A prolific brass arranger in the early years of Drum Corps International, 2011 DCI Hall of Fame inductee Ken Norman passed away May 9 at the age of 77.
In the early 1960s still as a French horn-playing member of the Racine Kilties, Norman got his start arranging music for the corps' brass section. Always eager to improve and do more with his compositions, he found himself limited by the instrumental restrictions placed on corps by the veterans' organizations like the VFW that governed the competitions of that time period.
Wishing to utilize brass instruments that weren't as limited in range and flexibility as the traditional military bugles, Norman orchestrated a change that many to this day consider one of the most significant historical milestones in the evolution of drum corps instrumentation.
Hall of Fame member Dave Richards wrote in a 2000 Drum Corps International Magazine article: "Headed by Ken Norman, top musicians in the activity developed a G (keyed) bugle with the valve tuned in F and a rotary valve tuned in B-flat. In essence, they created an instrument that mirrored the trumpet's first and second valve and made the bugle a legitimate instrument. It not only brought greater notation opportunities for the instrument, but it brought greater musicians into the activity-arrangers, instructors, performers. The activity had finally gained the recognition as a worthwhile musical activity, and the recognized precision of the past continued to rise."
Norman not only helped craft the proposal that would ultimately convince the VFW organization to accept this new style of bugle in competitions, he would help manufacture a custom set of the instruments for the 1968 Kilties horn line to showcase the new technology along with an advanced musical arrangement to go with it.
The '68 Kilties horn line made history.
Hall of Fame member Jack Meehan complimenting the innovation of Norman and his group said, "Ken gave us all a glimpse into the future and a taste of what was possible."
For more than four decades, Norman composed or is credited for the brass arrangements of a staggering number of junior, senior and alumni corps, including the Kilties, Anaheim Kingsmen and Argonne Rebels, among a list of no less than 65 others.
"There is not a single brass chart on the field today that doesn’t carry some trace of Norman DNA," said DCI Hall of Fame member Frank Dorritie. "From Baumgardt to Downey to Smith to Klesh to Saucedo and beyond, every brass arranger owes a significant debt to him for providing the beacon that guided us directly or informed the work of all others whom we imitated."
Beyond composing and arranging, Norman is also credited for developing new adjudication captions that form the cornerstone of today's judging system used in Drum Corps International competitions.
"It was Ken whose significant influence made it possible to overcome the inertia of locked-in an archaic rules of the national veterans' organizations and freed the activity to achieve excellence as an art form," said the late DCI Hall of Fame member Glenn Opie. "In doing so, legions of kids and adults learned teamwork, how to achieve excellence with enhanced spirit, and the discipline that resulted in successfully handling life and its endless number of trials."
Showcasing an endearingly eccentric personality, in 2011 Norman became what is likely the first and only member of the DCI Hall of Fame to sing his induction speech. Parodying the song “To All the Girls I've Loved Before,” made famous by the 1984 duet of Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson, Norman changed the lyrics “To all the horns I’ve taught before” as a tribute to all those who had helped him achieve his success.
Before donning a red, white and blue headband ala Willie Nelson at the induction ceremony, Norman, whose singing voice might be more at home with the Muppets’ Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem band than it would in a symphony hall, jokingly warned the room, “We used to have a rule in this business that said there would be no singing, no talking, no chanting in unison, just a very military type of thing. Well, in the early days of DCI we got rid of that rule, and we now allow singing. Three minutes from now, you’re going to wish that rule is back in.”
A celebration of life in memory of Norman is planned for June 17 at the Pioneer Musical Youth Center, 2000 E. Birchwood Ave., in Cudahy, Wisconsin.
Remembering Ken Norman
Ken Norman .... World Class arranger and my Finale mentor passed away today. I just spoke with him on Monday only a couple of days before a bad stroke. RIP, Ken. I'll really miss you.Posted by Dan Schultz on Sunday, May 9, 2021
My heart breaks for another Drum Corps icon gone. Conversations with Ken, especially in a small group setting, were...Posted by Kurt Flash Schiebel on Sunday, May 9, 2021
Thank You Ken Norman, you were one of my finest teachers and a true mentor! RIP Auld Brother ✝️Posted by Dale Riebesehl on Sunday, May 9, 2021