Drum Corps International
Learning about the past (and Belleville's Black Knights)

Learning about the past (and Belleville's Black Knights)

by Drum Corps International

This column offers the musings of two drum corps fans -- one who is fairly new and one who started marching in 1953. Both have something to say about appreciating the drum corps in our past. Karla Marquez, who marched with Impulse in 2002 and 2003 and the Impulse Winter Guard in 2004, has watched drum corps for five years, but claims to have been a real fan for the past two. I can remember my first day in high school band camp, walking into a room full of "band nerds" and "guard geeks," some of them were sitting in front of the TV watching a video. "Where is that band from?" I asked. A group of people turned around and gave me a strange look, making me wish I had never asked that question. "This is called drum corps. They're the Blue Devils from Concord, Calif." So I smiled and continued to watch the screen. Over summer vacation our high school color guard had practiced every week -- drop spins, double time, peppers (or flicks), tosses. We worked very hard and learned new routines, but we had NEVER done anything like what was on the screen. The color guard, drummers and horn players were performing with such intensity that I felt chills throughout my body. Every summer after that I would check my local PBS station to see when the Drum Corps International World Championships would be aired. My senior year came along and I became the guard captain at my school. Even though I loved the activity, I had never thought about auditioning for a drum corps. That fall our band was invited to perform our field show during half time at Cerritos Community College. We were so excited to perform in an actual stadium in front of so many people. But when it was time to take the field I started feeling nervous. My hands got sweaty, my heart started beating faster, and looking at the crowd didn't make me feel any better. It was halftime. I set all my equipment and ran to my opening set. I was so tense -- I wasn't sure how I was going to do that dance work our instructor had given us. Then I remembered the faces I had seen on TV, how they appeared so confident and smooth, how even when they had to run across the field, they still seemed full of energy. So I calmed down, looked up at the audience, and for the next 10 minutes pretended to be one of those faces I had seen on TV. Ten months later, there I was, back in Falcon Stadium, but this time it wasn't with my high school, it was with Impulse. I performed my first drum corps show in the same stadium where months before I swore I could never perform in front of a large crowd. There aren't enough words to describe that first performance -- exciting, dynamic and energetic. But after marching a season of drum corps, performing wasn't as exciting. Marching was just that – marching -- there was nothing else to it. Just when I thought my interest in the sport could not reach a higher level, my eyes were opened to a whole new world. 1975 was the first year the Madison Scouts won the DCI title. I didn't see the video, and I was definitely not around to see it live, but I came across an audio recording of the show. I just wanted to hear what drum corps sounded like back then. I wasn't expecting much, but I was blown away. The raw power of their sound, the rhythmic percussion -- I can't point out what it was exactly that excited me. I must have played that show at least 10 times in two hours. That's when I realized that drum corps isn't just what we see today. It's also what came before we marched and were even born. We no longer require symmetrical drill and skirts don't have to go past the knees. Now all the yard lines are marked instead of just the 50, we have dancing in the field, and uniforms come in all sorts of colors and styles. But even though I enjoy what we have today, there's still something magical about watching the Santa Clara Vanguard do the bottle dance and seeing the Velvet Knights pull out the "2COOLVK" banner at the end of their show. I called someone whose phone number showed up on our recruiting list, but the person I got, Gladis, was in her 50s. I started talking to her and she told me stories about what it was like for her to march in East Coast corps in the early days of DCI and before there was a DCI. She told me about the Bridgemen and their long yellow coats. It was amazing to listen to her voice and hear how excited she still was about drum corps. Her passion and energy about drum corps years after she had left the activity made me want to learn more. Not only did the old shows make me more curious about the past, but also those who lived in that past made me want to explore our history. It's sad that so many young people join a drum corps, perform, and age out without really knowing what the activity is about. It would be like playing baseball without knowing who Jackie Robinson and Joe DiMaggio were. Looking into the past has made me realize that there's so much I don't know about drum corps. Every day is a learning experience, and the more I know and understand where our activity came from, the more I enjoy what I see and do. The present has made me a member, but the past has made me a drum corps fan. For another look at the old times, let's hear from someone who was actually there, Ron Poole. Thank you for the chance to reminisce about the old days. Over the years when people talk about the "old" great corps they always forget about the Black Knights from Belleville, Ill. I guess it is not surprising, as Belleville is a long way from Chicago. As with politics, people think drum corps stops at the suburbs of Chicago. The Black Knights began in the fall of 1953, a mere babe compared to The Cavaliers, Grenadiers and Madison Scouts. Almost overnight they became a Midwest powerhouse. The Black Knights, along with the Cavaliers, were the first corps to break the East Coast monopoly on major contest wins. In 1957, VFW National competition was in Miami, and the top four were the Cavaliers, St. Vincents, Black Knights and Blessed Sacrament, in that order. I believe it was the first time Midwestern corps had defeated the unbeatable East Coast. The Black Knights quietly broke a lot of barriers -- the first corps in Illinois to own their own buses and the first corps to tour. In 1955 we went to Amvets Nationals in Philadelphia, and our management scheduled two local contests in that area. I do not remember getting a lot of support in Philadelphia, but then neither do that city's own sports teams. The Knights continued a long run of successes until the untimely deaths of their co-founders, Forrest Creason and my own father, Vern Poole. Now I would like to look at the evolution of drum corps. There was something unique about drum and bugle corps. Fans were amazed by the quality of music presented by one valve, then one valve with a rotary, and then two-valve, G-D bugles. Yes, we were evolving, but we were still faithful to the original bugle. I can say that Santa Clara's "Phantom of the Opera" or the Blue Devils' "When a Man Loves a Woman" (both played on G-D bugles) can't get any better. 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.