Drum Corps International
The Birth of a champion: Part one

The Birth of a champion: Part one

by Drum Corps International


Michael Boo, at work at DCI Columbia last week.
Paul K. Towne marched Santa Clara Vanguard just as the corps was beginning to make its dramatic move up through the ranks. The following is a remarkable walk through an important time of an important corps. We'll finish the story next week with part two, a longer segment that starts with the first competitions of 1970. Here, in Paul's own words, is the story of Santa Clara Vanguard's journey to the top. Part one This story is based on 35-year-old memories. Although I believe most of the facts are accurate, some may have been muddled due to time. Chapter 1 It was the summer of 1969 and I was bored. All my friends were on tour with Santa Clara Vanguard. I would have loved to joined them, but I played clarinet and clarinets weren't allowed in drum corps. So, I stayed home, worked part-time, watched TV and read the occasional postcard from my buddies. I got to hear how awesome the Troopers, Cavies and Kilties were, how funny the people in Boston talked and how excited the corps was to make World Open Finals. (We're going to be on a record!) The last postcard I received indicated how disappointed the corps was to have missed VFW finals by .05. By that time I had already decided that I wasn't going to be left behind again. I borrowed an old, beat-up trumpet, bought a beginner's instruction book, and proceeded to teach myself how to play the trumpet. I could make a small sound, play a C scale, and get through a couple of the simple exercises by the time my friends arrived home. Once my friends were home they gave me some pointers and I improved slightly before the November auditions. When I arrived with my buds at Jefferson Jr. High, I was both excited and nervous. The first thing I noticed was all the black jackets with "Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps" embroidered on the back. My friends (who were also wearing their corps jackets) immediately started to converse with other corps members. Although I was introduced, I felt out of place. It was obvious that my friends had shared something with their corps friends that they never had shared with their high school buddies. After a short while we were ushered into the school's cafeteria where Gail Royer greeted us. The respect the corps members held for Mr. Royer was evident. The cafeteria was chaotic and loud before he spoke, but as soon as he started to speak, all conversations stopped and all attention was centered on each of his words. Mr. Royer welcomed back the returning vets and told us all how the upcoming season was going to be a lot of work, but even more successful that the last. This brought a huge positive response from the vets. After a few more words of encouragement he had us split up, horn players going over to the school's music room, drums over to the Jefferson Youth Center, and the guard staying in the cafeteria. Once we arrived at the music room we were introduced to our horn instructor, Jack Meehan. At first the atmosphere seemed a little less intense than it was around Mr. Royer. Some of the older vets were giving Jack a hard time and I noticed there didn't seem to be much age difference between them and Jack. For me, a 16-year-old skinny high school sophomore, they all seemed a little intimidating. After a short time Jack took control by calling out, "Corps, a-ten hut!" I was amazed at the reaction from the black jackets as they snapped to attention and the room fell silent. Of course, we Vanguard wannabees followed suit. He then had us split into the sections we intended to try out for -- sopranos on the left, French horns and mellophones in the middle, baritones and contras on the right. When I started to walk towards the soprano section one of my friends grabbed me by the arm and said, "Look at all the people trying out for soprano. You'll never make it. Go out for baritone." So I joined the baritones. Jack started to explain that the music we would be playing this year involved passages of double and triple tonguing. I had never heard the terms before, so I had no idea what he was talking about. He proceeded to take a soprano and played a couple of exercises demonstrating what he meant. After hearing Jack's demo I felt a little deflated. Here I was trying out for a horn that I had never touched and expected to play an exercise that seemed impossible. It all seemed a little hopeless, but I was determined to give it my best shot. I sure didn't want to spend another summer alone. As the practice continued, we were excused to check out a horn. Finally I was called and I got my horn! I had a horn! It wasn't what I expected, a lot larger and heavier than I imagined, but I had a horn. As the night continued it didn't matter that I could hardly get any sound out of it, I had a horn! At the end of rehearsal we were told that we were expected to show up on Sunday for marching practice. On the way home I indicated to my friends how apprehensive I was about trying out for baritone. I was told not to worry by one of my friends, who had played lead baritone the year before. He indicated that I should talk to our band director and tell him I wanted to switch to baritone. That way he could work with me during band practice. I felt a little better as we pulled up to my parents' house. I knew that if I worked hard at home and at rehearsals I had a chance to become a member of the Santa Clara Vanguard! At Sunday's rehearsal I got a little feel of the physical demands placed on a corps member. We