Drum Corps International
Drum corps phone home

Drum corps phone home

by Michael Boo


A 1991 Boston Crusaders color guard member
makes a call on a nearby pay phone.
On March 7, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell was granted a patent for the invention of something he called a telephone, which led to an even greater contribution to American culture; the lyrics of Lady GaGa's "Telephone": Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh Stop telephonin' me! Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh I'm busy, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh [Writer pauses … wipes his eyes … contemplates the futility of life based on knowing he'll never create anything with such emotional staying power.] The drum corps activity has had a long love affair with the telephone. (Don't tell the microphone on the corps marimbas that—they get jealous.) Well, actually, drum corps has had a long love affair with multiple telephones, but commitment with technology is the least of our problems. During DCI's first two decades, before the Internet changed life as we know it (the dark years of no online cat videos to watch), corps fans had to call others to learn the scores from various contests. It was either that or wait several days for the drum corps newspapers to arrive. Seriously, we had no way of knowing what happened if we didn't call someone. (Oh, the humanity!) Many individual drum corps realized there was a vacuum in score accessibility and created their own score hotlines, which were updated each night and provided recordings of scores to select shows for anyone who called. I sometimes called the Phantom Regiment line, which I believe was the first one in my part of the country. The Cadets also had such a service and so did practically every big corps in California.

Blue Devils Brass Director Wayne Downey sends
a text message from the front sideline in the 1970s.
At one point in time DCI even got into the game creating a pay-per-call number for the fans, 900-CAN-DRUM. This too was a popular service in the days before the Internet, when memories were still strong of dinosaurs roaming the earth. Also, back in the early days of DCI and before cell phones, corps sent out letters to parents giving them local phone numbers for the housing sites where the corps would be staying, should there be a need to call in case of emergency. Parents were also given the number of someone—usually in the corps' hometown—who would be in touch with the corps on the road. It wasn't unknown for corps traveling between sites to have someone call this person from a payphone to learn if there were any messages. That is what Velvet Knights Director Jack Bevins was hoping for in 1992 when he was left by the corps in the parking lot of the Vanderbilt University Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., after the DCI Preview of Champions. I found Jack sitting by himself in the empty lot after all the corps trucks and buses had left. (It later turned out that the cook vehicle thought the equipment vehicle had picked him up, and vice-versa.) I took Jack back to my hotel room and then drove him the next day some 230 miles to the next show in Winchester, Ky. Along the way, we stopped at a few payphones so he could call the corps contact person back in California to learn if anyone called in, wondering where he was. It wasn't until lunchtime on the road that the corps realized he was missing; being that Jack held all the money for food. And since a corps travels on its stomach, the collective rumblings of the tummies of the VK members and staff perhaps led someone to wish that cell phones were as ubiquitous as product placements in the new "The Lorax" movie, which has close to 70 different product tie-ins. While the German liner SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was the first ship to send wireless signals to shore all the way back in 1900, (amazingly, also on this day … cue VK's "Jaws" theme from 1992), new advances in digital technology and the sale of cell phones in stores such as Radio Shack wouldn't occur until a century later, between the years 1995 and 2000.

A Blue Devils member makes a celebratory call
from the field after winning the World Championship in 2009.
If Jack and his staff had access to cell phones back in 1992, he wouldn't have been left alone in the parking lot and the corps would have enjoyed something more to eat on the road than cheese crackers from a truck stop. These days, almost everyone has a cell phone, and with the popularization of smart phones, corps members traveling in the Midwest know the scores of shows out east before the scores are announced at the shows in which they're competing. More remarkably, corps members traveling along the Pacific Coast may know the scores of shows on the East Coast before they even take the field. Of course one downside to this new infusion of technology is the proliferation of cell phone chargers that compete with laptop chargers, tablet chargers and air mattress inflators for the limited electrical outlets in the gyms that house corps on the road. I once read about a corps staying in a gym that had one outlet and how it took much of the night for members to get their mattresses inflated. As for getting their electronic equipment recharged, fugetaboutit. In the days of DCI's earliest years, we slept in sleeping bags on the floor and went days before finding out our parents had moved without leaving a forwarding address or contact phone info. AND WE LIKED IT! In special honor of Alexander Graham Bell receiving the patent on the telephone 136 years ago today, I'm officially declaring today, "Phone a Drum Corps Friend Day." And if the friend asks why you're calling, tell them I told you to do so and if they have any problem with that, they can take it up with Jack Bevins. Also, if you haven't already done so, you should also take this opportunity to pick up your cell phone and call the DCI Box Office at 317.275.1212 to order tickets for your favorite DCI shows this coming summer. Unfortunately, due to the numeral "1" not having a letter equivalent on a phone touch pad, there is no snappy term like "CAN DRUM" that you can use to remember the number. Or, as Lady Gaga might say, "Eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh, eh."
Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than a quarter century and serves as a staff writer for various Drum Corps International projects. Boo has written for numerous other publications and has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating. As an accomplished composer, Boo holds a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in music theory and composition. He resides in Chesterton, Ind.

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