The Amazing World of Drum Corps

Brian Tolzmann

VFW must have stood for Very Freaky Woman — I received the following story via phone call from Bill Clendenon, who was involved as both a marching member and an instructor with the Greeneville, TN, Presidents Drum & Bugle Corps. The Presidents were a fixture at VFW National Championship contests throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. They also represented Tennessee in both inaugural parades for President Eisenhower.

In 1967, the Presidents had their finest unit ever, but decided not to compete on the field. They still went to the VFW National Convention in New Orleans, where they marched in the parade. The Presidents wore uniforms almost identical to The Cavaliers in those days and apparently one woman spectator at the parade that night got so excited that she stripped off all of her clothes and ran out onto the street right in front of the corps. Bill Clendenon still isn’t sure if she did this because she mistook the Presidents for The Cavaliers or if she went wild with the sound of timbales, which the corps had in their percussion section.

Keep on truckin’ — An unusual plan for judging was considered for the June 7, 1960 drum corps contest held in Stoughton, MA. The original idea was to have the general effect judges work while sitting on top of a truck, which was to move back and forth next to the field. It was decided that this wasn’t a great idea when mannequins used for testing kept falling off the truck. The judges did eventually judge from the roof of the truck, but it was parked during the entire show.

The wonderful world of color — The 1964 St. Rocco’s Aces junior corps from Brooklyn, NY, had blue and white horns to match their uniforms.

The beat goes on — The famed “World Open” had a separate color guard championship for several years and in 1968 the Skylarks won the title. They had a seven-year-old mascot with a perfect drum corps name . . . Connie Bongo.

The more things change, the more they stay the same — The words are familiar: “When drum corps shows are designed for audiences instead of judges, a whole new world will open up. People in the stands do not understand some of the music. New instruments have been added to help the corps, with many more to come, yet the field show is going downhill and that’s what made drum corps what it is.” No, these are not the words of a disgruntled drum corps fan in 1999 . . . these are the words that appeared on the editor’s page of the January, 1971 issue of Drum Corps Digest. Maybe those people who complained back in 1971 are the same who complain today.

You’re all a bunch of rookies! — On November 19, 1988, Limited Edition from Columbus, OH, held a corps banquet to celebrate their successful first season (seventh place at DCI Class A). All of the standard awards were given out and it was time for the “Rookie of the Year” to be given. Ordinarily, a corps doesn’t have too much difficulty giving such an honor, but every single member of Limited Edition was a rookie in 1988. The award was given to Corps Director Bryan Tracht, also a rookie at his job.

There’s something rotten at the DCI Championship — On August 18, 1976, 24 corps were scheduled to compete for the DCI World Championship Class A Prelims. For one reason or another, only 13 corps showed up.

We meant to do that — It’s doubtful that anyone who was there that night will ever forget the August 4, 1984 DCI Midwest Finals in Whitewater, WI. The Garfield Cadets (who would lose this night to Santa Clara, but come back exactly two weeks later to take the DCI Championship title) were just about to end their exciting “West Side Story” production, when one person caught a heel in the turf, starting off a domino-effect tumble that brought down a dozen horn players in an unbelievable crash of bodies. The amazing thing is that, despite this shocking turn of events, the Cadets scored a perfect 10 in ensemble visual that night.

Coming Sunday, Sunday, Sunday . . . See the Monster Trucks destroy the field! — On July 27, 1987, the “Invitation Quebec” contest was held in Verdun, QUE. All of the competing corps had problems marching around the deep “ditches” gouged into the field by a Monster Truck show held three weeks earlier.   Santa Clara mastered the field enough to win the contest.

This column originally appeared in the September 1999 edition of Drum Corps World.