Drum Corps International
I had discovered music: A Tribute to memorable instructors

I had discovered music: A Tribute to memorable instructors

by Michael Boo


Michael Boo
The following contributions were the result of readers being asked to share their recollections about memorable drum corps instructors. Jake Theobald joined the Colt Cadets in 1975. As he recounts, "I really didn't expect to gain much from the program other than the opportunity to spend the summer practicing and developing my skills as a trumpet player. In reality, I was taking a step that would profoundly affect the way I thought and worked for the rest of my life. "Our Cadet director, Richard 'Dick' Mills, was a former Green Beret who possessed many of the personality traits of the drill sergeant in Stanley Kubrick's movie, 'Full Metal Jacket.' He was tough, brash, and domineering. He also made it crystal clear to everyone that he expected unparalleled dedication when it came to participating in the Cadet program. Success wasn't something for which we would strive, it was simply something that was going to happen. "He pushed us incredibly hard. I recall spending hours under the hot summer sun practicing while many of my friends were playing baseball and going to the pool. In fact, I remember once when someone's mother complained he was working us too hard, and he brought it to our attention those complaints would only make him push us harder. I'll never forget that sinking feeling that someone's (whining) mother had just ratcheted up the intensity for us. Like we needed to be working harder! "Beyond working us ragged, our director instilled in us a desire to succeed beyond innumerable odds. We were a 70-member Cadet corps, with 'adequate skills' at best, yet he would fire us up to go out and try to overtake a Division I corps. (Those were the days when the 'tick system' ruled judging, and this would be practically impossible for us.) "In fact, I remember at our home show, he had to call us aside, and cool our fire a bit because he had heard some of our members talking about beating our 'A' corps, the Colts. There was no way this could have ever happened, but our director seized it as an opportunity to teach us about respect, and reminded us that our existence was based on us aspiring to one day be a member of the Colts. They were the one organization with whom we did not compete. "Most memorable was the speech he made at our annual banquet. He commended us for our accomplishments, and explained that we, the members, were his heroes. We didn't waste time, or get into trouble like some of the other kids in our city did that summer. We were too busy accomplishing something exceptional. His speech was a twinkle of humanity from an otherwise gruff individual. It was clear that we had made him proud. "The pursuit of excellence and unwavering commitment to succeed, which I learned in the Cadet program, is something that drives me in my career every day. Drum corps is the place that I learned the difference between 'trying' and 'doing.' After all, with enough hard work, success is simply something that is going to happen." Tom MaKinster wishes to offer Bob Zazzara as his most memorable instructor. According to Tom, "Bob worked with many corps in the Twin Tiers area of New York over the years. He also was a member of the All-American Judging Circuit, and I believe he did other judging. Mr. Z, as we called him, was awesome. He had the ability to motivate everyone 'out of his or her gourds.' He was always available to talk to about anything. "He had the ability to take kids from all walks of life and make them feel like family. He always stressed team and teamwork. "As drum major of one of his corps, I got to see both sides of Mr. Z. He could motivate, discipline, and train you at the same time. I think if you talked with anyone who ever worked with Mr. Z, you would find a respect that never waivers. I had the opportunity to see Mr. Z at a reunion this past summer, and I felt like one of his sons coming home. I am now almost 50, spent many years in the service, and will tell you he is a TRUE LEADER." "Rocky" VanBrimmer played euphonium in Dutch Boy in 1993. His most memorable instructor is corps director Al DiCroce. Al seemed to always carry a massive orange cup of coffee with him, one Rodney swears was about a gallon. But Rodney remembers Al's dedication, saying, "He worked with me one night, lifting his feet up and down to keep beat, twirling his hands in circles of one another going 'Dak a doo da, dak a doo da, dak a doo da' to teach me a lick. "He made me sooooo mad at him during the summer, I thought the most negative things about a person. However, when it was all said and done, I realized he wanted me to be the best I could be. He gave so much of himself for us to succeed, and when it was all said and done, he was proud of us. "The man taught me so many life lessons at the age of 19. I am truly grateful and lucky to have spent my entire summer