Drum Corps International
A Life's experience with Florida Wave

A Life's experience with Florida Wave

by Michael Boo


Michael Boo, all wrapped up.
Ray Floyd contributed the following follow-up on the corps and the experience gained by his three daughters who marched with Florida Wave. Next week, we'll continue on the Florida Wave theme with a contribution about the corps' 1984 season, when they performed every night during the DCI World Championships. I was raised in southwest Louisiana and never had a clue about drum corps. Free time was spent fishing and hunting, while summer included days swimming in the river. I enjoyed music, playing French horn, baritone, and Sousaphone in the high school band, and received a music scholarship to play baritone in the local college band. Not knowing exactly what I wanted to do, I joined the service and had my first opportunity at drum corps through the Air Force Drum Corps, Lowry AFB, Denver. It only lasted one year while I was in technical school, but it made an impression on me as something to be enjoyed. Fast-forward about 20 years to 1980. My oldest daughter, a sophomore trumpet player in high school, informed me that she wanted to march with a drum corps that summer, the Florida Wave. She was so enthusiastic about the tour and the opportunities to "grow and learn more about music and marching." And, she said, "It is only $650 to join!" ONLY $650? She told me that the following weekend was the start of camp and that I needed to go with her to see for myself (and sign the papers). Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to go with her. Unfortunately, her younger twin sisters wanted to tag along, too. My first impression was not the most favorable one could have. The Wave practice was held at the South Florida State Hospital. They had converted one of the old barracks into their kitchen and recreation center. It was loaded with propped up tables, pots and pans stored haphazardly in the kitchen, chairs with no legs, and what seemed like hundreds of young people eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drinking Kool-Aid. Chaos reigned supreme! I was introduced to the staff and hordes of young people, most of who came from the various high schools in the area. Much to my surprise, there were even a couple of visitors from England who had come to play and tour that summer with the Wave. Someone yelled, "Let's hit the field!" Suddenly the young people were putting their trash away and filing outside. Soon, the only sound in the barracks was the clatter of pots being cleaned and the quiet conversation of the parents as they planned their next meal, talked about things that needing doing, and the upcoming tour some sixty days away. The twins and I went outside to observe what was going on. There weren't any instruments in hand, but they were beginning to work the summer drill. They would start from the entrance formation and count the beats of the music. They would stop every 20 or so counts and check their position. If someone was off, there was an instructor in their face explaining (like the Marine drill instructor) the error of their way. I was impressed by the intensity of the instructor, and, even more so, by the corps members. Once, I saw a member look down when the corps had stopped, see they had made a mistake, and drop down and do 20 push-ups! No one told them to, just self-discipline taking over as a reminder of the concentration required to correct the errors. The practice went on for about an hour, followed by a 15-minute drink break. This routine went on until about 6 p.m., when it was time to feed again. Before the unit was dismissed, they were reminded that music would be added the next day, and everyone was responsible to have their music memorized through the first two segments. While I didn't think about it at the time, when and where had my daughter obtained and learned her music? I think there was something going on behind my back! I decided to go back the next day, along with the twins. I was interested in seeing how the corps put music to what appeared to be a rather intricate drill. I was also puzzled about the idea of moving through such intricacies and playing at the same time. It seemed impossible! When we arrived, the corps was working on sectional performance. I moved from section to section, watching the instructor working with the section and individuals, helping put the sound that was wanted into reality. Like yesterday, a mistake was not played through. The music stopped, the error noted, and the music started again. Repetition, repetition, repetition. It had to be automatic, as the mind couldn't concentrate on the music AND the drill. I was most impressed with a visit to the drum line. The leader of the line was holding the practice, but with no less fervor or demand than any other instructor. The leader would say, "Ready!," and then give four rim shots to establish the tempo. On cue, the snares, quads and base drums would begin to roll through their music. The sound of thunder couldn't have been any louder -- with the bass drums rolling up and down their scale. I think I was beginning to get hooked! That morning I was also fortunate to meet two of the people associated with the Florida Wave: Jo Wessman, the executive director, and Peggy Wooley. While it was easy to see the importance of Jo's job, I didn't fully appreciate Peggy's yet. Jo had marched with the Florida Wave many years ago and was instrumental in trying to get the corps active again. Peggy was the "mom" for the corps. If someone needed an aspirin, they came to her. If they had a blister, they came to her. If they had a spat with their boyfriend or girlfriend, they came to her. If Jo was the heart of the corps, Peggy was the soul. It was a great loss to drum corps and all those kids who had a chance to know her when Peggy died a couple of years ago after a long illness. After lunch, it was time to hit the practice field with full instrumentation and equipment. The afternoon rehearsal started with the traditional warm-up for everyone. The drum line -- given the cadence by the drum major -- worked through their repertoire as they had in the morning, while the horns began a series of chords. Somewhere in the process, the corps segued into a very moving rendition of "Shenandoah." It sent a chill through me! The sound level increased ever so slowly, the drum beat intensified until the air seemed to pulse, and I thought my eardrums would burst. As one prominent sportscaster would say, "Awesome baby, awesome!" When they finished the warmup, the corps quickly moved into position to begin their program. Once again the drum major gave the cadence, and the Wave begin to play one of their recognized trademarks of Latin salsa music as they weaved through the drill. I found it almost impossible to believe that they could perform both the music and drill with such precision and sound. It was remarkable, and I knew that I had found something worth supporting with my time, money, and heart. I was hooked! For the next 10 years I worked with the Wave as a driver, cook, fund-raiser, maintenance hand and tour director. Two daughters aged out with the Wave. One decided she wanted to march at least one year in a top 12 corps, so she did her age-out year with Blue Devils. If I remember correctly, she got her wish and the thrill of coming ever so close to the top spot, a second place finish for BD that year. Where does one begin the memory of those 10 years? The first few were a struggle to keep the corps together; raising funds, repairing aging equipment, feeding, housing, and the list goes on. We continued to make progress, but it seemed to be measured in tenths of points instead of whole points. 1983 was a breakthrough year for the Wave. We had our strongest corps yet and scored well for our size. The DCI World Championships were held in Miami that year, and the Wave had the top Class A score -- we thought we had become the Class A Champions. Unfortunately, due to some obscure rule, it was not allowed. The rule was changed that winter, and the Wave was able to repeat itself in Atlanta the following year and became the Class A Champion. Another memory from that show was the performance of Garfield's "West Side Story" and the haunting sounds of "Maria." Over the years, the Wave established itself as an innovative corps with a Latin beat. Their shows centered on the rhythmic sounds of Latin music, with costumes to match. One of the things I learned: Tennessee red clay and white pants do not mix! We loved the Sevierville show, but the little school that housed the corps was about 20 miles away from the show ground. The school didn't have a football field, so we had to clear a field adjacent to the grounds and use that. It offered one major challenge, about a 20-degree down slope from side to side! We decided if we could march there, we could march anywhere. Another time, in Rock Island, Ill., I remember the corps huddled in the buses, wondering if we were about to be hit by tornadoes. There was high wind, rain, lightning and a tornado warning being broadcast. Here we had come from the land of hurricanes to meet up with a tornado -- talk about not fair! From my early days in a military drum corps, music was primarily marches, and drill was simple square cuts and diagonal movement. Contrasting that with the music and drill I watched over the years with the Wave, there is simply no comparison to the degree of difficulty or the value of entertainment to the fan. What has evolved through the years is simply marvelous. It was interesting to watch Santa Clara continue to perfect the drill, music and actions over a two-year period with "Phantom of the Opera." Drum Corps International championship venues in Miami, Atlanta, Madison and Kansas City (and many more since) were always superb and well-attended. If you look at the corps that competed in these events, the list seems to go on and on. Some have come into existence, gone to the top, and then dropped from sight: Star of Indiana as an example. Others continue to be able to perform at the top level year in and year out: Cavaliers, Scouts, Blue Devils, Santa Clara, Phantom, Cadets (I will always remember them as Garfield), Boston and Glassmen, to mention a few. Some, like the Wave, have moved up, but never quite reached the coveted goal of the top 12. The best the Wave could do was 13th. As one of my daughters liked to say, "The best of the rest!" Others have been there and now seem to be struggling to regain their step. It takes so many things to come together for success. It is an ongoing struggle to keep at the top of the game. Looking back at the work, blood, sweat, tears, frustration and, at times, despair, I can say that the memories associated with the effort made it all worthwhile. Helping the corps through the years made me a better person, both professionally and personally. I have watched my children gain self-confidence, maturity and understanding in what it means to have a supportive team in which to work. They are better for the experience. I cannot imagine any single endeavor that a young person could become involved in that could produce such dramatic and long lasting effects as drum corps. It is a life's experience. Fanfare archives 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.

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