An interview with DCI Executive Director Dan Acheson

by Steve Vickers, DCW publisher

DCI Executive Director Dan Acheson
Photo courtesy of DCI

Publisher’s note: The first part of this interview appeared in the December 2003 edition of Drum Corps World. It is being included on our Web site one week after the issue was mailed to subscribers. There will be a second part published in the January issue, mailed to subscribers on December 11. It will be included here a week later.

Dan Acheson has been the executive director of Drum Corps International for eight years and in that time he has been involved in many changes and improvements for the non-profit organization that governs the junior drum and bugle corps activity.

He offered to sit down and discuss a variety of topics on any subject, including what is coming up in the immediate and long-term future for DCI, and some of the rumors that have circulated on chat rooms and at drum corps events about what the corps directors and office staff see for the movement in the years ahead.

Dan Acheson: Thank you for allowing a forum to answer questions that may be on the minds of fans, corps members and volunteers in the activity. It continues to be a pleasure to serve the activity in the capacity of DCI executive director. The challenges are many, but with all the good people engaged in the pursuit of preserving and promoting this great activity for the incredible youth it serves, we are bound for many more years of success.

Steve Vickers: To kick things off, could you cover the highlights of the DCI Division II/III meeting that was held at your offices on the weekend of October 24-26? Were most of the corps represented? Will the schedule of shows leading into the DCI Championships in Denver be similar to previous seasons in terms of the number of events?

DA: There were 32 corps represented at the DCI Division II & III October meeting held at the DCI offices in Addison, IL. The directors seemed to enjoy the opportunity to see the DCI office and warehouse operation firsthand. Having the directors see our environment is important because it brings the real life aspects of what we do and where we do it into perspective.

The DCI Division II & III Advisory Committee (AC) met with Wayne Leide, DCI’s controller, and I regarding a variety of topics, but there was one central issue that took most of the afternoon. We discussed the pluses and minuses of the new format launched in 2003 to establish a fair schedule access and fee sharing system for all corps on the division II and III tour the last week and a half of the season. The AC acknowledged that the end results were very positive despite the bumps with last minute challenges for a couple of shows.

I missed the Friday night general session due to a family commitment, but was informed that significant time and discussion took place regarding the controversial championships format used in Orlando this past season.

The format included a Tuesday preliminaries, a Thursday semifinals and a Saturday morning finals. There was a lot of apprehension on the part of the directors to stay the course. The division II and III corps were given the flexibility to change the format for 2004 in Denver, but after several hours of debate they decided to give it a try one more time.

I admit I encouraged the AC to give the plan one more year to see if we can motivate more drum corps fans to attend their finals on the same day as the division I finals, despite the fact they will be held five miles away from INVESCO Field at Mile High.

While there are some flaws with the championships format, there are several positives to promote the biggest event of the year for them on the biggest day of the year for the drum corps activity. We agreed to start the finals on Saturday later in the morning to hopefully appeal to the over 18,000 drum corps fans expected to be in town that day. It is a lot of drum corps in one day for even the most avid fan, but what a day!

JW Koester, DCI Division II and III coordinator, received a huge vote of confidence from directors filling out a year-end survey conducted by George Brown, DCI Division II and III AC chairman and director of the Santa Clara Vanguard Cadets.

JW presented the schedule concept for 2004. If all works as JW presented, there will be plenty of performances leading into Denver for all division II and III corps. Even JW knows what he proposed will be a challenge, but with his energy and the corps’ support, it is very likely to happen.

The latter part of the afternoon session ended with what could be described as a heated but respectful debate. John Rodriquez, director of Revolution and an AC member, presented a proposal to change the distinction of division II and division III from what is currently based on size to a system that would classify corps based on competitive achievement.

There were directors in the room who felt this would further the decline of division III and those in favor of the proposal see it as an opportunity to encourage all corps to seek to improve. I have no opinion either way, except that whatever they decide, I believe there are measurable factors off the field that should determine participation.

Is the corps stable? Do they behave responsibly as a business? Do they offer an educationally sound program? These are aspects of a process that can exist under either method of determining competitive division.

