Raiders celebrate 15 years!

by Michael Carlson, DCW staff

The 2005 season marks the 15th anniversary of the Raiders Drum & Bugle Corps. Although the corps is hard at work getting ready for this summer’s competition, their celebration efforts include a time to reflect on past successes, as well as prepare their sights on the future.

George Lavelle, Jr. established the corps in the fall of 1990. Even though Lavelle has moved on to become the executive director for the Bridgemen Alumni Corps, he remains an advisor and mentor to the Raiders organization. Furthermore, he left behind a legacy of individual growth and determination that continues to provide the seed for the corps’ success.

The Raiders organization has not only shown they are a model for drum corps excellence, but it is also a source of special pride for their community.

Located within a stone’s throw of New York City, the small town of Wayne is no stranger to drum corps. Fantasia III, Kings Regiment, Monarchs and Wayne Cadets brought the township a history of drum corps that they don’t want to see go away. Drum corps provides a performance venue that enhances the township’s children who are the future.

As a result, the Raiders are one of the few corps that successfully remains a community-based organization. They have a strong working relationship with the Township of Wayne and the local Police Athletic League (PAL). This relationship recently resulted in a long-term use of the Wayne Civic Center as a rehearsal facility.

The Wayne PAL also provides the corps with space for meetings, fund-raisers and parking for the corps’ vehicles.

“The Wayne PAL has been a great partner,” said corps director Tommy Maiello. “Next month, we will be meeting in order to begin a Raider feeder program within the PAL membership. The Wayne PAL services 5,000 kids aged 5-13. In addition, the drum corps and winter guard will be offered as another “team sport” program in their community.”

In fact, on the Wayne PAL Web site you will find direct links to the Raiders and their WGI color guard, Innuendo.

To the strains of Russian Sailor’s Dance, the Raiders stepped off into competition in June 1991. The first summer’s contests were limited to the fields of the local Drum Corps East and Garden State Circuits.

The following year, with a larger corps and an extended tour, the Raiders made their first DCI Finals week appearance. They finished 19th in the new division III category.

Over the next three years the Raiders moved up to compete in division II, but it wasn’t until their return to division III in 1996 that they made it beyond the preliminary contest for finals. Since that time they have earned their way to seven semi-finalist and finalist positions.

The 2001 season finally brought the Raiders in sight of their first DCI division title. In the final stretch of the season, they found themselves in a running battle with the Blue Stars and Americanos –- one of the most exciting division II/III rivalries of the summer. When these three corps stepped into the same stadium, you never knew which one was going to come out on top. But at the closing retreat in Buffalo’s Rich Stadium, the Raiders missed the division title, which went to the Blue Stars by five-hundredths of a point.

In a 2002 interview with then Blue Stars Director Dave Svaleson, he recounted the final moments of the 2001 season. “I wasn’t so sure we were going to make it. No one was more surprised than me. Tommy [Maiello] and his kids were really good.”

The 2004 season was best described as the summer of change for the Raiders.

“Since the end of 2002, we have made a strong effort to recruit from a wider base of local high schools and colleges,” said Maiello. “With personal letters to band directors and two rounds of flyers to the band rooms around New Jersey and New York, we focused our marketing on our competitive success, educational value and a fun, family atmosphere.”

And when it was all said and done, the corps enjoyed 2004 with their largest group of performers since 1995.

In 1999, the Raiders made a dramatic shift in musical styles. They left behind the popular strands of show tunes and American jazz for a brassy, dark sound. For the next five years they perfected a style that allowed a rich variety of symphonic masterpieces to come to the competition field.

In 2004, the corps make another musical shift with their production, “Adams: A Sound Journey.” Gone were the haunting classics, but the music of minimalist composer John Adams made fans stand up and take notice of the Raiders’ renewed imagination and versatility.

Not only did they adapt well to the new styling, but the minimalist theme was extended to their visual book as well.

“The thought process and concept of the show must be understandable on first viewing. As a weekend-only corps, we do not have the luxury of competing in 30-plus shows. Over the years we have found that simple theme concepts work best in division II/III.”

The result was some of the most creative drill designs of the summer.

The 2005 season will see more new growth and changes in the organization.

Growth continues to be the organization’s major focus. Over the next three years they plan to put 70 to 78 performers on the field each season.

“Our goal for 2005 is 36 brass, 16 guard, 14 battery and eight in the pit. At present time, we are rehearsing with 30 brass, 17 guard, 12 battery and nine in the pit.”

With a large number of last year’s members returning, their strength goals should be easy to obtain.

“Our goal since the beginning of the 2002 season has been a 90% return of veterans. In 2003, we saw a section average of 78% return and 2004 had an 83% return. At this point, 45 of last year’s 57 members have returned for 2005.”

This year will also see another musical change.

“In following our parameters for show design, we added a twist to our thought process. Since 2005 is the 15th anniversary of the Raiders, we decided to look into our past.”

The New Jersey corps will bring back its 1994 production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

“That season was a great success and I will never forget their last performance and DCI Championships in Boston, MA.”

Expect to hear the popular soundtrack like never before as the Raiders fill stadiums with their mature, symphonic brand of drum corps.

“The JCS production holds great passion, which we plan to portray in Raider style. We chose pieces or selections that will cause various emotions and thoughts.”

The production will maintain much of the their 1994 musical line-up and will add “John 19:10” and “Garden of Gethsemane”.

“In the Raiders’ production, there will be no religious connotation. We will stand true to our approach with this piece of work as any in our past and we will continue to take chances and strive for excellence.”

As for the Raiders’ future?

“2005 is our 15-year anniversary. This gives me the chance to look back and reflect on our successes and failures, our strengths and weaknesses. I now can look forward and plan to make the Raiders gain the resources to service more kids by lowering tuition fees and expanding our marching numbers.

“I think the days of bingo and cheesecake sales are over. We are also working toward starting or buying a current business to help support the organization.”

Director Tommy Maiello has been with the Raiders organization since its inception in Bayonne, NJ, and has seen the corps through a decade and a half of change, growth and musical evolution. Now teamed up with Executive Director Phil Melius, he sees a brighter future for the organization than ever before.

“As I grew within the organization, I saw that many had hopes and dreams. Now that Phil and I have been running the organization since 2000, we have turned those hopes and dreams into business plans.

“In order to celebrate 25 years of the Raiders and beyond, we need to think strategically. North Jersey is home to over five million people. From our non-profit organization to our future for- profit venture, we need to make all aware of who we are and what we do to help kids become outstanding adults.”

New Jersey has a strong tradition as home to some of the finest organizations in the history of drum corps. And in keeping with that tradition, when the corps from Wayne, NJ, comes to town, audiences can expect to be entertained with their rich, bold brass sound, the melodic power of their percussion and the grace and pageantry of their color guard.

And on the eve of their 15th anniversary, the Raiders organization should be proud that their achievements stand up alongside the likes of the Bridgemen, Garfield Cadets and the Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights.