Fanfare: George B. as I know him
The following was contributed by 27th Lancers alum Stephanie Louden.
“Nobody ever said it was easy to be a 27th Lancer!” This was a phrase that was pegged in the 1984 season through trials and tribulations of recruitment issues. Everyone seemed to be headed to the current DCI Champion “Gahfield” Cadets -- as we called them -- to march.
However, George Bonfiglio was the man behind the scenes who kept things rolling along. He was the founder and the leader of the 27th Lancers from Revere, Mass. He let the staff run the show and only stepped in to take care of things when needed. For example, he even drove the bus if needed.
I joined 27th Lancers in the last two weeks of the 1984 season. I had been in Bloomington, Ind., visiting a friend of mine whom I marched with in the Memphis Blues Brass Band, a corps that folded in 1983. A lot of us were still close to each other, and she invited me up to visit for a couple of weeks. She kept telling me about this new corps that was forming in Bloomington that her friends wanted her to join. It’s funny how things have a way of coming full circle.
George Bonfiglio is a man of great integrity. He is a man who loves kids, animals, football, baseball and drum corps. He loves the New England Patriots, the Boston Red Sox and is a Korean War Veteran. He taught at an elementary school in Malden, Mass., for more than 25 years, plus five years in private schools. You could see that he had a great love for children and wanted to extend his love by forming a musical youth organization.
I was blessed to have toured with the 27th Lancers those last two weeks in 1984. The corps was performing at a show in Bloomington while I was in town, and my friend and I went to see them rehearse. Many of our friends from Memphis Blues were marching in the corps that year. 27th offered us a spot to march the remaining two weeks of the season.
Actually, the corps called me to come march with them some months earlier. A high school friend was in the corps and had been begging me to join as well. I finally took them up on the offer that day. I hopped on the bus in Bloomington, not knowing exactly what was in store for me, but taking a chance on something that ended up changing my life forever. Unable to learn the show in the time allotted, I was asked if I could conduct. I tried out for the backfield conductor position and made that spot.
There had been some issues with the horn line that year, though the drum line was incredible. Some phasing problems occurred during the DCI World Championship prelims. The horn line was eager to blame the problems on me, since I was new to the game, but the drum line stood up for me, as they had been watching me. After all, they came in second place by .1, so who were they to be argued with?
George B. and I had an almost instant admiration for each other. After a big meeting where certain staff members tried to lay blame for the phasing problems, I stood up to them and stated they weren’t going to blame me for something that had been going on all year. Here I was, this young lady from the South, brand new to the corps, and I was standing up to them.
George B. rose up and made some comments to the corps about the situation, telling them they were not going to make this my fault. He told them to find a way to fix the problem. So the staff did, and they got me a higher podium that allowed me to be seen by the corps. Ahh! That worked. We had an excellent performance in finals and finished in 11th place. After all that, I didn’t know if I wanted to come back and march or not. But something kept gnawing at me that I had to go back and prove myself to these people.
When the corps called me to come and try out for the 1985 season, I took them up on their offer and auditioned for a mellophone spot. I remember that at the first camp, the vets couldn’t believe I had the audacity to come back after what happened. To them, what happened in prelims was still my fault.
George B. told me that when he saw me coming through the door to try out, I had forever formed a special place in his heart.
I made the corps, but I had to constantly prove myself. I was from the South and I talked funny. But it seemed the majority of the corps in those years was from the South.
I remember we had many bus breakdowns. During DCI World Championships week, there was a new corps on the block, Star of Indiana. They won prelims and were allowed to compete in Open Class if they chose to. [This was before the system used today for quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.] We thought we were OK as far as making finals, even though we had been battling it out for the bottom spots all summer. But to our surprise and dismay, Star made finals, placing tenth, and this allowed no room for a slim margin of error. We fell out of finals by .3.
