An interview with Southwind director Mike Loeffelholz

by Steve Vickers, DCW Publisher

I’ve known the Loeffelholz family for more than 25 years.

Mike, his parents, Adrian and Barb, and his two brothers, Mark and Eric, got involved in the Madison Junior Scouts in the late 1970s. All three boys later marched in the Madison Scouts.

Their sister, Sue, has sold Madison souvenirs for the last 20 years. His father has served on the Madison Drum & Bugle Corps Association and Foundation boards for most of the last two decades and his mother ran the Drum Corps World office for almost 19 years before moving over to the Madison Scouts office several years ago.

I’ll let Mike fill in the rest of his history with the Scouts and with Southwind.

Steve Vickers: Aside from the brief introduction above, can you give an overview of your involvement in the two corps and the activity in general?

Mike Loeffelholz: My grandparents lived just off the parade route of the annual “Marsh Days” festival in Horicon, WI. Back then, I believe every corps marched the parade before performing their field show in the evening.

I remember first seeing the Scouts perform at that show in 1975 and how awestruck I was. The power of that horn line! I joined the Madison Junior Scouts in the fall of 1977, after harassing my parents to no end.

After three years in the soprano line of the Junior Scouts, I moved up to the Scouts. I marched flugelhorn in 1981, then mellophone from 1982 to 1987 when I aged out. I was very          fortunate to age-out in Madison, with my 22nd birthday being the day after DCI Finals.

My brother Mark marched six years (four MJS, two MS) as a percussionist, and youngest brother Eric marched eight (three MJS, five MS) as a brass player.

I joined the Scouts’ visual staff in 1988 and remained on their staff through the 2002 season. I joined the design team in 1993 and served as drill writer from 1994 to 1999.

I first became involved with Southwind as their drill designer in 1997. In 1999, when SW joined the Madison organization, I served as drill writer and program coordinator. I wrote drill again in 2000, but did not tour at all that season. When the MDBCA changed leadership after the 2002 season, I applied for and was offered the director’s job here at Southwind.

SV: Southwind is now a totally independent corps once again. The organization is                celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. What’s the history of the corps?

ML: Southwind held its first organizational meeting in Montgomery, AL, during the fall of 1980. Five members of the Robert E. Lee High School band wanted a drum corps close to home and convinced local business leaders to start one in Montgomery. The corps was named after a train that ran from Chicago to Miami via Birmingham, the South Wind. The corps toured in 1981 and 1982, but struggled financially and went on hiatus after the 1982 season.

A group led by Dave Bryan resurrected the corps in 1989, and SW competed in class A for the next few years. The corps won the DCI Class A title in 1991 and DCI Division II/III title in 1992. The corps then moved into division I for the 1993 season. Over the next few years, the corps placed between 17th and 24th, then went inactive for the 1998 season as they prepared for the move to Kentucky.

SV: Can you outline how Southwind came under the Madison Drum & Bugle Corps Association’s umbrella originally and how the Madison organization made it possible for Southwind to set out on its own again?

ML: During the mid-1990s, Southwind Director Dave Bryan and Madison Scouts Director Scott Stewart became good friends. Dave wanted to model Southwind after Madison and asked Scott for guidance.

The goals of the corps had always been to give the members a great overall experience and give the crowd an entertaining show, but SW was struggling to do this consistently. The corps was financially stable, but the member return rate was not what it needed to be for the corps to be consistent.

Scott Stewart started by assuming the role of SW program coordinator in 1997, then getting some of the Madison staff involved on the design team. Scott Boerma wrote the horn book and I wrote the drill. The corps improved three places over the 1996 season and also regained DCI membership. The membership issue became very important, because SW may not have returned at all had the corps finished lower than 21st in 1997.

During the 1997 season, Dave and Scott began planning for Southwind to join the MDBCA. Dave had already gotten the idea to take the 1998 season off. DCI membership rules, at the time, allowed the corps to take a year off competitively and retain membership for the 1999 season, giving SW full access to the DCI tour schedule and pay scale.

Pat Seidling, then part of Madison’s management team, was named Southwind director in the fall of 1997. Pat, Scott and Dave spent the next year planning for the return of Southwind for the 1999 season. They put together a staff, recruited, designed and bought new uniforms, and upgraded much of the equipment in preparation for a landmark comeback. The corps was moved to Lexington to take advantage of the strong Midwest region for drum corps and strong band programs in Kentucky and Tennessee.

From 1999 to 2002, the corps was run from the Madison office, with the corps director living in Wisconsin and running back and forth for camps, recruiting and community involvement. From the time Southwind joined the MDBCA, there was a difference of opinion within the organization as to whether the SW director should live in Wisconsin or Kentucky. This was not resolved until after the 2002 season.