with him, and everyone in the Dutch Boy organization. That was the best year of my drum corps life ... It even beats out marching a top-12 corps. The man is dedicated! "I do not believe I ever got to say 'thank you' to Al. I hope he sees this." Three instructors influenced Shane Ainsworth, who marched Southwind in 1996, aged out with Pioneer in 1998 and served as a visual tech with Pioneer in 2000 and 2001. According to Shane, "Don Kaihatsu was the brass caption head at Pioneer that year. He always had words of wisdom and went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that we were having a good time and playing our best. "Don has been around drum corps for a long, long time. He uses his vacation time in the summers to travel and tech/consult with drum corps, and I don't think he accepts any pay for it. He is an outstanding man and was a DCI Volunteer of the Year. "Dann Petersen was the soprano visual tech at Pioneer. He was a great instructor and a great friend who was always there for the soprano section and for each person as an individual. He marched soprano with Madison Scouts, aging out in 1997. I really learned a lot from him. "Pete Harvey was a visual tech at Pioneer. He marched contra with Madison Scouts for several years before aging out in 1995. He is a very fun-loving person and knows how to get the most out of kids. He was always the guy that pushed us to be better, he would never settle for less than our best and always made sure we didn't, either." Drew Ross marched with Tarheel Sun in 1997 and 1998, and Crossmen from 1999 through 2001, and served as a brass instructor for Crossmen in 2002. He particularly remembers Evan Rogovin of Crossmen, calling Evan "part of a brass team that revitalized my desire to set goals and continue my path as a performer within the drum corps activity. "Evan has the ability to challenge you with every word he says. He would be willing to work with you after hours, and was always a great person to talk to about how you were feeling after a long day of rehearsing and performing. "Some of my best pre-show memories are from when the Crossmen soprano line would arc up for tuning and then run a few show segments. Evan would stand in front of us, while standing at parade rest, as if he were part of the line. He'd bring his hands up, and the entire soprano section would be so incredibly focused on sounding and looking their best. "When I instructed last season, I found myself standing in the same spot he did for two seasons while I was in the line, and every time I stood there I felt so proud to be where I was. Not much in the world has made me as proud as being in Crossmen, and I can thank great teachers such as Evan for the incredible feeling I had marching with the greatest drum corps I know. "Evan has served as an inspiration for members by providing a positive learning environment and influencing people through sharing his love of music with sixty-four brass players, summer after summer. He is a true gem in the activity! "Yes, Evan had quite an impact on me. The funny thing is, the more I think about it, the more I realize that nearly EVERY instructor I have ever had has had a similar impact! What a special experience!" Bryan Jenner marched Long Island Kingsmen from 1975 through 1980. He remembers Hugh Mahon working as a visual instructor with the corps, relating, "Hugh could never remember my name, but he thought I looked a lot like Woody Woodpecker. Thus, I was given the nickname Woody. (The name is still with me 25 years later.) "Hugh was famous for telling us that we would do it 'one more time,' and then would shout the word 'AGAIN!' at least ten more times. We were fortunate in those days to have Hugh, who was also with the Garfield Cadets. Hugh brought in Frank Dorritie from Garfield and Dennis Delucia, who back then was with Bridgemen. He was a true innovator of his day. "Hugh was very compassionate to members outside of rehearsal, but was a workhorse during. Oh, we always joked about the 'one more time' statement. It was quite often a topic of jest on bus rides!" Dennis Doherty's most memorable instructor is Jim Buckley. Dennis states that Jim "was one of Boston Crusaders' great snare drummers in the '60s. He taught me how to play drums when I marched in the St. John's Missiles from Winthrop, Mass. We had a very disciplined drum line for CYO Class C & B, one of the best. Some of his discipline methods I won't go into, but they paid off. "Jim also taught 27th Lancers in the late 60s and early 70s. He would try out drum combinations with us and use them with 27th. In the mid-'70s I joined 27th, but Jim was gone by then. However, his legend lived on, and his discipline paid off because there were quite a few drummers who were taught by Jim. By 1976, the 27th drum line was becoming a top-notch line because of this. "My most memorable moment with Jim was when we marched together in the 27th Alumni Corps in 1994. Man, what talent. By then I had several kids, and