An interview with Bob Thomas about the activity in Europe

by Steve Vickers, DCW Publisher

I first met Bob when I attended the first Drum Corps Europe Championship in Utrecht, Holland, back in September 2003. He was one of the American judges engaged in the new European venture to bring all of the corps together into a cohesive organization.

Since that time, he’s taken on a broader role as the person who organizes, trains and leads the adjudication process for the sanctioned competitions DCE holds in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Ireland, Germany and Holland.

He has been a judge in Pennsylvania for many years and has also been on a number of tour and championship panels for DCI. He started playing a bugle at the age of 5. He continued both bugle and drums for the next 25 years, marching in both senior and junior drum and bugle corps.

Attending Norwin High School, he both taught and marched in the drum line. His teaching experience extends over the past 38 years, designing and instructing numerous award-winning drum and bugle corps, marching bands, majorette teams and winter color guards.

He judges or has judged for DCI, WGI, Drum Corp Midwest, Drum Corp Atlantic, Indiana State Scholastic Music Association, Bands of America, Drum Corp Europe, Youth Education in the Arts (YEA!), the Ohio Judges Association, Florida Federation of Judges, Atlantic Indoor Association, Pennsylvania Federation of Judges, Marching in Okayama, Japan, and Drum Corps Associates.

In 2008, he judged the World Marching Band Championships in Malaysia and recently returned from Thailand where he judged the 2009 Thailand Drum Line Competition.

He has been a clinician for the Carolina Winter Ensemble Guard Circuit, Seton Hill College Color Guard Camp, West Chester College Guard Camp, Pennsylvania Federation of Contest Winter Guard and Band, Ohio Judges Association Winter Guard, Florida Federation of Judges Winter Guard, South East Color Guard Circuit, Texas Color Guard Circuit, Indiana Indoor Color Guard, DEG Japan clinician, Drum Corp Europe clinician, European Mega clinician and the Irish Marching Band Association.

He is Director of Education for Drum Corps Europe, having helped design the current scoring system for DCE. He has also been the Director of Education for the Florida Judges Association and the Ohio Judges Association. He currently lives in Greensburg, PA.

We had an opportunity to sit down following the Drum Corps Europe Championships in Kerkrade, Holland, on September 26, to discuss the current state of the activity on the continent and what the future holds for this ever-expanding movement that encompasses the United Kingdom, Holland, Germany, Belgium, Ireland , France, Sweden, Italy and Scotland, all countries where there are now or have been in the past drum and bugle corps.

As noted in my reporting on the three competitions I attended in the U.K. and Holland back in September, I have been quite impressed with the improvement in quality demonstrated by all the groups. There continues to be a degree of “innocence” about the young people’s involvement that reminds me of what the North American activity used to be like . . . kids taking part in a fun environment, without significant rivalries and learning musical skills through performing for fans across Europe.

Steve Vickers: Tell me about how you first became involved with the drum and bugle corps activity in Europe?

Bob Thomas: I got involved with DCE when Alan Murray ask me to teach at the European Mega Clinic. It was a two-day clinic for both instructors and students. I taught a marching and design clinic as well as running a rehearsal with one of the show bands as part of the clinic.

I taught the clinic with Al Murray, Rich Viano (former percussion instructor with the Boston Crusaders) and Scott Boerma (former music arranger for the Madison Scouts).

That fall I was asked to judge the first outdoor DCE Championship in Holland. It was a mixed panel of U.S. and European judges. We judged the contest on some very old DCI sheets.
The next day we met and I said the scoring system was not fair to the corps of Europe.

Marcel Mattijsse, founder and chairman of Drum Corps Europe, and I sat down and discussed ways of improving the system and that the European judges should have some sort of certification process in place.

I suggested that a whole new scoring system be developed and I discussed the certification process I used to train judges for Ohio and Florida. That winter I rewrote the entire system, which is the one we are using today. Minor revisions have been made each year. I also    developed a certification system that the judges must pass to judge for any DCE competition.

SV: You’ve witnessed a great deal of change since that 2003 indoctrination. What do you see as the most important aspect of the drum and bugle corps movement in Europe?

BT: The biggest change has been the quality of design and the training of the performers. One of the goals for the new system was to put emphasis on training and improve the quality of design. We also wanted the European corps to not copy DCI videos.

European corps do not go on tour like here in the U.S. They have a modified rehearsal schedule since most of their performers work and can’t go on tour. We wanted to make sure the criteria was more in line with the rehearsal time and we also took into consideration that DCE takes four weeks off in the middle of the summer season for European holiday.

SV: Performing groups have represented seven countries in the last seven years at the DCE Championships — Holland, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Italy and France — and I understand at least one more country will be added to that list in 2010. What are your overall impressions of the activity over there?

BT: One of my impressions was that too many corps were trying to emulate the DCI corps. We have made great strides in celebrating European style and culture in the design process and continue to learn how to make EVERY corps have a great DCE experience.

I couldn’t be more thrilled with the development of DCE. Each year more and different corps have challenged for the top spots. Our goals and expectations have been exceeded.