The MDBCA actually began hinting toward a self-governed Southwind when they made a change in leadership after the 2002 season. At the time, Southwind would not have survived on its own, so they kept the corps under the MDBCA umbrella. As the new corps director, I was asked to move to Lexington and run the corps locally, developing relationships with the Lexington community.

After last season, it was decided that we were ready to go it on our own. The MDBCA graciously offered a buy-out plan that allowed Southwind to keep all of their vehicles, equipment, uniforms, etc. For this I must personally thank the MDBCA board, especially Andy Davis. They gave us the opportunity to strengthen our organization from within before putting us out on our own. We would not have made it two years ago, but we are ready now.

SV: I understand you’ve experienced a very high return rate and that recruiting to fill out the remaining spots has been very successful this year.

ML: We are well ahead of the last two seasons in all respects. Our return rate is about the same as last season, but the talent and commitment level of that returning group is much higher. We have a good core of veterans, especially in the low brass, that have been with us for all of my three seasons here.

We have virtually filled out the brass line and now have moved from G bugles to newer and better King B-flat equipment. I was amazed at the improved sound of our brass line from the moment they picked up the King instruments.

Our percussion section was filled out in December, whereas last season we did not fill the front ensemble positions until at least February. The depth of talent at our percussion auditions this year was phenomenal and I think that section will really turn some heads this year.

Our color guard is close to filling out and we held final guard auditions at our April 22-24 camp. We have accepted young men in the guard this year and have had our strongest veterans return from 2004. I expect our guard this season to be as talented as Southwind has ever had.

SV:   I understand you have a new non-profit organization and that there are some prominent local business people who have been recruited to populate your board. Can you tell me about some of them and their backgrounds?

ML: Our board has a good mix of local business leaders, educators and Southwind parents. We are fortunate to have board members who bring unique talents and experience to our organization.

Our local representatives include, alphabetically, Chris Aaron, a Winchester CPA who serves as our treasurer; Shannon Cox, who serves on the Winchester City Council, teaches at George Rogers Clark HS and is also an assistant coach for the GRC football team; Dodd Dixon, a Winchester lawyer and currently the Mayor of Winchester; Brett Owens, who also teaches at GRC HS, holds a PhD in business and has been involved in the drum corps activity for over 25 years; and John Pohl, who lives in Winchester, but works for the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau. All of these individuals are involved in the Winchester and Lexington communities with their jobs, volunteer work and non-profit board experience.

Our parents who serve on the board are Mary Oliver (we call her SuperMom, also a teacher at a Kentucky school); Vivien Tucker (our corps doctor); Beverly Palise (actually a staff parent); and my dad, Adrian. These board members lead our support staff and tour with us for at least a couple of weeks during the summer. All of them are invaluable to the experience we give our members during the drum corps season.

SV: One of the things that hurt the corps when it was moved from Montgomery, AL, to Lexington, KY, was that a connection with the community was never established. What has been done since the corps became independent to make Lexington aware of the corps’ existence?

ML: We are still in the process of establishing that connection with the city of Lexington, the city of Winchester and the Kentucky Commonwealth. Our local board members have been especially helpful in getting us connected with key people in each of these locations. Most of the work done to this point has been with the city of Winchester, but we are quickly expanding our connections.

In future years, we look to perform more local concerts, get more Kentucky kids involved and even start up some other youth performance ensembles. These would all be aimed at serving more youth and increasing our visibility in the Bluegrass State.

SV: You have a strong relationship with Winchester, KY, already. How did that come about and what types of things do you benefit from through your connection?

ML: It started with Madison Scout alum Mike “Ivan” Burke, who is an alum of George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester. Ivan and I marched together and taught together in Madison, and he was one of my closest friends there. Ivan was one of the first people I called when I was offered this job, since I knew I would be moving to the Lexington area.

Since I was not offered the job until late October 2002, auditions were approaching fast and I had no idea where to hold them. Ivan called GRC band director Todd Moody, who graciously offered to help us with use of hisfacilities. Next thing I knew we had all of our camps scheduled for GRC.

Brett Owens quickly got involved with the corps again through his affiliation at GRC and we have since established a strong relationship with the principal, coaches and custodians at GRC. We have held every winter camp at GRC for the last three years.

From this relationship, we have since found a great site for our home show, “Drums Across the Bluegrass.” GRC actually hosted a successful DCI show back in the 1980s and the stadium there is well-suited for drum corps. We will have seven division I corps at the show in Winchester this year and look forward to seeing a packed   stadium with our strongest line-up ever.

The Winchester Tourism Commission has stepped up, donating money to promote our home show in their fine city. They have also helped by selling tickets for the home show through their office. With their continued support, we hope to fill the stands for the future.