we all stayed at the 27th headquarters hotel in Waltham, Mass. The whole time there I kept hinting to Jim that my kids were going to get him back for all the tough discipline methods he used with me. He was always looking over his shoulder for them. Of course, in the end I was only kidding, but I loved the look on his face. Jim also taught the 27th line that year, and he let us get creative. "Another memorable instructor was Joe Morrella. In 1976 in Denver, we were running late because of bus mechanical problems. For warmups, before we left the school for the Drums Along the Rockies show in Denver, he had us marching around a small city block that must have been a mile. We did countless laps playing rolls and highlighted parts from our show. Santa Clara Vanguard was staying at the same school and they just watched us. At Mile High Stadium, we came off the field and I knew right then and there we won top drums and possibly the show. We won both." Robert Brown had several memorable instructors during his one year (1980) in the Blue Devils 'B' corps and five years (1981-1985) in the Blue Devils 'A' horn line, but his most memorable was horn instructor Jack Meehan. Robert says, "I was a clarinet player when I joined the Blue Devils 'B' corps. At the time, Jack Meehan would help out the 'B' corps brass instructors. I can still vividly recall the moment Jack came up to me, handed me a piston/rotor soprano and asked me to play middle C. I looked at him nervously and asked, 'How do I do that?' It did not faze him and he took a couple of extra minutes with me, teaching me how to play my first note on a brass instrument. "Jump ahead ten months to the November tryouts for the 1981 Blue Devils season. I had improved quite a bit on the soprano and at my dad's insistence, I tried out for the Blue Devils 'A' corps. I didn't think I had a chance, a 'B' corps third soprano making the 'A' corps. Compared to some of the others auditioning, I was outclassed. "I was the first person to go upstairs at the Blue Devils corps hall. There, behind a table, sat Jack and Wayne Downey. I auditioned, trying to do everything I was asked to do. I attempted to play my solo. About halfway through the solo, only air came out. I closed my eyes, nervous, and kept the fingers going and the air going. No notes, just air. "I was floored when corps director Jerry Seawright said I made the Blue Devils 'A' corps horn line. Perhaps Jack convinced Wayne to give me a shot since only ten months before I did not know how to play a note and there I was, trying out for a spot in the Blue Devils horn line. "Fast forward to Stillwater, Minn., during the 1982 Blue Devils (DCI Championship) season. I did the best show I had ever done, playing every note, not cracking a single one, and while marching a smooth drill. I was ecstatic because I had never played at that level before. "Jack came up to me after the performance and told me that I did a great show. For the life of me, I could not figure out how he knew about my performance ... I had yet to tell anybody, so I asked him how he knew. He told me that he picks one person to watch at every show and it was my night at Stillwater. He will watch that person throughout the show, watching the excitement of performing and making sure they are having fun to see how that individual is doing. "I realized that night how unique Jack was as an instructor and what a caring instructor he was." Chris Green is cofounder of Carolina Gold senior drum and bugle corps and has worked with various drum corps, including Blue Stars and 37th Kingswood (UK). He is the founder of Powerhouse drum and bugle corps, a future group based in Richmond, Va. He marched with Carolina Crown for four seasons, three of those seasons under Don Taylor. According to Don, "Under Don's instruction, I learned more than I ever did in school about brass performance. His technique and style are so different from just about anything else I had experienced to date. Don was always able to achieve a pipe organ-like sound regardless of the talent level of the performers. "Through his teaching, I not only learned about producing quality music, I learned how to experience music. For example: In 1992 quarterfinals, we were unable to PLAY a warmup due to schools in the area still being in session. We carefully went through our warmup routine, with lots of singing and mouthpiece buzzing. We tuned and played through a few soft chorales. We had tape recorders out ... but the sound was so intense (even at the soft volume we were playing) and resonant that the recorders were shaking. It was surreal. "We played through one chorale at full volume before leaving for the field. That sound has echoed in my heart, and is truly what made me fall in love with drum corps. Nothing can match the sound of the horn players' sound from that day. I couldn't stop sobbing until after our performance had ended. "I had discovered music."

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