Drum Corps International
The DCI.org interview: Jeff Fiedler

The DCI.org interview: Jeff Fiedler

by Drum Corps International

Jeff Fiedler, director of the Cavaliers, filled us in on his drum corps background and answered a couple questions heading into the 2004 season: I saw my first drum corps show in 1967 or 1968 (I was pretty young) -- VFW State, Ill. I remember going to LaFollete park in Chicago in the mid-'60s and seeing the Cavaliers, the Milstadt (Ill.) Crusaders and other corps performing an onstage concert. My cousins were in the Crusaders, they were in drum corps before me, that's how we (my family) got involved. Funniest thing is that my relatives (cousins and their family) despised the Cavaliers -- they always lost to the Cavaliers.

Jeff Fiedler (left) gives a World Championship medal to a Cavalier in 2002. Photo by Johnny Gilbert.
I joined the Cavaliers organization in February or March of 1973 (I was 13 and in eighth grade) and decided to go with the corps' cadet corps (also known then as the "B" corps). I went into the color guard but was learning to play horn. For some reason, they made me the guard sergeant (I kind of walked in and knew a little bit more about color guard than the younger kids -- maybe I was more coordinated?). When I entered high school I joined the band and learned to play trombone. The corps had originally wanted me to play the soprano; however, my band director had other ideas (he didn't like drum corps). I wound up playing a baritone when I went "up" to the Cavalier "A" corps for the 1975 season. I played baritone for four years and was selected as drum major for my last two years of eligibility (1979 and 1980). Funny thing, I still kept my interest in color guard. While I was drum major I was teaching the corps' winter guard and summer flag line. I was teaching our cadet corps guard while I was a baritone player in the "A" corps. I was teaching smaller corps and winter color guards while I was in college, and started working with some high school bands. Don Whitely (former DCI marketing director) asked me to write some things for DCI publications and I -- along with some other drum majors -- started doing some on-site promotion for new DCI events (I remember going to Allentown to help promote DCI coming to ASD/Birney Crum Stadium). After I graduated I marched in our winter guard (1981, at WGI) and won the only world championship (as a marching member) I had ever won, in the last possible performance I could have participated in. I taught the flag line and worked with the marching staff in 1981. In 1982 Don Warren took a chance, cleared the decks and asked me to be the program coordinator and hire the staff. Adolph De Grauwe rejoined the corps as "interim" corps director (Adolph and I always laughed at that, as he remained as "interim' until the fall of 1990 when I became corps director). I made a lot of mistakes as a program coordinator, but was helped along the way by my friends, including Steve Brubaker, whom the corps hired as drill designer. Steve had NO experience whatsoever writing band or corps drills -- just winter guard shows -- another big risk the corps took! Don Angelica was very helpful as he encouraged me to seek out Tim Salzman and Frank Dorritie to write the brass book, and eventually Tim and Steve encouraged me to go after Jim Campbell for the percussion writing in the fall of 1984. Somewhere during that time we also acquired the services of DCI judges Tim Ochran and Mark Metz to assist with the visual program (I think we used some of Steve's connections at the Reading Buccaneers). During the late summer of 1984, I (easily) convinced Jim Campbell (we also talked about the Planets and James Bond during the same conversation) to become the Program Coordinator for 1985 (he was doing most of the programming anyway), which allowed me to devote more time to the corps' personnel and to teach the visual program with Steve, Tim and Mark. I think I was officially became assistant director (staff coordinator) in 1985. I had graduated from college (the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University) in 1981, worked for Cap Cities/ABC Publishing for a few years (DCI judge Steve Suslik had been one of my bosses) until I quit my job in the spring of 1985 to return to school in the fall and gain my teaching certification in social studies and English. Obviously, our corps history looks at that summer (1985) as a major stepping stone to our current success. I was teaching a lot of marching bands all over the United States -- I remember spending almost a month working at Westfield H.S. (the current BOA Champions) in the fall of 1985 before they attended BOA Indianapolis for the first time. I also spent two weeks in California working with Clovis High School and a few weeks in Florida working with bands around Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale, as well as judging more and more band shows and winter color guard shows. I eventually spent four fall seasons flying to Detroit to work with the Plymouth-Canton Band in the late '80s and early '90s, as well as working visual with Prospect H.S. and Marian Catholic H.S. here in Illinois. I still spend a good portion of my fall assisting Prospect H.S. in Mt. Prospect, Ill. In the fall of 1990 I was named as corps director. I remember attending my first DCI meeting as director, it was also Dave Gibbs' first meeting as corps director of the Blue Devils. I had attended many DCI meetings as the corps' second (many of the meetings were in Chicago, so it was easy). In 1993-1994 I was elected to the executive committee as secretary. I took a year off from the executive committee when I made a career switch in the school in which I was working and then came back to the executive committee a year later. I was elected chairman of the DCI board in February 2001. DCI.org: Besides drum corps, what has been your occupation, if any? Fiedler: I started teaching at a Catholic high school in Chicago in the fall of 1987. In 1997 I took an administrative position at the same school and have been there ever since. I work in the school's development department dealing with marketing, recruiting, scholarships, financial aid and alumni relations. I enjoy my job a lot. My "occupation" allows me to continue my "hobby" (the Cavaliers). Actually much of what I do in my job has helped tremendously with what we've developed with the Cavaliers. And -- believe it or not -- what I have learned at the Cavaliers has served me well in my position at school. DCI.org: How did you get your start directing the Cavaliers? Fiedler: While I was drum major I learned much about dealing with all kinds of people: Staff, members, management, parents, potential members, DCI people, fans, volunteers, etc. I think I just eventually wound up being there at the right time. DCI.org: Do you have any anecdotes about how you got started? Fiedler: This is embarrassing -- when I was a little kid (about 7 or 8) and whenever we would go to my relatives' home in southern Illinois to visit, I would put on the Cavaliers 1966 "Dream" recording they had and "direct the stereo." I think it drove my cousins' family up the wall, they were NOT Cavalier fans. DCI.org: Did you have any other career aspirations at any point? Fiedler: I believe since I was a fairly young kid I had always aspired to be the Cavaliers' drum major. I also thought I might work as a reporter for a major newspaper. DCI.org: What would you consider your "formative drum corps moment?" Fiedler: The first time I walked into Cavalier Hall on Kedzie Avenue (in Chicago) and walked up the stairs. I knew this was where I wanted to be. DCI.org: How closely do you work with the other members of the Cavaliers' leadership
team? Fiedler: Well, we don't sit around the office and work together all day, as we're all over the USA. I'm in Chicago, Bruno Zuccala (assistant director) is an assistant principal at an elementary school in suburban Pittsburgh. Mark Ackerson (tour manager) works for Northwest Airlines and is flying nearly every week. We communicate constantly via e-mail and at camps. We have a tremendous office staff and support network of volunteers. Don Warren (corps president) is still very active and Don Heitzman (corps treasurer) is recently retired and has taken a very active role in the day-to-day operations. Bruno, Mark and I have worked together for so long that we might not actually see each other for 30 days straight, however, we know what has to be done and follow up quite efficiently through e-mail and the phone if necessary. Scott Koter does a tremendous job coordinating the program. He and I will talk a lot over e-mail or the phone. Bruno and I are very interactive with the instructional staff and getting the program onto the field in the spring. We've found a way to make it work and try to improve our system all the time. DCI.org: What other corps directors do you admire? Fiedler: I learned a lot from Adolph De Grauwe and Mike Moxley (former director of the Blue Devils). I also have Jim Roussell (former executive director of the Cavaliers) as one of my role models, and -- though they may have never known this -- I have personally modeled much of what we've done here at the Cavaliers after what Gale Royer did with his organization at the Santa Clara Vanguard. I also have taken some plays out of Roger Kaiser's book when he was director at the Milstadt Crusaders in the late '60s and the Belleville Black Knights in the early '70s. There are currently many excellent corps directors at all levels of the activity, who have a personal mission to create a place where members can achieve, work hard, learn about themselves, develop great friendships and have the experience of a lifetime. DCI.org: What advice would you give to young people who aspire to be corps directors? Fiedler: Learn everything you can about every aspect of this activity. Become something of a jack-of-all trades. Work on your people skills. Be prepared to work as hard -- and sometimes harder -- as the members do. Be prepared to be mom, dad, friend, disciplinarian, water boy/girl, boss, employee, volunteer. Have some accounting skills somewhere in your background. Learn something about development and fund-raising. Never be afraid to ask for help. Remember, it is all about the kids. DCI.org: Who is your favorite collaborator/partner in crime? Fiedler: During the summer it is usually whomever is the Cavaliers' drum major. Through the years we've come up with many great ideas/schemes. Otherwise it is Mark or Bruno. DCI.org: What first attracted you to the drum corps activity? Fiedler: The precise marching and the aspect of perfection. DCI.org: Do you have any favorite road anecdotes from your many years in drum corps? Fiedler: After 31 years, what do you think? I'm saving them for the book I'm going to write someday. DCI.org: What has been your favorite corps performance ever? Fiedler: Wow -- that's tough -- I'll have to list a few I've viewed, as well as performed. Viewed: Anahiem Kingsmen Finals 1974
The Cavaliers' prelim performance 1974
Argonne Rebels 1972 finals
SCV 1973 finals
The Cavaliers Wheeling, Ill., performance, 1971
The Cavaliers' 1995 finals
The Cavaliers 2002 finals
Madison Scouts 1988 prelims
The Cavaliers 1988 finals
Garfield Cadets' West Side Story 1984 finals
Blue Devils 1976 finals Those are my standards, I'm sure I missed some tremendous performances along the way being a member warming up somewhere during a show or being a director making sure the Cavaliers were ready to go. My own personal favorite peformance: Finals 1980 -- seems like yesterday ... DCI.org: How do you keep yourself musically and visually current? What do you watch for ideas? Fiedler: I attend as many Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts as possible. I will attend performances of things like Blue Man Group, Stomp, Shockwave, American Ballet Theatre. I try to attend concerts and performances through the fall, winter and spring -- when time permits -- of some of the best youth and adult performance groups in the world. I remember about 10 or 12 years ago winding up with a ticket to see the Bolshoi and the Kirov ballet companies on tour in the United States. It was one of the most captivating and stunning performances I have ever seen. I've visited and revisited some of the major art museums in the world. I'm fascinated by architecture and design. I like to watch great musicians and conductors (professional, college and high school) at work and listen carefully to what they say and do. I'll wind up watching and listening to rehearsals and concerts late at night on the Arts channel with Bernstein, Stokowski, Barenboim, Solti and Reiner. DCI.org: Any ideas for which direction the Cavaliers will head visually in 2004? Fiedler: We'll go forward, backwards, left and right, up and down. DCI.org: Describe what you think a Cavaliers' show will look like in 2015. Fiedler: Wow -- I'm still working on 2004. Ask me in a few more years. I think I can guarantee we'll be wearing green, black and white!