George B. knew we were heartbroken. He wanted to give it another try to show the world that we were true entertainers. Drum corps was changing, and some of the traditions of the corps had to be dismissed to some extent. 1986 was my age-out year. I decided I wanted to go back to march my age out year with 27th, although friends had been trying to persuade me to go to Star. We had a point to prove.
That year, however, turned out to present more bus breakdowns then any normal corps should have to deal with. One night, I believe during the first tour, George B. ended up driving the bus and he wanted someone to stay up and talk with him. We became closer that night. When we came back home, I would live between the corps hall and the Bonfiglio house. It was set up that out-of-state kids stayed with the locals. I got lucky and got to hang out more then most at the Bonfiglio house. I had gained four new sisters and a brother, plus a grandfather I never really knew. This was how I had begun to feel towards George B. He was more than just the director of the corps.
He opened his home and his heart to me and told me he was proud of me for coming back. Some people are intimidated by George B. They don’t know how to take him. But he loves kids and he considers us all his kids. He knows each and every person who ever marched in the corps. I know this may seem unreal to some, but I have witnessed this myself. He takes the time to get to know his “kids.” He had built a family and the 27th Lancers are forever an extended family. He treats me like I am part of his family. It is a special feeling.
He has introduced me to some icons of drum corps, but to me he is the ultimate icon. He is one of the founding fathers of DCI, one of the original DCI Hall of Fame members, and he brought so much joy and entertainment to the drum corps community. He always told me 27th Lancers are about entertaining and being part of a family. They always entertained!
That’s how I felt, too. I was happy in my final season of 1986 and made the mellophone quartet. We changed our uniform and our identity to some extent. There was no more “Danny Boy” and we were doing “Broadway.” Barbara Streisand? The 27th Lancers? We had a great show and we had the top-notch staff. George Zingali wrote the drill and Frank Dorritie arranged the music. But for some reason it still wasn’t enough for us and we came in 13th place again. This -- coupled with the issue of bus breakdowns -- was too much for George B. to bear. He couldn’t put the safety of the kids at risk anymore. He had to make the decision to fold the corps until at such time as they could get the money for new safe buses and new equipment.
That year a bond formed between Star of Indiana and 27th Lancers. They assisted us in making it to the DCI World Championships in Madison that year by allowing us to use their buses. George B. and Star’s Bill Cook have remained friends to this day. I also feel a special place in my heart for the 1986 Star of Indiana, as they helped me to age out properly. Although we didn’t make finals that year, the members of Star took the gloves, shoes and spats of those Lancers who aged out and formed a “27” on the field during retreat in tribute to us. Members of the two corps then joined together -- arms around each other -- in the parking lot and sang “Danny Boy” at the top of our lungs one last time.
The 27th Lancers may have faded into a memory that night, but they will always live on in our hearts. George B. and I are still close to this day. He has stood by me through some hard situations in my life, as the whole family has. I have an extended family now, one that is forever etched in my heart -- George Bonfiglio and the 27th Lancers.
He is a man who loves children and music and decided to do something about it. I for one am glad he did.
Thank you, George B., for starting a wonderful drum corps and helping to found an organization that provided so much entertainment. Thank you for showing us the meaning of “family” and all your other lessons that you taught to “your kids.” Thank you for opening up your heart and home to many others and myself. We love you!
Michael Boo has been involved with drum and bugle corps since 1975, when he marched his first of three seasons with the Cavaliers.
He has a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in music theory and composition.
He has written about the drum corps activity for over a quarter century for publications such as Drum Corps World, and presently is involved in a variety of projects for Drum Corps International, including souvenir program books, CD liner notes, DCI Update and Web articles, and other endeavors.
Michael currently writes music for a variety of idioms, is a church handbell and vocal choir director, an assistant director of a community band, and a licensed Realtor in the state of Indiana. His other writing projects are for numerous publications, and he has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating.
His hobbies include TaeKwonDo and hiking the Indiana Dunes.
But more than anything, Michael is proud to love drum corps and to be a part of the activity in some small way, chronicling various facets of each season for the enjoyment of others.