Drum Corps International
The DCI.org interview: Rick Valenzuela of the Santa Clara Vanguard

The DCI.org interview: Rick Valenzuela of the Santa Clara Vanguard

by Drum Corps International

Rick Valenzuela, director of the Santa Clara Vanguard, is the subject of this week's "Aria" interview. Valenzuela, a California native, is helping us focus some editorial attention to the drum corps events that have taken place in the Western U.S., which we're spotlighting this week.

Rick Valenzuela
DCI.org: Give us your full drum corps background. ^Valenzuela: Well, my drum corps career began at high school band camp as I was a clarinet player my freshman year. My first day at band camp, band director Gary Gilroy, an alum of SCV and the Blue Devils, had me line up in between Dan and Dave DiLullo. They had both just returned from marching drum corps -- Dan a horn player with SCV and Dave a drummer with Valley Fever from Modesto, Calif. Throughout band camp, I listened to stories and learned what drum and bugle corps was all about. Dan encouraged me to attend a drum corps show, which ended up being Precision West (the Blue Devils' home show) in 1982. Though I had seen videos before this, until I saw a live show, albeit June quality, I knew that I had to join. When Dan returned from the summer, I called him up and asked for some trumpet lessons. Dan encouraged me to attend and SCV orientation, which took place in October. When I arrived at the SCV hall, I was a complete nervous wreck. I had decided to attend SCV rehearsals, but I really didn't think I would be able to make the line having only played the horn for two months and also because I was only 14 years old at my first SCV meeting! I decided that I should join the San Jose Raiders, who rehearsed on Wednesdays, but that I would still attend SCV rehearsals on Thursday to gain some experience. My first actual drum corps rehearsal was with the Raiders. The instructors were Frank Dorritie and Dennis Aquilina, both of whom were invaluable in boosting my confidence as well as improving my playing skills while I was with them. After a few months of attending both groups' rehearsals, I was told by Rick South, an SCV instructor, that I could make the line at SCV. The following week, I went to Frank to let him know that I was going to quit the Raiders to march with SCV. He looked at me with this puzzled look on his face and said, "You do realize that SCV is completely different from the Raiders, right?" I went from learning how to play lead soprano with the Raiders to marching third soprano with Santa Clara. That year, there were about seven of us from my high school marching at SCV. To this day, all of the people involved are still some of my best friends. I see Frank throughout the year as he also does some of the SCV recordings for us. Dennis hired me to work with a couple of his high school bands and I see him throughout the year as well. We joke that my son Nicholas is most likely going to marry his daughter Tanya! Dave DiLullo and I marched together at SCV and he's also instrumental in the quality of drummers moving up from the Vanguard Cadets, as he is the caption head there. Rick South and Gordon Henderson never gave up on me and were invaluable to me as a teacher.
Dan DiLullo was instrumental in many things in my life: He gave me private lessons on trumpet, he encouraged me to march SCV, he also hired me for my first high school marching band teaching job. He was there when I was first hired on staff at SCV in 1990; he was there and helped to break the ice when I froze when I first met my future wife in Glenwood Springs, Colo.; he also stood in my wedding. DCI.org: Besides drum corps, what has been your occupation, if any? Valenzuela: I graduated from San Jose State University with a marketing degree, and I currently work full-time plus for Load Logistics Transportation Inc. as the controller and IT manager in Grass Valley, Calif. We're a small company that uses my customized database application to run the business. I started working with the owner, Mel Hebert, back in 1989 with another company. He's been gracious enough to allow me to take off as much time as I do over the years. DCI.org: How did you get your start directing the Santa Clara Vanguard? Valenzuela: I've been with SCV since 1983. I marched for five years: 1983, 1984, 1986, 1987 and 1989. I was then hired on the visual staff in 1990. I taught 1990 thru 1993, and then came back in 1996 thru 1999. In 1997 I became assistant visual caption head. At the end of the summer in 1999, I spoke with corps director J.W. Koester about me finally retiring from SCV as I had just moved away from the Bay Area that summer.
At the time he didn't want to accept any talk of me moving on and he said that he would call me when we get back to talk about it. Little did I know that when he called me, it was to let me know that he was not returning as director. A few months later, and after a lot of conversations with my wife, staff and J.W., I decided to accept the job offer. I was hired (on my birthday) in November 1999 as the interim corps manager. It was, and still is, only a part-time position (on paper at least). Since then, I have become the corps director.