The meeting ended in the spirit you would expect. Those engaged in heated debate on opposite sides that afternoon came together and broke bread and played games as the good friends they are at the local Dave & Busters that evening.

I have attended many DCI Division II and III meetings over the years and I must say, I am always overwhelmed by the incredible passion and commitment the mostly volunteer directors possess. It continues to be a pleasure working with them collectively and individually as we address the many challenges of survival and growth.

SV: What about new projects and changes DCI has coming up for the 2004 season? (i.e. a post-DCI tour to California, downloadable recordings, major tour events and will there be an increased number of clinics for band students?)

DA: Drum Corps International is engaged in a new project that is sure to delight drum corps fans in California. No, it is not the staging of the world championships in their great state, but it is sure to be just as exciting in a different kind of way. DCI will present, for the first time, the “Tour of Champions” in 2004.

This unique tour will feature all of the active DCI Division I corps that have been crowned a DCI World Champion. That will include the Blue Devils, The Cadets, Santa Clara Vanguard, The Cavaliers, Madison Scouts and Phantom

After the World Championship finals in Denver, CO, on August 7, the corps will travel to the Los Angeles area for events to be scheduled on Tuesday, August 10, and Wednesday, August 11. Not only will fans in California see great drum corps performances in August for the first time in DCI history, they will get more.

The six corps plan to enhance the evening with more than just their competitive show for 2004. There will also be various student workshops held for students that attend the over 550 high schools in the area.

After a free day on Thursday, August 12 most likely at the beach, the corps will head to Northern California to present a unique event on stage on Friday, August 13, and another field show on Saturday, August 14.

We are real close to officially announcing venues and times, but for now mark your calendar. For those wanting to see all of the great West Coast corps in competition, there are plans for another full schedule as usual earlier in the season.

We are now exploring downloadable audio recordings as a merchandise offering. The technical aspects of this make it an available option. If it happens, we can dip into the archives and fans will be able to create their own CDs with their favorite corps. There is lots of work to be done before this will happen, though.

We are planning to add an event in Kalamazoo, MI, on July 9 that will feature a strong division I line up and options available for division II and III corps as they determine at the DCI Central Division meeting in December.

There aren’t any plans for “more” clinics, but a continued focus on improving the quality of the events and thus attendance. By the way, we have seen an increase in group sales at DCI major events each of the past five years.

SV: Let’s touch on what is taking place with the new DCI Central Division. What kind of schedule of Midwest shows do you expect to offer the corps and fans, will these competitions involve the division II and III corps to a similar degree that they were used under Drum Corps Midwest for the last 25 years (layered shows) and what have you planned for the mid-July weekend in De Kalb, IL?

DA: On October 20 I attended a meeting of a formation committee made up of corps that directly expressed an interest in participating in the DCI Central Division. Corps represented included the Colts, The Cavaliers, Southwind, Madison Scouts, Capital Sound, Phantom Regiment, Capital Regiment, Bluecoats and the Americanos. Several hours of discussion occurred, centered on developing the operating policies for the division.

Division II and III corps are welcome to participate, much like those in the DCI Pacific Division and the DCI Atlantic Division. The DCI Central Division will allow corps like Eklipse from Kentucky, Memphis Sound from Tennessee, and Revolution from Texas, as well as the traditional Midwest corps, to become members.

The only event that has been and will continue to be division I exclusive is the event in Normal, IL. That is an agreement that dates back a few years with our strategic partners at Bands of America. So yes, we expect junior corps to have the same access to shows as they have had in the past.

For those following the electronic newsgroups, it is no secret Drum Corps International and senior corps are at odds regarding how they fit into our mission. This is the primary cause of the concern that pushed the formation of the DCI Central Division.

As reported on the newsgroups, the majority of the Drum Corps Midwest member corps voted to reinstate DCM as their association of choice to operate shows in the region. However, eight of the nine Division I corps, as well as a majority of the junior corps, voted to continue under the DCI umbrella.

This division in thinking has created an unfortunate rift. Drum Corps International holds the position that we serve organizations that serve youth up to the age of 21 or 22, depending on where their birthday falls.