SV: Your staff has remained fairly constant for a few years now. Where did most of your design and tech people come from?

ML: A few of our staff remain from the 2002 season before I got the job here. The most notable of those are visual caption head Mark Palise and percussion caption head/arranger T.R. Fitz-Gibbon. Both Mark and T.R. were members of the Scouts while I was teaching there, so we knew each other pretty well.

The rest of the staff is new since the end of the 2002 season. I feel we now have a good mix of veteran leaders, young talent, Southwind alums and representation from other corps. It has taken a few years to get the right mix, but I like the people we now have in all captions. We not only agree on what we are trying to accomplish, but how to get it done.

We have 16 staff members who marched with Southwind. I feel this is important as we pass our legacy from one drum corps generation to another. We have 14 Madison Scouts alums on our staff, stemming from our relationship with the MDBCA. Most of these staff members marched in or taught the Scouts while I was there, so I knew they would fit well with the Southwind staff.

We have alums of six of the current top 12 DCI corps on our staff, which I feel gives us a good mix of outside opinions and talent. We have added a few staff members from Kentucky during the past couple of years and will continue to build our relationships with the KMEA and their educators.

SV: Recently you completed an arrangement to outfit the corps with all-new King B-flat instruments, Ludwig battery and Musser pit equipment. Ludwig is re-emphasizing their marching drums and Southwind will be helping the company develop their products. How did the Conn-Selmer connection come about?

ML: Pat Seidling, former Southwind director and current Phantom Regiment director, called me in early January. Phantom Regiment has a great relationship with Conn-Selmer, using King marching brass on the field. Pat asked if we had signed a percussion contract for the 2005 season, knowing that we were separating from the MDBCA and had likely not signed with anyone yet.

He explained that Ludwig was looking to get involved in drum corps again and asked me to call Bob Berheide at Ludwig. Less than a week later I traveled up to Elkhart, IN, with our pit arranger, Eric Willie, to take a look at Ludwig/Musser percussion equipment.

Ludwig/Musser has really put a lot of work into their battery equipment and we were happy to accept their invitation into a partnership. Their pit equipment has always been outstanding and Ludwig has quite a history in drum corps. I know they will soon be at the forefront of the activity once again.

As an added bonus for us in this partnership, the Conn-Selmer group also offered to help us in purchasing new and used brass equipment for the 2005 season. We had been planning on    moving away from our old G bugles one section at a time (as our budget allowed), but             Conn-Selmer stepped up and made it easy for us to outfit the entire horn line with King marching brass equipment for this season.

We have already distributed most of the horns to our members and our quality of sound improved from the moment our members picked them up. At our April 22-24 camp, we started rehearsing with all of our new percussion equipment.

I am ecstatic about this new partnership and we look forward to representing Conn-Selmer for years to come. This was a huge step forward for our organization as we strive to give our            members the best equipment, instruction and overall drum corps experience.

SV: I enjoyed last year’s program very much. What do you have planned for the 2005 season?

ML: This year’s program is titled “A Distorted Imagination” and is the brainchild of program coordinator Steve Vento. Steve got it started and the rest of the design team jumped right in. I can probably best describe the show by inserting the following comments from SW staffer Mark Palise:

Join Southwind on a journey where the vision of Tim Burton meets the imagination of Cirque Du Soleil, where the soul of Saint Saens joins the whimsy of Willy Wonka, where conscious and subconscious merge in a compositional, visual whirlwind titled “A Distorted Imagination.”

The savagery of the gladiatorial epics “Ben Hur,” “Spartacus” and “Gladiator”; the driving excitement of “Van Helsing” and “The Wind and the Lion”; the classical brilliance of Holst’s Mars and Saint Saens’s Bacchanale; and the skewed fantasies of “Willy Wonka” and Cirque Du Soleil combine to create a frenetic maelstrom of sound and color. The kaleidoscopic melodies             constantly shift and bubble to the surface, demanding the attention of all who listen and rewarding them with a twisted view of drum corps never before seen.

“Imagination is the eye of the soul.”

–Joseph Joubert

If Joseph Joubert was right and imagination IS the eye of the soul, Southwind’s 2005 program dares you to see yourself in new ways. They invite you to take a trip inside their distorted imagination and look at the world as few can.

SV: Anything else you’d like to add?

ML: First I would like to extend my heartfelt condolences to Dave Bryan and his family, as his mother passed away a few weeks ago. Dave was the heart and soul of the Southwind organization for so many years and his loss is felt by all of us in the Southwind family.

Second, thank you, Steve, for the opportunity to promote our organization through your wonderful publication. See you this summer!

SV: Thanks for the input and have a great 2005 season!