SV: I know you work closely with Marcel Mattijsse, the chairman of Drum Corps Europe. What kind of things has he charged you with accomplishing for his organization?

BT: Marcel and I have a great    relationship and are on the same page with where DCE needs to go. We have Skype conference calls all the time. Marcel has had a great vision of a fair and equal playing ground for all corps. He and the DCE board have made decisions for the betterment of ALL corps in our system.

He has given myself and the education team the latitude to build a much improved judging team. We do and will continue to educate our judges to give fair evaluations with both positive and critical feed back.

We went to digital recorders after the first year. Myself and the educational team listen to every judge’s audio files and provide feedback for improvement. We also have a Web site for both instructors and judges, with educational papers that have been written by my mentor, George Oliverio, and myself.

We have also had some DCI judges allow us to put their audio files from DCI tour on our Web site for our judges to listen to. This process has enabled us to improve the quality of judging tremendously.   We are using technology to improve the judging skills.

SV: Who are some of the other key people in the DCE organization you have worked with?

BT: I work with Marco Janseen who runs the DCE office and the Web site, as well as all the other members of the board. Dennis Naaktgeboren (Holland), who is the PR/Marketing/ manager, Hans Wansink (Holland), the financial manager, and Andy Hewlitt (United Kingdom) and Kees Bourquin (Holland, also the chairman of Drum Corps Nederland) are project managers for DCE.

I interact with the DCE Judge Education team the most. We have Jim Lauver (Germany), the visual caption head, Marco Harder (Holland), the music caption head, and Bruce Vrancken (Belgium), the judge liaison for the judging team.

We speak monthly with the education team in the off-season and can chat as much as weekly during the season. Ann Legon (United Kingdom), our Judge’s Team Administrator, does an excellent job of not only preparing the   monthly newsletter, but keeping all the judges informed about the activities surrounding our certified contests. She is also responsible for keeping all contact information for all the judges and prospective judges. We would be lost       without her.

SV: Can you explain what your position with DCE is?

BT: My title is the Director of Education. My position with DCE is to make revisions to the manual, answer issues that arise regarding an interpretation of any part of the manual from staff and instructors, and plan all education sessions for the DCE Judging Team.

After DCE Championships each year, we invite all judges to a meeting held the next day. We ask for input on the system as well as what educational topics they would like to emphasize for the coming year.

It is a collaborative process. We hold one judges college each year as well as parlor sessions before each contest. These parlor sessions are hosted by our certified judges about topics we feel are important or need more clarity.

I also write white papers about different topics for the Web site. We put out a judges newsletter once a month for eight months of the year and every other month for the other part of the year.

SV: You’re still judging over here. Has your involvement in DCE limited how many shows you see in the U.S.?

BT: I am still very involved in DCI and judged semifinals this past summer in Indy. I judge a full schedule of DCI shows. I usually attend an early show in Europe before the DCI schedule gets underway and then I come over for DCE Championship in late September.

I have had some of our DCE judges come on DCI tour with me for educational purposes. John Phillips, the DCI Judging Coordinator, and DCI Executive Director Dan Acheson have been very supportive of DCE and I would like to thank them personally for all they have done.

Dan will be attending our DCE Winter Symposium in London this year. We are thrilled to have his involvement in DCE.

SV: What do you think is the most important aspect of future development for the corps in Europe?

BT: I believe we need to have more sponsors, both U.S. and European, as well as grow the interest for drum corps in Europe. DCE has financial issues, just like every other pageantry activity. We would like to encourage U.S. sponsors to join us at the DCE Championship every year.

Marcel and I are working on some revisions to the scoring system to encourage the entertainment value for corps so that we can increase the size of the audiences for all shows.
SV: What kinds of things have caught your attention most about the corps over there?

BT: The corps members and staff are very eager to learn and get better. The competitive spirit is genuine and they still cheer for each other. The other experience that has been very satisfying is how the different countries react to each other.

SV:   What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the American movement?

BT: I believe it is the financial challenge. The cost of fielding a DCI corps is becoming more expensive every year. We have a great supply of talented young performers in the U.S., but some are unable to afford the experience.

SV: What about the future for DCE and the activity in Europe?

BT: We believe DCE has been growing at an incredible rate and we don’t see that stopping in the near future. We have had many inquiries about using the DCE system in different pageantry activities, not just in Europe. We are talking to Malaysia as well as other countries about our system and the certification process we use for the judges.

Organizations want a fair system with qualified judges. We are working on providing a great experience for all involved.

In 2009, we had 45 different corps participate in our 11 certified contests. We could have an additional four to five certified contests in 2010 and who know how many new corps. We have seen a growth in every country with new corps or community bands wanting to convert to drum and bugle corps.

SV: Anything else you’d like to add about your experiences with DCE and the European units?

BT: I would like to invite anyone who would like more information about DCE or would consider being a financial sponsor to contact me at Please visit our Web site at: The Web site is published in several languages

SV: Thanks very much for adding your perspective on a movement that spread across the Atlantic in the mid-1970s and is now thriving.