As the new year begins, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite Fanfare columns from the 14 months of the column (Fanfare started on August 30, 2002). It wasn't easy to pick one from every few weeks, but this column touched me for the spirit brought to the activity by each of the people I wrote about. We'll have some more classic columns through this week. Originally published on Oct. 18, 2002 You readers of "Fanfare" are wonderful. With your contributions, we'll be able to keep this column running for a long, long time.
Here is a great story of drum corps brotherhood. It was sent in by Frankie Panepento, an alumnus of St. Joe's of Batavia, N.Y. He met some old corps friends when Drum Corps International took its World Championships to Buffalo in 1990, and they got the idea to start a junior corps to take the place of the discontinued St. Joe's. They came up with the name "Genesee Quest Drum and Bugle Corps." The corps, now disbanded, would hail from Batavia and also wear the same green and black colors as St. Joe's.
Frankie would be the business director, and his friend Harold McJury, also from the old St. Joe's, would be the director. A number of other St. Joe's alumni volunteered to help.
The new management wanted their corps to see what the upper echelon of drum corps was like. They wanted the kids to experience what it was like in the 1960s, when many drum corps greats rolled into Batavia from all around the country to perform in the town's stadium.
Frankie got on the phone to Vince Bruni, director of the Empire Statesmen Senior Corps, to see if they could get Statesmen to do a benefit concert for their young group. Vince and the rest of the corps came through with an indoor winter concert that got the local kids pumped up.
Next, Frankie started thinking about the summer. With high hopes of jump-starting Genesee Quest, he placed a call to Star of Indiana's corps director, Jim Mason. All he could offer the defending 1991 DCI World Champions was a place to stay on tour if they needed one. Jim said it was a possibility.
The newly formed St. Joe's Alumni Corps was looking for places to perform. Frankie called Vince Bruni back and told him Star might be in town. Like Star, the Empire Statesmen were a defending World Champion, for the DCA Senior Corps organization. This would be an opportunity for two reigning World Champions to share the field. Vince said that if Star showed up, so would the Empire Statesmen.
So, the whole thing kind of rested on Star of Indiana being able to actually pull off the stop. Jim spoke with corps founder Bill Cook, and they decided it was something the corps could do.
Genesee Quest had an advertising budget of zero. With nothing to lose, publicity was put out by Tony Rome, a local drum corps lover and radio personality, that Star of Indiana, Empire Statesmen and St. Joe's Alumni were going to be putting on a free concert at the town stadium, open to the general public. Donations would be accepted at the door.
Star pulled into town at 6 a.m. during the middle of the week, along with all their buses and semis. It was a sight Frankie will never forget. The door of the first bus opened and Jim Mason popped out. He quickly introduced himself and told Frankie the entire staff would be leaving for an early morning in-line skating wake-up exercise, part of the staff's bonding ritual (along with praying and eating together) that brought them closer. Jim said that was part of the prescription for the corps' success.
Frankie says the entire town was mesmerized by Star. Teachers and other professionals commented on the politeness and friendliness of the kids. The local football coaches told him that they had never seen young people practice so intensely. The head coach made his team watch Star's pit rehearse to see what he called "real commitment."
Jim Mason and Bill Cook invited Frankie and Harold to dinner with them and Star's staff. At dinner, talk was not about Star, but about Genesee Quest. Frankie says the Star contingent offered them everything they knew.
We fast forward to the day of the show. The organizers were hoping to get between 500 and 1,000 fans to the stadium, which seats 2,200. The crowd that actually turned out? Over 6,000! Streets were literally impassable.
The police came to Frankie and told him the show had to be called off. Cars were being ticketed left and right for improper parking. At the time, Frankie thought, "This is it. I'm going to jail for drum corps." He told the police, "If you have to cancel this concert, then you're going to have to do it yourself. I'm not going in front of that crowd and telling them the event is called off."
The officer in charge looked at Frankie and asked, "Do you know how to pray? Because if anything here goes wrong, it's going to be both our butts."
The show went on. St. Joe's Alumni was first, followed by Empire Statesmen, Star of Indiana, and Genesee Quest. The average age of the local corps members was 11 to 13. They had just finished watching their first drum corps performances.
What was so touching to the Quest kids and staff was that the entire Star of Indiana organization, management, staff and members, was on the sideline cheering for the new corps. Frankie says, "They made my kids feel like champions. Until then, it was thought that having Quest follow the big corps was a big mistake. But Star made the crowd and Quest feel part of the magic."
After the retreat, Bill Cook gave Frankie a Star polo shirt, telling him he had pulled off perhaps the longest three-corps show in drum corps history. He also thanked the town and Quest for the hospitality they gave Star, saying the stellar treatment they received while in Batavia was unlike any other the corps had ever experienced.
It wasn't until after the show that someone explained to Frankie just who Bill Cook was, what he had accomplished in life, and what he had done for Star of Indiana and drum corps in general.
The Star buses were being loaded and were about to leave when a Star staff member went up to Frankie and gave him a letter from one of Star's corps members.
The letter read, "Dear Mr. Panepento. This is my fifth show with Star. I had never been in corps before and didn't know what the other corps members meant when they said that there is nothing like the feeling you get in drum corps when the crowd shows that they love you. The way the crowd here in Batavia made Star feel will be one of the great memories I will ever have to hold on to. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart."
The letter was simply and anonymously signed, "A Star."
Frankie broke down in tears. He still has that letter and considers it one of his most prized possessions.
The Star of Indiana buses pulled out on their way to their next destination, with Frankie still fighting back the tears. At the wheel of one of the buses, having the time of his life, was Bill Cook.
Drum corps unites the big and the small, the mighty and the relatively powerless, the successful and those who have yet to make their mark on the world. Indeed, drum corps is brotherhood. 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.