The drum corps activity lost one of its most colorful personalities Tuesday, Dec. 7, when DCI Hall of Fame member Sal Ferrera passed away in Chicago after a lengthy illness.
A snare drummer during the earliest days of the Cavaliers, Ferrera realized he had a knack for writing music for bugles. From 1953 through 1972, he put his talents to use as the corps’ arranger, creating many memorable arrangements that helped launch the Green Machine to a multitude of VFW and American Legion National Championships.
Ferrera wore many hats in the Cavaliers; he not only arranged for the brass, but also instructed the horn line and served as both music director and program director for the corps for 20 years. From 1973 through 1977, he served as executive vice president and corps director succeeding corps founder Don Warren.
“Sal Ferrera was an original 1948 Troop 111 Cavalier, and with Don Warren building a world class organization, the person most responsible for the on-field product, style and energy that resulted in the first dynasty of Cavalier champions during the ‘50s, ‘60s and into the mid ‘70s,” said Chris Hartowicz, a Cavaliers member from 1969-1977 under Ferrera’s direction. “He was inspiring, fiery and beloved by the Cavaliers that came of age during that era.”
The Cavaliers’ distinctive uniform of green satin blouses and shakos were designed by Ferrera in 1951. In 1976, he decided the corps needed a visual update and designed the vest and hat with feather that became the corps’ new trademark, a design that has slowly evolved into today’s uniform.
More recently in 2008, Ferrera spent many hours around the Cavaliers Anniversary Corps (CAC), an alumni group that was formed in honor of the corps’ 60th anniversary. While sharing his memories with the members and providing much emotional support toward the project, he was able to inspire a whole new generation of Cavaliers alumni.
At the DCI World Championship Semifinals in '08, CAC members presented two of Ferrera’s most-loved arrangements, “Bully” and “Battle Hymn.” They also played “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” a piece that when first introduced by Ferrera in the ‘50s, quickly became the Cavaliers’ musical signature.
The Cavaliers Anniversary Corps' performance at the 2008 DCI World Championships in Bloomington, Ind.
Ferrera was also instrumental in the early days of Drum Corps International. He is regarded as the architect of DCI’s policy and organizational structure and developed the revenue-sharing program that allowed drum corps to become self-financing. Rather than depending on the rapidly descending earnings setup that rewarded the top corps most of the prize money at contests, he created the system of performance fees that allowed all corps to benefit from appearing at shows.
He will be greatly missed by all the men who wore the green and by those throughout the drum corps activity who have benefited from his talents, his dedication and his foresight.
“This is a sad day for our fraternity,” said Hartowicz. “The man who brought ‘Rainbow’ to the Cavaliers has passed over it.”