Drum Corps International
In Celebration of the Spartans 50 years

In Celebration of the Spartans 50 years

by Michael Boo

Peter LaFlamme is director of the Spartans, which this year is celebrating its golden anniversary. Over the past 50 years, the Spartans have performed for eight different United States presidents and have represented New Hampshire in the past two presidential inaugural parades. No stranger to competitive success, the corps has won the DCI Division II World Championship three times over the past eight years, including last year. I asked Peter to write about what the corps means to him, to discuss his involvement over the years, and to discuss the defining moments in corps history, such as the devastating equipment truck fire of a few years ago. I was also curious what it was like to be a successful corps in a region with little competition and what the corps means to the community. The following is Peter's response to my questions. I am sort of a child drum corps prodigy. Spartans have been my life since birth. My father established the corps shortly after I was born and all my brothers and sisters were members of the Spartans at some point. I was always daydreaming of the Spartans since elementary school; as far back as I can remember. I remember doodling on my book covers, sketching logos day after day from upper elementary through high school. The corps always gave me a sense of security. It is difficult to describe, but I was always at home when I was with the corps, even before I was a member. Seeing the drive and desire my father had for it during the early years taught me what commitment was. I learned what it took as an individual to be a leader. Watching and learning for all my younger years gave me the desire to want to be the leader of this institution. Being a part of this activity and having such strong feelings for the Spartans and the people associated with it allowed me the inner strength to always push forward -- to never accept anything but my best and to strive for the highest goals I could reach as an individual and a team player. In my later years of elementary school, the Trojans feeder corps was formed in 1965, at the time the Spartans moved from Milford, N.H., to Nashua. The interest and excitement for this activity was growing and the time was right for a second corps. That was the start of my drum corps history. After two years with the feeder corps, I was quickly pulled up into the Spartans at age 12 to play mellophone. A few years on that and then I moved to the soprano line, where I earned my way to lead soloist. Many wonderful people went through the corps alongside me. Right around that period, many friends also went off to Vietnam. How things changed over time. I later became drum major during my ageout year, but had to leave the season early for health reasons and was replaced. After college, I became the director of the Spartans in 1980. While establishing myself with a new teaching career, I was also looking at the 25 years that had just passed. As we all know, the 1970s took a toll on many drum corps and thus so many have since disbanded. I stopped the corps for a sabbatical at that time and ran Spartans as a band program for several years. We found an old city building in 1980 that was unused, which had once been a fire station in the 1800s. It still had horse bins and the old brass pole for firemen to slide down. The building had gone through many uses over the decades and when we got it, it needed a lot of work. We fixed it up and turned it into our home for the next 10 years. After having our fill of running a private band program, we put the drum corps back together and here we are still evolving through the second 25-year period. In the mid-1980s, I developed a short- and long-term business plan for the corps, creating Spartan Coach lines in 1988 with the two buses we then had. In 1990, I did my homework in search of a bigger home with bigger plans. We found a vacant building most corps would drool over. It had once been Nashua's largest grocery store and was then leased by NYNEX telephone for many years until their break up. We found the owner of record, who was then trying to sell a property that was not selling in a stale market. We struck a deal creating the "Spartans Charitable Trust." It worked for everyone. Now into the 14th year of the trust, we only have seven years left to fulfill on those payments and the building is 100 percent ours, along with an adjacent property. We rent out part of and use the remaining part for the bus company garage. After winning our second DCI Division II Gold Championship in 1998, we came home tired, but thrilled -- local heroes that everyone loved. People generally don't care to know about the activity, nor do they care what a division is. The average person just loves to hear of success stories. They love winners. We all do. Devastation hit us, though. A fire ripped through both our equipment trailer and food trailer that were both still loaded with everything we had. We had not unpacked from tour yet and were scheduled to do so weeks later. It was a devastating blow to everyone with the Spartans. It was a blow to the entire community. It seemed as though everyone chipped in. I had never seen such great support in my life. This was not the first devastation to the corps. Back when the corps was still in Milford, they had another similar loss. I believe it was during either Memorial Day or Labor Day. The corps was doing a couple of parades. I remember because my father dragged me along to most of the local events. At the time the corps used the work truck of the business manager, who was a plumber. The group had just finished a parade in Hudson, N.H., and then went back to Milford, or visa versa. But the second parade was never marched. During lunch, the business manager's truck had stopped at the local VFW for lunch. It seemed that ambers from a tossed cigarette had ignited some oily rags that were in the back of the truck and the truck was soon totally engulfed in flames. Luckily it was only the drums and not uniforms, horns and pit equipment that we use these days. Still, it was devastating. At that time my father also had a drum studio and store, with connections to the Ludwig drum company. He flew out to Chicago with my mother and picked out a new set of drums, had them shipped back and the corps was back in business in no time at all. Similar to that but with more to replace in 1998, we were not sure how the corps members would feel. We had no idea of where this would take us. Parents, friends, strangers, businesses had all extended sympathies and financial assistance. Even with full insurance, it was still costly. I got the board of directors