Serenade in Brass another showcase of seniors, alumni

by Christina ‘Mav’ Mavroudis-Dempsey, DCW staff

Throughout the evening, tuxed MC Larry Hershman, chairman and one of the “stars” in the sponsoring Five Star Brass Productions, welcomed the audience, but specifically targeted the six who had never been to a “Serenade in Brass” in Harrisburg, PA. Pegged as one of six, it was easy to be assimilated. Resistance was futile because the quality of the production, the sheer caliber of performances, and the magnitude of talent were par excellence.

Ten musical ensembles descended on the Pennsylvania state capital to kick-off the 29th show on April 3 in an impressive concert hall, The Forum. Since 1976, “Serenade” has called The Forum home, with 1,800 seats and over 1,000 starry lights shining from its palatial ceiling. That night nearly every seat was filled to enjoy what was billed as “the longest continuously-running indoor show in the country.” From frenzied percussive sounds of the Hip Pickles trio, to the 100-plus horns in the combined Hawthorne Caballeros corps, it was drum corps nirvana.

The Hitmen (formerly from Attica, NY) — What better way to open the evening than with the antics and wild sounds of those (HBO) Sopranos-infused Hitmen. With a gangster look including fedoras on just nine horns and one percussionist, these 2002-2003 DCA ensemble champions have the sound and humor for any mainstream audience.

The story continues from last year when Vinny “The Ox” DeCrescendo died of acute lead poisoning at Gotti-famed Sparks Steak House. At his casket, friends played Just a Closer Walk With Thee, but an “exposure incident” landed them in jail. This year, having paid for their crime, the men, wearing orange Attica prison garb and miming shackles, shuffled over to the Parole Board. The Board, comprised of legends Tommy “Bucky” Swan, Larry Hershman and Chuck Saia, gave conditions for their freedom, including the applause meter hitting all four stages of approval.

First up was the apropos Luck Be a Lady Tonight, followed by Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, an Italian tarantella with female parole board members folk dancing with two horns, and the popular Sing, Sing, Sing. Having reached “release” status, the brass band cheered then marched single file off-stage in a maze-drill pattern playing the theme from Dragnet. Just before exit, they shouted a hearty “See ya!”

Comprised of Empire Statesmen and Brigadiers, Hitmen are self-titled “the finest in marching entertainment,” which is hard to dispute with 14 rings between them. Director/performer David Martin, who helped start Empire in 1983 and worked as soloist/arranger/instructor, founded Hitmen in 2002. “We hope to follow the Hip Pickles” lead and gain national exposure, maybe not working as intensely, but doing corporate and commercial work.”

Westshoremen Alumni Senior Drum & Bugle Corps (Harrisburg, PA) — With only three rehearsals under their belt, Westshoremen boasted 65 horns, 20 battery and ecstatic applause to each number. The audience was hardly contained after the patriotic opener, America, and Explosion, featured a sop soloist later joined by a company of “wailers”. Of note were the basses who turned a solo into a visual treat. Among them was Jeff Ream, who has attended every “Serenade” concert and even proposed to his fiancé last year at the show. Blues in the Night, the signature tune, ended their season to boisterous cheering for the local corps.

Founded two years ago out of the remnants of their DCA champion senior corps, Westshoremen Alumni are drawn together for this one event, yet grow each year.

Buccaneer Alumni Drum & Bugle Corps, (Reading, PA) — With the motto “Champions United,” referring to both alumni and competitive senior corps” three VFW and four DCA titles, the Buccaneer Alumni sported a large sound at the concert. Founded in 1981, the corps can claim 17 continuous appearances at the “Serenade.” They maintain a 135-member roster, with 85 actually in the corps, although only 36 were able to make the trek tonight.

Their largely patriotic selections included God Bless America, America the Beautiful, Stars & Stripes, Drunken Sailor/Anchors Aweigh, Battle Hymn, Eternal Father (Navy Hymn) and an Armed Forces Medley. Popular tunes were Beyond the Sea and An Affair to Remember, the corps” signature tune, arranged in 1966 by DCA Hall of Famer Frank Ferraro.

The rest of this article and many others are available in the May 2004 edition of Drum Corps World.