Part 2 — An interview with drum corps arranger Larry Kerchner

by Harry Heidelmark, DCW staff

Publisher’s note: part 1 of the interview appeared in the December 2006 issue of DCW (Volume 35, Number 15), mailed to subscribers on November 16. It i also posted on the Drum Corps World Web site. Correction: Larry’s last name was mispelled in the headline for part 1. We apologize for the error. There will be one more part, published in the February 2007 issue, mailed to subscribers on Thursday, January 18.

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Harry Heidelmark: Mini-corps have also grown in popularity and numbers the last few years. Would you like to see mini-corps judged as part of a regularly-organized indoor activity and will Music Express come to the DCA mini-corps competition in the future?

Larry Kerchner: If mini-corps were to be judged as part of a regularly-organized indoor activity, I’d like to see a few rule changes implemented. For example, the maximum number of performers is currently 21, which seems like an arbitrary number to me. It includes players and conductor.

As an arranger, I would hope to have at least two players on a voice part, with one or two extra 1st sopranos for solos and divisi. If I only used the standard 9-part writing, that would make 20 brass, leaving room for one percussionist and no conductor, or a conductor and no percussionist. If I were to use 10 or 11-part writing, which I prefer, or, if I wanted to use more than one percussionist, the maximum is exceeded.

I would suggest raising the maximum number to 25, excluding the conductor. I believe this would help ensure better, more appealing performances, and help keep arrangers from pulling their hair out.

As I mentioned, The Music Express is not a mini-corps, but some of the players have expressed interest in the mini-corps competition. We may extrapolate a mini-corps from the ensemble for this purpose, but nothing has been decided yet.

HH: What has working with Bridgemen’s alumni corps this past year been like and have there been any surprises along the way?

LK: Working with the Bridgemen alumni corps has been a surreal experience for me. It’s as if time stood still. I LOVE it! There’s much to be said for communicating to an audience with music that they want to hear. I’m SO proud of them.

I think the biggest surprise to me was how emotionally overwhelmed both Dennis DeLucia and I were after the corps’ performance at DCI East in Allentown, PA. Our tearful embrace showed an unspoken bond that neither of us had to articulate.

HH: Do you believe Bridgemen had a specific influence on the marching music activity?

LK: I believe the Bridgemen had a HUGE influence on the activity. Bobby (Hoffman), Dennis and I were like kids in a candy store and we were determined to entertain. In the process, we also generated some pretty darn good music, too — and all with street kids from Bayonne. To this day, it’s still Bridgemen music that I get calls for from bands around the world.

HH: You stated earlier that Ted Sciarra gave you your first opportunity to arrange while you were with Blue Rock. What else can you share with us about your time with Blue Rock?

LK: I was hooked from the moment I saw Blue Rock rehearsing on the practice field behind Penns Grove High School in New Jersey. A few weeks later, I was marching in three Memorial Day parades in one day, with my parents and grandparents watching proudly. I was playing (and I use the term loosely) a G-D soprano and wearing a garish (and very worn) gold satin blouse, with a black, elastic waistband, and a red-with-black-trim stripe extending from my right shoulder to my left hip. I was a kid and thought it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever worn.

Aside from the eventual arranging opportunities, for which I’ll be forever grateful, the fact that I got to travel to places I never would have gone otherwise was a big deal. Wherever we went, whether it be New York City or Menomonee, WI, Ted always made sure we kids enjoyed our surroundings and garnered some sort of cultural benefit from our travels.

HH: Blue Rock folded at the end of the 1974 season, in part because of a trip to California. Do you have any lasting friendships from your time with Blue Rock and do you know of others from the corps still involved with the activity?

LK: I have many friends whom I met in Blue Rock and, even though we may not see one another on a regular basis, our memories and our common bond will forever tie us together. Many of them continued their involvement in drum corps and some are involved to this day.

HH: Did you write for any other corps while you were with Blue Rock, and what other prominent corps of the 1970s did you write for?