together, asking them for direction. They had always looked to me for direction. This was one time I wanted and needed to be told what had to be done. Many -- if not most -- private groups like us (as well as businesses) would have just tossed in the towel and said, "Let it now be history." I could not do that. We came too close to that back in 1980 when we had to slow the pace down and regroup. This was the biggest challenge of all and was also a personal challenge. For the first several months, I worked on a new business plan, focusing on recruiting. We borrowed instruments and got as many parents involved as humanly possible. With the help of so many, we kept pushing forward. Dynasty agreed to manufacture a new set of horns for us. Contras were not available at the time, but they had rented us some tubas to practice on. Pearl drum company was exceptionally supportive and stopped production on other orders to produce a new set of marching drums. Adams shipped us a new set of keyboard instruments and we got new cymbals and gongs from Sabian. I could not believe the cooperation of everyone to help us. The Fred J. Miller company interrupted their productions for us to make new uniforms, and the companies that made our helmets and plumes did the same. With all of these wonderful people coming to our rescue, we were back in business faster then anyone could believe. We also eventually got our contra basses from Kanstul, as he was the only one able to build us 10 contras on short notice by the time the season came along. You asked what has the Spartans has done for me. God, with all we have been through, all that we have developed, created, and all the people who have marched here over the 50 years -- I have been a part of it for the 50 years -- it has been my entire life! It has always given me meaning to my life, given me things to look forward to, projects to always keep me busy. Good or bad, a challenge is a challenge. So now reflecting back 50 years, it is only people in my immediate family who really know the full history of the Spartans. And that history is filled with wonderful memories, wonderful events and people. I can reflect back to all the highs and lows and constantly ask, "Why do I still do this?" I love it --even the headaches. I will admit, there are days and have been times I would gladly have handed it over to others who felt they could do a better job. Maybe there is someone, but are they willing to give their life to this as I have? The community is proud of the Spartans. Anyone could come to Nashua and quiz any resident and ask if they heard of the corps. My guess is, the answer would by "yes" nine or 10 times over. Either they know the corps for what it is, come play bingo, or have been by our facility and have seen our buses, or perhaps been on them for a trip -- but the corps name is a household word. Making the corps so well known did not happen overnight. The corps success had a great deal to do with it. The corps is also committed to play for the entire city every July 4 for the annual fireworks show. Many people come just to see and hear the corps play. This is something we have been doing since the days in Milford, almost the entire 50 years. Where we once would put on our full show as an exhibition in this historic ballpark, Holman Stadium, we now wait for darkness and just play a concert on the infield and then play continuously while the fireworks are going off over everyone's heads. It is spectacular for all, for corps members as well as those watching the display in the sky. Being the only competitive drum corps left in New Hampshire, where once there were close to 30, and being so close to Boston and the Massachusetts border, where there were well over 60 corps, we are proud of our heritage and proud that we have survived through the thick and thin of things. We've won three DCI World Championships, dozens more titles from the local and state competitions through the 1950s and 1960s and we have participated in hundreds more competitions throughout New England over the years. We do wish we had more corps to compete with today. Like all others, we have to travel great distances to see competition. We love our neighbors (East Coast Jazz) who are also in Division II. We had a short working relationship with the Citations (Division III) down in Burlington, Mass. Other then that, there are the Division III Targets over in the Springfield, Mass., area and of course the Boston Crusaders, who are in Division I. They too have a long history, longer then the Spartans. But we are certainly in great company with the Crusaders, Cadets, Cavaliers, Madison Scouts and Troopers, to mention only a few of the well-known corps that all have long fabulous histories like the Spartans. Our success does have its benefits as well as setbacks. I will deal with the lows of success; who wouldn't? The highs? Well, everyone wants to be a part of those. On July 2, we will be hosting our annual Bugler's Holiday competition and that afternoon we plan to have our reunion. This is planned for 2 pm until 6, and then it's showtime. It will be a special day for the Spartans. We are hoping to attract hundreds of alumni along with their families of kids and grandchildren (for those in the corps from way back). This is also a special year in that we have secured some sponsors. The Bugler's Holiday event is being sponsored by BAE Systems, one of the biggest government industries in the world. We were fortunate last year to have some of the local executives come to our show and see what this was all about. They were in awe. That is the only way I can describe their response, as they had never seen a show like this. When they found this was our 50th anniversary and saw all the similarities in how we train kids for this activity and the work ethic that also goes with producing such a show, they realized we were made for each other. We have also been fortunate to have established a new relationship with the Dynasty company to replace all of our battery and pit this year. The Sabian and Vic Firth teams have also come aboard as supporters with special agreements and equipment for this season. And of course, to anyone else wishing to put their name with the three-time DCI Division II World Champions, we would be honored to talk with them and see what can be done. We hope that the thousands of alumni in the Spartans who read this will e-mail us and make sure that they are on the mailing list, and we hope they will make every effort to be at the July 2 50th anniversary reunion picnic day. Contact info: Spartans
73 E Hollis Street
Nashua, NH 03060-6303
Phone: 603.889.2760
E-mail: PLSpartan@aol.com
Web site: www.spartansdbc.org 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.