While we recognize that senior corps have evolved from traditionally more adult-aged social groups to organizations that serve a broader range in age — including what we consider youth — including them in our mission continues to be a stretch. From me, not necessarily representing the views of the DCI board of directors in the following statement, it seems these mostly adult organizations can fend for themselves without taking away performance opportunities from any junior corps, as well as resources such as fee reimbursement for their performances.

This is tough for me to be so bold when I consider Minnesota Brass, in my opinion a positive example of how a senior corps should operate, but with resources that are extremely limited. There are means available to allow seniors to participate at DCI events.

The proposed operating procedures for the DCI Central Division include opportunities for senior corps. There is much more to be considered when balancing all factors for the growth and survival of the drum corps activity. If we as an activity can see a clear purpose for senior corps to further our mission to serve the youth in the activity, we will do whatever we can to include them.

A DCI Central Division event is scheduled for Saturday, July 10, in DeKalb, IL. We intend this event to include all corps, including seniors if they wish. The actual format will be determined based on interest at a DCI Central Division meeting scheduled in December.

SV: Are you getting closer to announcing a confirmed site for the 2005 DCI Championships? Will DCI return to Madison, WI, in 2006?

DA: I’d love to announce the location for 2005, but I do not have a formal commitment as of yet. We are hoping for a familiar place for the DCI World Championships on the East Coast. Is that enough of a hint?

We do intend to return to Madison in 2006. We have already begun work with the University of Wisconsin and expect to formalize everything over the course of the winter. Don’t book your flights just yet, as we are not certain of the actual dates due to a variety of circumstances. Also, the UW stadium renovations are expected to be completed at the end of the summer in 2005.

SV: What changes, if any, are planned for the division II/III events during the week of championships — for 2004, 2005 and beyond? (i.e. shortening of the week, will finals be on Saturday again, do you plans to have any concurrent events in 2004 and beyond — like Thursday’s division II/III semifinals and division I quarterfinals running at the same time in two different locations last summer?)

DA: I have been asked several times why DCI cares so little about division II and III corps that we would stage world championships in a place that will not allow the opportunity for them to perform in the same stadium as division I corps. I’ll let my actions over the past eight years speak for themselves regarding how much I care about division II and III corps, but I understand why some of our decisions can be interpreted as less than caring.

Availability, practicality and economics are three main issues that drive our decisions in selecting a world championships location. All one needs to do is look at a video of finals in Orlando to see why groundskeepers go crazy when we want to use their stadium in August.

The stadiums that might be available with artificial turf are in seemingly undesirable locations. One of the best drum corps stadiums in the country is in Champaign, IL, at the University of Illinois. Now that I have lived in the Chicago area for a while, I can tell you, people from Chicago would rather drive to Orlando in August than drive to
Champaign any time of the year. The concept of “if you stage it they will come” is simply not reality. I wish it were that simple.

Corps and fans do not want to go to the same location every year. If they did, we would likely be a permanent fixture in Madison every summer. As a fan and former corps director, I too think it is cool to go to a different place every year. As an event manager and promoter, it is the challenge of a lifetime to find suitable locations that meet all the needs of a championships.

Although it seems I got off track, and there are volumes to write worthy of “A History of Drum and Bugle Corps, Volume III” regarding championships location selections, all of this has an impact on the DCI Division II and III Championships.

The rent and expenses for the use of stadiums that are welcoming to division II and III — such as Madison and Buffalo — are not very reasonable, but we make adjustments so that the performers can be on the same field in all

My thought has always been that developing an audience at a smaller stadium in a championships city is more practical. I am saddened when a few hundred people show up for the preliminaries in a huge stadium. They seem so distant. The same few hundred people in a quality high school stadium seems to make it a more exciting event for the performers. They can communicate with each other better.

Also, there are opportunities with local high schools to help promote the event to local fans in return for sharing in the proceeds of hosting the event. The idea is to make the event a stand- alone fund-raiser so it doesn’t have to cost the division II and III corps to participate. We have a better shot at this in smaller venues.