DCI.org: Did you have any other career aspirations at any point? Valenzuela: At one point, I had started my own database consulting company called VCS. although, I had a problem giving up my summers at the time and couldn't commit fully to the time and capital required to keep it up and running. DCI.org: Do you have any anecdotes about how you got started? Valenzuela: In high school, I would talk about SCV and the summer all of the time. A close friend (and now Godmother to my children) use to call me "Mr. Vanguard." Funny thing is, she ended up marching SCV and was on the visual staff for a year as well. Once I was hired as director, she came into the corps office one day when I was there and presented me with a gift and said, "Here you go Mr. Vanguard!" It's amusing now, though it wasn't so much in high school. DCI.org: What would you consider your "formative drum corps moment?" Valenzuela: There are too many to mention. Everyday I learn something, or have an experience that helps to provide direction for me now and into the future. But, I will always remember putting the red and green on for the very first time. Also, Gail Royer (founder and longtime director of the SCV) only conducted "Send in the Clowns" (a Vanguard corps song) a few times, but every time he did, I could see the love and passion he had for us, and for Santa Clara. DCI.org: What first attracted you to the drum corps activity? Valenzuela: The performances and the excitement of those performances came first, then came the camaraderie, friendships and the lifelong lessons that I learned after I joined. DCI.org: How closely do you work with the other members of the Vanguard leadership team? Valenzuela: I speak with someone on the team on a daily basis, whether it's via instant message, e-mail or via phone. Dan Vannatta, general Manager and SCV's only full-time employee, and George Brown, Vanguard Cadets director, hear from me on a constant basis. We have two part-time employees in the office, Carol Abohatab and Jo Blatcher. The time and support they lend to me and the corps is awesome! There's also Maya Bonte-Salvucci, who is our volunteer coordinator and is a tremendous help in securing volunteers for the corps as well as making sure our bingo operation is staffed with volunteers. Our executive chef as we like to call her, Lisa Chavis, is a former parent supporter and has been running "Ms. Amana," our food truck, for a few years on a volunteer basis. Staff coordinator as well as visual caption head Ron Hardin and I touch base on almost daily basis, and Key Poulan, (brass arranger and program coordinator), makes sure the program is moving along as it should be. Our tour director, Allan Dekko, is busy during the winter months with numerous WGI groups. So I don't contact him on an official basis during the winter as much, as I like to allow this time of the year for him to forget how much time and work he puts in during the summer! I also speak with long-time staff member and great friend Myron Rosander, who's there for me to bounce ideas off of as well as get advice from on everything from A to Z in regards to SCV. This year will mark Myron's 25th year with the organization and his 20th consecutive year on staff! These are just some of the people that help to ensure SCV runs smoothly. We have a great group of volunteers that travel with us during the summertime that make sure the members are taken care of, as well as making sure we're all having a great time while we're out on the road. These people work their tails off and it's just amazing! DCI.org: What other corps directors do you admire? Valenzuela: There's one person that has set the standard for me -- and that is Gail Royer himself. I learned so much from his as a member of the corps, and then as a staff member. I learned that there's more to being in Santa Clara than just drum corps. Today, I admire the work of every director having been in this position now. But especially that of Pat Seidling, Howard Weinstein, Brian Hickman, George Hopkins and J.W. Koester, for whom I wouldn't have come back to Santa Clara if it were not for. Dave Gibbs has been especially helpful and has provided some excellent examples of how to succeed on and off the field. DCI.org: What advice would you give to young people who aspire to be corps directors? Valenzuela: Make sure you are willing to work and be ready for the really good days, but more importantly the really bad days. They can be very hard to recover from, but it's always important to remember why you're doing this -- the young people under your direction. DCI.org: Who is your favorite collaborator/partner in crime? Valenzuela: There are three people that I talk to all the time, whether it's about SCV or getting down the road: Myron Rosander, Allan Dekko, and our drum major, who this year is veteran Stuart Shulman. But my all-time favorite is my wife, who is there for me all of the time. Even more so now that our 2-month old daughter likes to stay up late while dad is working at home! DCI.org: Do you have any favorite road anecdotes from your many years in drum corps? Valenzuela: After sitting thinking about this question, I realized how things changed over the years! LOL! So -- no comment. DCI.org: What has been your favorite corps performance ever? Valenzuela: Ever? 1987 SCV Finals. After that, in no specific order:
1984 SCV at Whitewater; 1986 Blue Devils (at any show); 1989 SCV, especially my last show; 1983 and 1984 Garfield Cadets; 1981 SCV; 1982 BD; 1990 and 1991 Star of Indiana; and almost any Bridgemen show. DCI.org: How do you keep yourself musically and visually current? What do you watch for ideas? Valenzuela: I watch a lot of Blue's Clues and Power Rangers. LOL. Though my time is definitely limited these days, I still try to get out to local concerts and events whenever possible. I also like to attend the championship shows for WBA, BOA and WGI. DCI.org: Any ideas for which direction the Santa Clara Vanguard will head visually in 2004? Valenzuela: And ruin the excitement of the anticipation of seeing SCV? Here's one clue: see our revised show title. DCI.org: Describe what you think a Santa Clara Vanguard show will look in 2015. Valenzuela: It will be entertaining, intriguing, fresh, innovative and passionate. It will be Vanguard.