Drum Corps International
"Be Instrumental" with the Academy

"Be Instrumental" with the Academy

by Michael Boo

This column is especially timely since the Academy was approved this past weekend to enter Division I competition for the 2007 season. Following are two perspectives on the corps. Tom Stillwell contributed the following about the corps' "Be Instrumental" program. During the early formation of the Arizona Academy of the Performing Arts, it was clear to the Board they would need to fund their own musical instruments for many of the music education programs we envisioned. However, as a "grass roots" organization with limited funding, we realized we would need to design a five-year strategic plan to absorb this investment and thrive in the early years of development. Thus was born our "Be Instrumental" funding program. As a part of the first phase, our executive director envisioned having approximately 60 brass instruments that range in price from $1,200 to $6,800. After evaluating the total cost of the instruments, a decision was made to finance them over a five-year period with the average cost of all 60 instruments coming to $2,500. That became the price of each instrument "adoption." As an incentive, we offered the instrument adopters the option of having their name(s) and a short inscription placed on an instrument with a life span of 10 years or more. This would be their legacy, and they could attach their family names to fulfilling the dreams of Academy students every year for ten years or more. Our hope was to fund 60 instruments over a five-year period. We successfully completed the funding of 64 brass instruments, percussion equipment and auxiliary equipment in less than four years. Two years ago, when my son was selected for the corps, I learned that they needed a few more horns adopted. I chose to sign up for the program, and I've been making periodic payments on my pledge ever since. In Madison, I got to see "my" horn for the first time. It's a trumpet, played by one of the corps' two high-note specialists. The inscription reads, "In Honor of Five Generations of Stillwell Family Brass Musicians."
"In Honor of Five Generations of Stillwell Family Brass Musicians."

Other adopters have had inspirational phrases engraved on their horns, but I know for a fact that every corps member considers their horn to be special because of this personalization. I'm very proud of the Academy, and it is gratifying to know that I've had a direct hand in creating that sound. Jonathan J. Cooper contributed the following. I spent this past summer on a sunny beach on the southern coast of Spain. As I was relaxing in the laid-back Spanish culture, my brother Jeff spent the summer at home in Arizona, paying a lot of money to work harder than he'd ever worked before. Our summers could not have been more different. Fighting constant sunburn, my brother spent 13-hour days rehearsing with the Academy, trying to accomplish one straightforward goal: survive and thrive with the corps. In a way, my brother's personal story is the story of the Academy—an uphill battle to survive and thrive in a difficult climate and a slow but determined and committed climb toward success. Joining in May to fill a spot in the membership, my brother entered a solid organization in the middle of the game. Everyone else knew the music and drill. Everyone else had adjusted to the demanding drum corps lifestyle, and everyone else had already made friends. The Academy came fairly recently to drum corps, becoming a new corps in the well-established Drum Corps International community. Other corps had a solid base of donors, members, parents and staff and had experience organizing a national tour. My brother was challenged when he first joined the corps. He was not used to the physical demands placed on him, he was new to playing the mellophone, and he had not fully prepared to jump head first into the drum corps lifestyle. He quickly caught up and fell in love with the organization, but it was a somewhat rough start. By some insane fluke of luck, the Academy joined DCI and immediately thrived, maintaining three undefeated seasons and becoming the Division II World Champions in the corps' third competitive season.
Academy percussion members pose after winning the
2006 DCI Division II World Championship.

Or maybe it wasn't an insane fluke of luck. Maybe the Academy's success was a direct reflection of a smart, determined, disciplined-but-patient plan. The corps' executive director, Mark Richardson, calls the approach "baby steps." The Arizona Academy of the Performing Arts was established in 2000. The first seed of a drum corps was planted in 2001 and the Academy spent its first three years as a standup music ensemble. The group, then known as the Summer Brass and Percussion Ensemble, performed at various community events like an Arizona Diamondbacks baseball game and the city of Tempe's annual Fourth of July celebration. Richardson slowly worked to grow the organization's financial base and volunteer help. He raised money through the corps' "Be Instrumental" program, which raised sufficient funds to buy the Academy's brass instruments. In June 2004, the Academy stepped onto the field in California as a competitive unit for the first time. The corps extended its tour length and distance in 2005 and finally reached the World Championship finals competition in 2006. "It's worked really well, in that each year it seems we've gotten progressively better," Richardson told me recently. "We've never had to take a step back and recover from financial losses so it's been growing and growing ever sense." But I think the Academy's success can be traced to much more than its business model. As a member of the marching band that Richardson directed at Corona del Sol High School in the Academy's hometown of Tempe, I know the corps owes its success to superb instruction in both musical technicality and personal character. Richardson has an impeccable eye for detail and has assembled a highly qualified staff with the same dedication. He's fully committed to developing his students as people, not just as marchers. With such rapid and significant success, the Academy's staff strongly emphasizes humility amongst the members. You'd have to know Richardson to truly understand how genuinely devoted he is to that end. "We try to teach the kids to be humble, no matter how successful, no matter how thick their track record of winning becomes," Richardson said. "Always try to approach other teams with open arms. Be friendly, never look past the fact that you're a human being."


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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