Toronto Optimist Alumni debut at St. Joe’s Classic

by Tom Peashey, DCW staff, and Norm Schaefer

April 24 saw Mighty St. Joe’s Alumni present their 11th Annual “Classic” indoor exhibition. Held in past years in the spacious Kodak Theatre on the Ridge, 2004 saw the show moved to Greece Olympia High School. This fine auditorium — although not the theatre — was more than adequate for the evening’s performances. There were very few empty seats and enthusiasm abounded.

This is a wonderful chance for old friends to gather. There was much drum corps chatter and plenty of time to reacquaint with friends of long ago. This evening was slightly different from the past, as it was void of any of the upstate DCA corps that had often used this event to premier their shows for the coming season. With the movement to the smaller venue and we suspect concerns over the financial viability of the show in the smaller venue, it would appear St. Joe’s did just fine in presenting a balanced and entertaining program. We heard no complaints from the responsive audience.

Opening the evening was a surprisingly strong exhibition by the Dansville, NY, White Sabers. A long-time parade corps in Western New York, their performance tonight signaled a change in direction for the corps. It seemed obvious that they have decided to give the alumni exhibition-type corps a try. If this was a harbinger of things to come, they will be quite successful.

The brass line was well-trained and certainly surprised the audience, many of whom were heard saying, “Who WAS that?” Malegueña was a highlight of the performance. Anyone in the NY/PA area looking for an exhibition unit might want to consider the White Sabers.

Next up was the premier public performance of the Toronto Optimist Alumni Corps. This was not what anyone would expect for a first public performance. The large corps was clean and well trained. The snare line especially shined through. They took their time putting this corps together only doing a couple of private performances over the last year, but perhaps this slow start will signal a long run for this new member of the alumni movement. From “Oliver’s” Who Will Buy, to Battle Cry of Freedom, to Old Devil Moon, they paid tribute to their storied history and dedicated the performance to their brass arranger from 1958 to 1967, Colonel Truman Crawford. A huge welcome from the audience rewarded their efforts.

Galloping into the auditorium to the familiar strains of the William Tell Overture was the former DCA Champion Mini-Corps, the Ghost Riders. Playing many of their familiar drum corps tunes like Black Saddle, this evening the stage was dominated by the strong playing of Ken “Ace” Peterson. With their secret weapon (Joey Pero) hiding in the fault lines of San Francisco learning to be “evil” from the Renegades, it was a golden opportunity for the over-70 crowd to show the young kids what it was all about and Ace did just that. He sounded just as good this evening as he did in those famous Appleknocker days — over 40 years ago.

Steel City Ambassadors Alumni gave a preview of the program they will bring to the DCA “Alumni Spectacular” this September. In their cool hats and Hawaiian shirts, they presented a more recent era type of performance that brought back memories of the fine Ambassador lines of the late 1980s.

Children of Sanchez did justice to Mangione and was well-received in his hometown. Variety was the spice of their program. From Blood, Sweat and Tears to Manilou to Sousa, they entertained well with a pure drum corps sound that was easy to appreciate. Their Robert E. Lee/New York, New York tribute to Skyliners was a highlight.

Reilly Raiders brought the house to their feet with the American tribute including America, America the Beautiful and God Bless America that concluded with raising a banner that said “God Bless Our Troops & God Bless America.” Wild Bill Hooten was standing tall and proud looking down on his corps.

The traditional Danny Boy provided a full and rich sound with an excellent mellophone solo. The audience rocked with the rest of the Irish music that made Reilly so popular.

Too Ra Loo Ra, Gary Owen, Irish Washerwoman and many more brought memories of the flawless drumming, Bobby Adair solos and the perfection of Reilly in years past.

Next up were the Syracuse Brigadiers Alumni. Stronger than some previous performances, they seemed to be drawing a larger contingent from the past Brigadier corps.

It’s a pleasure to see an alumni corps playing tunes of the past with memorable solos being played by the same guys who played them back when. Way to go Arnold Zampi.

The late 1950s theme song of the corps, Shangri-La, opened the evening, followed by a new presentation of Fanfare and Allegro which they had just learned and was a big part of the corps’ repertoire in 1963/1964. Seemed great for their admittedly just having learned it.

When a Man Loves a Woman brings a tune to their show from the 1990s Brigadiers. You’ll Never Walk Alone is special to the Brigs dating to the mid-1950s and still brings chills to the spine. They concluded with a great “American Tribute.” The 2004 season bodes well for the Brigadier Alumni. A special mention must go to Ron Keck — well-known instructor/performer who did the triple bass drum routine. Way to go, Ron.

Mighty St. Joe’s, the host for the evening, continues to bring variety and excellence to their annual programs. They opened with American Salute. Then they did a touching tribute to those who had passed on, reading their names during the playing of One Hand, One Heart.

We would like to thank Joe’s for the touching memorial to Vince Bruni — very well done. Another big thank you to Joe’s director, Bob “Sully” Sullivan, the newest member of the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame. This was a “class” thing to do.

Speaking of Mangione, Legend of a One-Eyed Sailor sounded a bit like Phoenix of old and featured their sopranos well. Joe’s theme song, Hey, Big Spender, was a time for the contras to shine. Then they brought back Bully, their tribute to the Cavaliers of old and again, solid soprano solos. Added to the show this year, Georgia was a perfect opportunity for our “young” Mr. Peterson to shine. He literally stole the show. We’ll have to get Joe’s and CorpsVets together and have Ace Peterson and Hunter Moss duke it out.

They concluded the regular part of the show by inviting many members of the Rochester Crusaders to join them on the stage playing a Santana medley. St. Joe’s probably represents as much talent on the field as any corps you’ll ever see in competition. It showed STRONG tonight and brought the house down.

As always, the evening was concluded with many of the performers joining St. Joe’s on the stage for Kiltie’s version of Auld Lang Syne and their annual tribute to the history of drum corps. This touching moment is so fitting a conclusion to any evening of drum corps that the audience is left breathless. A big “thank you” to St. Joe’s, for another great and successful evening with the corps at “Classic XI.”

A special mention must be made about Donna Ernst-Schaefer. Donna acts as the ticket chairman for the “Classic” each year and is the same person who chairs the DCA I&E/Mini Corps contest each year. She was there full of energy despite some recent health set backs — her smile greeting every single customer at the gate. All we can say is, “You go girl.” Everyone is looking forward to seeing that winning smile for years to come.

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