There are some sights that drum corps fans expect to see when attending major drum corps shows; a colorful variety of drum corps T-shirts sold by every corps in attendance, multitudes of friends one hasn’t seen in a year, and Paul Collins’ Brass Shop trailer and tent.
For 30 years, Collins’ mobile brass repair operation has been an integral fixture of up to 50 DCI Tour events every season, venues at which the master craftsman has continually performed near miracles on multitudes of instruments that have been subject to the rigors of a summer season of constant use.
One such horn he raised from the dead and one of Collins’ favorite memories was the work he performed on a two-valve G-keyed contra bass. It was so severely beaten up that it looked more like a planter for petunias than a playable instrument. After Collins ironed out all the dents with his extensive supply of tools, the corps member came by to pick it up. When shown the horn, he walked around it twice and repeatedly insisted, “That’s not my instrument!”
For Collins, it’s all in a day’s work; eliminating massive horn dents, getting valves to glide with ease again, and making the most sorry-looking instruments play like new.
Collins got hooked on drum corps when his grandmother took him to his first show when he was seven years old. He went on to be a baritone player in the early 1960s with the Sidney Royalaires from central New York, and then marched into the mid-1980s as a member of the Syracuse Brigadiers and Rochester Crusaders, two all-age corps.
After witnessing a line of contra players severely damaging their horns after tripping over one another during a 1987 performance, Collins was inspired to repair drum corps brass instruments.
“I couldn’t perform at maximum capacity if my instrument wasn’t working right,” Collins said. “So I promised I would make sure every horn player in every corps had the opportunity to perform at maximum capabilities without having to worry about their instruments not working well.”
Averaging 12,000 miles of travel following the DCI Tour from show to show, the 72-year-old Collins had only recently cut back on the number of events he’d attend each summer. “It takes a big toll on the body. After 30 years, it’s time for me to age out.”
It will seem like a big part of the 2019 DCI Tour just won’t be the same without Collins on tour for the first time in three decades. Undoubtedly, fans, performers, and everyone associated with the drum corps activity owe him profound thanks for giving horn players the opportunity to perform at their highest levels.