LK: I wrote for many corps while I was still involved with Blue Rock, especially during my college years in the Boston-area — corps like the Majestic Knights, I.C. Reveries, Norwood Debbonaires, Renegades and Princemen.

There was a corps in Elkton, MD, I taught while in high school, that I must mention, since my friend Mike Dennis got his start there — the Rebel Devils. We used to tease that, if you could say “Rebel Devil Drum and Bugle Corps” three times, really fast, you were in! (laughs)

HH: A couple years ago, you posed for a photo with John Simpson, during the “Alumni Spectacular” at the DCA Championships. How long have you and John been friends and how many times have the two of you worked together?

LK: I met John Simpson when I was a kid in Blue Rock. He was with the U.S. Air Force Drum & Bugle Corps from Bolling Field in Washington, DC, and would travel up to see the corps. He was, and is, the best baritone player that ever played in this activity and I learned practically everything I know about brass technique from him.

We used to go to what were called individual competitions in the off-season. Most of the contests were in North Jersey, Brooklyn, Upper Darby, PA, and other exotic locations. (laughs) To hear John play was a real treat. He even played in my brass quartet once, when one of our members couldn’t attend. Wow! Was THAT cool!

I rearranged the music so that John took the lead and I played the 2nd baritone part on my French horn. We won, of course! (smiles)

We lost touch while I was away at college, but we crossed paths again when I had him fly in to help with the Bridgemen in 1977. I also had him at the Caballeros and the Royal Brigade — anywhere I could. After that, we worked together at the Sky Ryders, then the Star of Indiana.

HH: In several of the pieces you’ve arranger, you’ve layered one song on top of another. How difficult is it to mesh harmonics and can you give us an example?

LK: Superimposing one song over another is a bit tricky, but when the harmonic progression lends itself, and the songs are compatible, it can be a nice effect. There was a singing duo years ago, Sandler and Young, who were notorious for singing two songs simultaneously, like Dominique and Wagon Wheels! They taught me a good lesson — to use this technique sparingly and (hopefully) tastefully.

I suppose a good example of this could be found in the Home On the Range chart I wrote for the Sky Ryders from Hutchinson, KS. The other song that I used first as an intro, then as a simultaneous statement in the ending, was A Wonderful Guy from “South Pacific.”

Now, before you think I was pulling a “Sander and Young” (laughs), it was the lyric I was banking on, which went, “I’m as corny as Kansas in August.”

HH: You’ve done great arrangements of The Yard Went on Forever and MacArthur’s Park, both Jimmy Webb songs. Is there a particular genre you enjoy writing in more than others?

LK: I suppose anything that lends itself to interesting chord progression and harmonies.

HH: What type of comments have you heard from band directors concerning your arrangements and treatments of familiar and unfamiliar tunes?

LK: That’s kind of a broad question, so I’ll just say that I’ve heard many complimentary and kind things from band directors over the years, for which I’m very appreciative.

HH: You are widely known for your brass charts. Do you also compose percussion charts?

LK: Sure. I write the percussion for orchestra arrangements, as well as for concert band and jazz band work. I usually let the drum corps percussion guys handle the drum corps writing. There are too many things that I wouldn’t do, but that the judges expect, to compromise any corps’ standing. Besides, if I did it, who would I have to complain about? (laughs)

HH: How do you feel about the use of computers for composing musical charts?

LK: The computer is just a tool. It doesn’t make one creative.

HH: Have you had any of your own charts computerized so they can be downloaded? If not, is this something you may consider in the future?

LK: I’ve been using Finale to do my writing, but I prefer not to have my work exposed to downloading, especially illegal downloading. I may consider it in the future if there is no risk of infringement.

HH: Did you watch the DCI Championships on ESPN2 this year? If so, what was your impression of the telecast?

LK: I did watch it. I thought the telecast was fairly slick and well done. I’m especially proud of how far my buddy, Dennis, has come as a commentator.

HH: Are you currently involved with any DCI corps or other competitive corps?

LK: Roman Blenski called and asked if I’d write the music for Pioneer this year. I happily agreed to do so and their wonderful staff and I are working on their 2007 show. What a great bunch of people!