SV: Have specific details been finalized for the introduction of amplification of the pit for the 2004 season? What kinds of challenges will DCI and the corps face in implementing the plan?

DA: There was a little discussion on this topic at the September DCI board of directors meeting. There will be more discussion at the annual meeting in January. I can tell you that corps intend to use amplification in 2004.

The challenges for DCI and the corps are the same with consideration to cost and logistics. As the event managers, our staff and volunteers will do all that is necessary to provide the corps with what they need to successfully use any amplification.

Anything decided by the directors that may possibly raise the cost for corps to do business is a concern, but like with so many other issues, they have a choice to not use amplification. I do anticipate the corps having a more sophisticated approach to the use of amplification than seen to date by marching bands that have used it.

SV: Could you briefly explain what happened that led to the Kiwanis Kavaliers not having their video performance included in the 2003 DCI collection?

DA: Drum Corps International has stepped up our diligence regarding copyright compliance the past five years. What happened to the Kiwanis Kavaliers almost happened to The Cadets in 2000. Permissions were secured from the copyright owners to allow Kiwanis to arrange and perform the Beatles music and mechanical rights were secured to allow audio recordings, but synchronization rights that cover video recordings were made to be quite impossible to afford by the corps.

Each copyright owner that allows us permission to use their material in a video recording asks DCI to pay a royalty per DVD or VHS copy sold. When you consider the number of song titles, you begin to understand how unwieldy the licensing process can become.

Most copyright owners insist we sign an agreement that includes a “most favored nation’s” clause. What this means is that if we pay any one copyright owner more than what we agreed to pay all those that include this clause, we must then pay them the same amount.

The bottom line is that the owners of the music performed by Kiwanis Kavaliers in 2003 wanted a significantly higher amount, making the entire project unaffordable. Doug Darwin, director of the Kiwanis Kavaliers, was made aware of the situation.

Doug, like all the directors, understands that this unfortunate occurrence may happen from time to time. Our current resources in place to manage our music licensing is a step toward trying to prevent this from happening in the future, but the corps really do need to decide very early what music they are choosing to play.

SV: Can you tell our readers how the Blue Knights are involved in the DCI Championships at INVESCO Field at Mile High in Denver? (i.e. list some of the key people who are working on the project, how DCI came to secure this NFL stadium, how that has impacted the dates and use of the facility like using both sides to protect the grass, and will there be any new marketing ideas implemented for 2004 for the Colorado events?)

DA: The Blue Knights are the reason we have access to INVESCO Field at Mile High. Director Mark Arnold has established a strong relationship with stadium management. Mark and I have talked for years about how we can make a championships work in Denver at the new stadium without negatively impacting the corps financially.

Drum Corps International has worked out a multi-faceted arrangement with the Blue Knights to help them raise enough money around the championships to compensate for the lack of revenue from staging their annual “Drums Along the Rockies” show, which will return in 2005.

Long time DATR event managers Lynn and George Lindstrom will play a large role in leading local volunteers in the staging of the division II and III events at All-City Stadium as well as the events at INVESCO Field at Mile High. Paula Wiens, longtime volunteer for the Blue Knights, is leading local promotions. Under Paula’s guidance, Denver residents are sure to be inundated with publicity about the event.

Drum Corps International has agreed to spend a little more on promotions than typical, but we trust the Blue Knights will double our value. There aren’t necessarily “new” ideas regarding promoting the world championships, but already between Lynn and George’s push for group sales and some of Paula’s efforts we may see our most successful promotional campaign in many years.

The stadium has a grass field. Stadium management agreed to host our championships under two conditions: we must schedule one week earlier to accommodate grass growth for their first NFL exhibition game, and we must perform to one side on Thursday and Friday night, and the other on Saturday to even out the wear on the grass.

I am really pleased that Mark Arnold, a senior member of the DCI board, and I have been able to work on a model to include a corps in the staging of the world championships. It is my hope the benefits will ring for years for the corps as I know they will for DCI.

SV: Now I would like to ask you about some controversial subjects. First of all, can you explain what happened between DCI and Drum Corps Midwest that resulted in a split?