worked on marching eight steps to every five yards. We also worked on intervals and lifting our ankles to our knees when we marked time. When I say we worked on these things, I mean we worked on them -- over and over again. It was at Sunday's rehearsal that I first met our marching instructor, Pete Emmons. Pete was a small, very intense man, with a magnetic smile accented by a thick mustache and a tireless work ethic. We continued to work on various exercises to help with our tone, intonation and technique at Wednesday's practice. Although I was working hard at home and had made the switch at school, I wasn't really progressing as fast as I wanted. Fortunately for me, at one rehearsal Jack had some help, Mike Rubino, a recent ageout of the corps and music major/trombone player from San Jose State. Mike worked the lower brass and he gave me some personal hints that really helped me out. Each week the number of people trying out seemed to get fewer and fewer. When it became time to announce the final horn line, there were 13 people trying out for 12 baritone spots. While Jack was announcing the spots, I thought I was going to pass out! OK, he's announced 11 of the 12 spots. This was the biggest moment in my young life. When Jack announced the last name, I almost passed out -- it was my name! I was a member of the Santa Clara Vanguard! Chapter 2 Things really started to accelerate once the membership was set. Almost every week we would get another piece of music, "Fanfare and Allegro," "Procession of the Nobles," "Chester" and all the music from "Fiddler on the Roof." As we got each piece I could see and hear the reason Jack had insisted we learn how to double and triple tongue. Lucky for me the third baritone part didn't contain those difficult passages. My favorite part of the Wednesday night rehearsals was when the horn line and drum line combined at the end of practice. The sound was awesome! It was at this time I first met our percussion instructor, Fred Sanford. Fred seemed really nice and I knew all my buddies in the drum line had a lot of respect for him. Sunday marching rehearsals also got more intense. Pete started to teach us the drill. We would work one section over and over again. At the end of each practice we would line up in the hallway and the staff would challenge us to mark time for a certain amount of time without making any mistakes. Sometimes it would be three minutes, or five minutes, or whatever time they picked and we never seemed to be able to complete the task without restarting one, two or three times. These sessions were brutal -- after practicing all day, our legs were already tired and now we were marking time on hard concrete for periods as long as a half hour. Needless to say my parents never had to worry about me not being able to sleep at night. It was at one of these Sunday rehearsals that I received a nickname that would stick with me until this day. We had a special instructor fly out from the Midwest to help Pete teach us drill. At the time I didn't know his real name was Gary Czapinski, but everyone called him Chops. Chops was almost the exact opposite of Pete. Where Pete had long black hair and was small, dark, and very intense during practice, Chops was -- how do I put it gently? -- pudgy, bald, pale white and very funny. By the time Chops came out, our Sunday rehearsals had become weekend rehearsals. Anyway, we had been "cleaning up" and changing a section of drill we had already learned when we given a break. Pete and Chops were in a discussion on how to fix something. While most of the guys sat in place and chatted, I had noticed the drum line had started to play a basketball game. I must point out that for the most part when the horns and guard were working on the drill the drum line was usually off practicing on their own. Since I loved to play basketball I decided to join in the game. As we were playing I kept glancing over at the field to see if practice had resumed. Every time I looked it seemed everybody was still sitting around. Little did I know that they were working one small section at a time. When it became my section's turn, I wasn't there, since I was still playing basketball. Needless to say, when my absence was discovered, all hell broke loose. As I ran over to join my section I was barraged with negative comments. Having nothing to say I just stood there and absorbed the comments with what can be best described as a type of grin you can't print on DCI.org. It was then that a contra player named Steve said, "Who do you think you are, Gimpy dimples the basketball star?" Tim, a lead baritone, immediately responded, "Gimpy, what a perfect name!" From that point on I had a new name -- Gimpy! In fact some of the people I spent four years marching with never knew my real name! It was kind of funny when my dad would come to pick up me and my friends up from practice and people would call him Mr. Gimpy! As time went on and the 1970 season got closer, our rehearsal schedule really got hectic, culminating when school got out. It was at this time we started what were called the nine to nines! These rehearsals started at 9 in the morning and were suppose to end at 9 at night. In reality we started at nine (better not be late) and ended between 10 and 11. We were given an hour off for lunch and dinner. We were now also working seven days a week. All of this work was leading up to our first contest and tour. By this time our show was complete and everybody was excited and ready! 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.

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