their agencies. The response has been very positive.

Obviously, there are many details to be worked out before anything can move forward.
CB: What are you future plans? Expansion?

DT: Being able to network with others who have the vision to use drum corps to impact the lives of troubled youths would be awesome. The Kids-In-Need Drum Corps Program for Youth Residential Agencies is but one avenue. How many more avenues are there?

CB: What comments would you like to add?

DT: Now I know this next thought is big in drum corps talking circles, but the people who pay money to listen to our music don’t want to figure it out, they want to enjoy it. One of the saddest areas of the so-called growth in our activity has been music selection process.

The problem with the present process is that it has affected the entire activity. Where is it written that you have to have a huge percussion pit, a different guard thing for each tune you play, B-flat horns, just to cite a few concerns, to be a good drum corps.

Drum corps as an activity has lost its roots, its connection to the past, when playing your horn and drum was for playing good music and having fun. My drum corps has stepped into the past, when any kid anywhere could feel that awesome feeling one gets from cleaning your shoes and horn, putting on your uniform, and nervousness in your stomach before a gig.

Nothing in my youth even comes close to those experiences and I have a group that I know will say the same thing some day. CHS has proven that old school junior drum corps is alive and well. You don’t have to travel far, you don’t have to play music with a thousand sixteenth notes all over the place and you don’t have to have 60 horns to be good.

You ought to do it. Start a drum corps and give some local kids the best years of their lives!