DA: I covered the highlights in a previous question, but I will offer a few more observations. We are not short on passion in our activity, especially when there are disagreements among respected individuals. Despite the rift, I hold nothing but the highest respect for Roman Blenski and those among the senior corps ranks that opposed bringing everything under the DCI umbrella. I disagree with the idea that the Drum Corps Midwest association best serves the corps in the region. It is an antiquated business model.

The drum corps activity has been very fragile for a long time. With recent reports of a couple of corps going inactive in 2004, it reminds us how volatile the drum corps activity really is. One vision, one common direction, and one collective are what I perceive to be in the best interest of the drum corps activity.

Paul Chaffee, director of the Racine Scouts was quoted in a recent interview on Drum Corps Planet as stating that we “have two competing circuits.” I consider that to be an unfortunate point of view and counter productive to
Drum Corps International’s mission to preserve and promote the drum corps activity.

SV: How many DCI Central Division competitions do you estimate will be on the schedule for the coming season? Will the division II and III corps be able to schedule into most of the shows? Will the division I corps be able to participate in DCM events if they have an open date?

DA: There will be between 25 and 30 DCI Central Division events in 2004. As I stated before, the division II and III corps will have access to all the shows as they have had in the past. We are not building division I-exclusive shows; we are building events that best serve the corps in the region. I suspect DCI Central Division I corps will have enough work that they will not look to DCM to provide them with more.

SV: Would you comment on how you perceive the senior and alumni corps movement as it relates to DCI’s operation? Will the Midwest senior corps be able to perform and compete at any of the DCI Central Division events this summer?

DA: Senior and alumni corps are essentially the same to us. While they may be fine organizations, we do not consider them a component of our youth focus or mission. Senior corps can participate in DCI Central Division events as outlined in the operating policies to be voted on in December. Drum Corps International is about preserving and promoting the drum corps experience for the youth participants, not providing opportunities for adults to relive their youth.

SV: I’ve heard a number of people wondering why you didn’t have anything to say at the September 13 meeting in Menasha, WI. Could you comment on what your role was at that meeting?

DA: Again, the majority of junior corps voted to stay the course with regional operations remaining under the DCI umbrella. The sticking points for the senior corps were essentially non-negotiable. We delivered 100 percent of what we were asked to deliver for all corps in 2003.

I was an invited guest to a Drum Corps Midwest meeting and had no formal role. I attended to make myself available for any questions that might arise. No one asked for me to deliver any type of statement, nor was I invited to address the group that met in executive session. The decision was up to the directors. They had all the facts and they are all very intelligent, well-meaning people. A slick presentation would have been an insult, I think.

SV: Among the principal advantages of moving regional-level operations under the DCI umbrella are standardization, consolidation, elimination of duplicate effort and coordination of the whole summer tour. Now that DCI has established a central division in addition to the Atlantic and Pacific divisions, isn’t it time for DCI to establish a clear policy on regionalization? Is DCI committed to regionalization, or will these regions slowly morph into one cohesive, summer-long tour?

DA: One vision, one direction, one collective is the primary advantage to having the junior corps activity promoted and governed by the same body. If we are all wearing the same shirt and waiving the same flag, we have a better chance of growing forward. We must be poised to evolve as society and our environment dictates; doing this under one umbrella, simply stated, is the most logical.

The corps in all divisions have been operating nationally from June through August for years. A unified approach to scheduling enables the flexibility to throw support from one region to another when it becomes necessary. Each division has to work to be as strong as possible, but the schedule alone is not the only reason for the directors to come together.

The support they share to help each other along is priceless. Drum Corps International is committed to doing what it takes to strengthen and grow the activity. We intend to “morph” in whatever direction is necessary to keep the drum corps experience available and vibrant for youth who choose to participate.

SV: DCI weekend focus shows often have clinics during the day’s events, with busloads of high school band members exposed to the drum corps activity a thousand at a time. Many of these young people go on to march in division I corps during their college years, when they have the time and money to do the full tour. These same potential members could be marching in division II or III units during their high school years, when the demands on their time and budget are not as high. Is there any plan to integrate division II/III into the DCI Focus Show weekends at the clinics, or to distribute information about alternatives to marching in a division I corps?

DA: It is in all corps’ best interest to present our very best in front of as many potential corps members and fans as possible. There is nothing wrong with marketing our very best. If we are to be considered elitist for putting our best in the spotlight, so be it. Like any endeavor in our society, it is a numbers game. People want to be the best, they want to see the best and that is OK.

There are no plans to integrate division II and III corps into the clinic process. What we can — and have been doing — is working with DCI Division II and III to first help them define what it is they want to be.

Are they quality organizations that offer alternatives such as being a weekend or local based corps? Are they smaller versions of division I corps in that they also recruit from all over the world? Are they corps intent on some day being a division I corps? You see, there are several other questions to be answered before deciphering how to integrate division II and III corps into a clinic.

Ultimately, we are doing what we can as a collective to provide an environment for all junior corps to thrive, but it really is up to the corps themselves to establish a direction and get busy going down the road they choose.

SV: Has a decision been made on Esperanza’s petition for division I status? If not, will any effort be made in the future to expedite these decisions (i.e. by the end of September) so that new division I corps can recruit during marching band season? The petition deadline is June of the prior year, so a decision has not come from the DCI office for five months.

DA: The Participation Review Policy, as established by the DCI board of directors in January 2003, goes beyond just a petition and a response. Esperanza has yet to deliver on all of the required documentation. They have missed deadlines in the process that are critical to the timing. They claimed to have extenuating circumstances that have led to the delays. The Participation Review Committee will determine the next step in the process.

To be very clear, it is not up to the “DCI office” to respond. It is up to the Participation Review Committee and the DCI executive committee.

SV: Under the DCI Quarterfinalist Policy, division I status has been handled like this: 1) top 21, in; 2) 22 to 25, in, but not a member corps; 3) 26 and lower, out (must drop to II/III); inactive, pending review, eligible to return from one-year hiatus. Do these policies still apply? If not, what are the policies in effect today?

DA: The Quarterfinalist Policy was rescinded last year by the DCI executive committee and the Participation Review Policy was put into place. In order to be considered for participation in division I, you must petition the Participation Review Committee to do so. Corps may no longer advance into division I based solely on competitive success.

The reason for the change was to establish a system that promoted stability within an organization before they took on the responsibility of touring. There have been many unfortunate examples of corps that do well competitively, but fail to provide an adequate quality experience for the youth they serve.

Issues that include food service, transportation safety, educational programming, proper rest and the like are what now get reviewed, along with proper business practices including fund-raising and financial management.

Fans who attend DCI events, including high school band students, expect a certain quality. They also should be able to expect and receive a quality drum corps experience wherever they choose to march. We are well beyond the days when I marched and it was cool to starve for the cause.

The Participation Review Policy is by far the most monumental legislation adopted by DCI member corps in recent years. The process also calls for random review of existing division I corps. The DCI board of directors has a vested interest in making sure they are all secure on several fronts.

SV: Today’s system goes to great length in determining the financial, organizational and competitive viability of division I corps, only to eliminate one or two such corps from membership eligibility after a full season of meeting all of their DCI commitments. This elimination is based solely on placement (below 21st position) achieved on Thursday of DCI Championship week. In your personal opinion, what purpose is served by excluding these corps from DCI membership? Or in other words, once a viable division I corps commits to a DCI tour and meets their commitment, shouldn’t they be assured of DCI membership as part of this business relationship?

DA: Keeping some form of quality measure on the field in addition to the Participation Review Policy keeps corps working hard to improve programs, training and the like. Corps that do not achieve voting membership still have access to the schedule, expense reimbursement fees and other services.

There could be a day when there are 30 voting member corps if the membership wants to go there, but I think it is good to provide voting member benefits for those achieving high levels with every aspect of the operation.

Drum Corps International is about promoting excellence. Doing what is expected of all corps should not alone dictate membership if excellence is such a key component of what we offer.

Part two of this interview will appear in the January 2004 issue, mailed December 11. Readers are encouraged to e-mail Steve Vickers at with additional questions by December 1. He will add them to the questions already included in the second part.