Drum Corps International
The DCI.org interview: Sal Salas of the Madison Scouts

The DCI.org interview: Sal Salas of the Madison Scouts

by Drum Corps International

Sal Salas, director of the Madison Scouts since last year, sat down late Monday night (his answers arrived at 11:27 p.m.) to answer some questions for a DCI.org interview. Salas' timing was perfect -- this week we're focusing some editorial attention to the drum corps events that have taken place in the Northern U.S., and Salas has spent a decent portion of his drum corps career with the Madison Scouts. Salas began the interview with his drum corps background. "I started drum corps in 1964, when I was 10 years old, with the Stockton Police Commodores out of Stockton, Calif. I was a percussionist with the Commodores until 1974 and then auditioned for the Madison Scouts color guard in 1975. I was offered a position in the rifle line and during the winter was offered the position of rifle instructor -- so not only did I march, I taught the rifle line.

Sal Salas
"I taught the color guard from 1975 to 1982. I then wanted to try my hand at drill writing, and left Madison in 1983 to write the drill for the Spirit of Atlanta. I was the drill writer from 1983-1990. I decided to take two years off after 1990. In 1993, I was offered the position of color guard designer for the Glassmen. ^"I was the color guard designer from 1993 to 1996 and in 1997, I took the position as program coordinator until 2002. I consulted for the Madison color guard in 2001 and then returned as director of the Scouts in 2003," Salas said.

DCI.org: Besides drum corps, what has been your occupation, if any? Salas: I worked at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 18 years. In 1998, I decided to do pageantry. I was designing winter guard programs and doing drum corps as a full-time position and have been ever since. DCI.org: What first attracted you to the drum corps activity?

I was actually introduced to drum corps when I went to a catechism class when I was 10 years old. The instructor, Mrs. Mena, asked if I would be interested in joining a drum and bugle corps -- I had no idea what she was talking about, but said, "Sure I'll give it a try." Once I attended my first rehearsal I was hooked. I was so amazed by the precision and the music. I couldn't believe how such a large group of people from all different walks of life could be so in love with this activity called "corps." All it took was one rehearsal and to this day I still love being involved in the activity.

DCI.org: How did you get your start directing the Madison Scouts? Do you have any anecdotes about how you got started? Did you have any other career aspirations at any point? Salas: After being involved with drum corps in the "teaching" aspect, I decided that I wanted to give back to the activity in a way that would impact more people and be able to give what I have received from drum corps. I felt this was a time for change in my drum corps career and when the opportunity became available, I decided to go for it. Funny thing is, I applied for the executive director position, but deep down wanted to be the director of the Madison Scouts -- the corps that gave so much to me. So when I was asked about being the Scouts director, I was ecstatic. I had thought about going into some form of theatre -- possibly directing -- the last couple of years. Drum Corps has so much to offer to anyone wanting to explore pageantry and creating wonderful opportunities for young and old alike.

DCI.org: What would you consider your "formative drum corps moment?" Salas: I think my most "formative" drum corps moment was when I left Stockton, Calif., to become a member of the Madison Scouts. It was then that I learned about being on my own and "growing up." It was humbling to leave Stockton, thinking that I knew everything there was to drum corps and then being in the Madison Scouts. I realized that with every great drum corps there are great individuals that give their all to an organization and to see how everyone cared about each other and were willing to do whatever possible to make the drum corps experience a positive one, even for those of us who had traveled from out-of-state to become a member of the Madison Scouts. It was a time when individuals started to travel out of their home states to become members of drum corps in parts of the United States.

DCI.org: How closely do you work with the other members of the Madison Scouts' leadership team?

Salas: The teaching experience with the Scouts staff is an enjoyable one. It is great to see how each member of the staff genuinely cares about the members. We are constantly on the phone with each other and these individuals are more than just my "staff" -- they are my friends and a part of my life. In addition to all the wonderful experiences I have received from drum corps, it is these friendships and working relationships that makes the experience even more enjoyable. What they give to the members and me is pretty incredible. They are truly examples of great leaders and wonderful role models for everyone involved with the organization. DCI.org: What other corps directors do you admire? Salas: There are many great corps directors involved with the activity today. It's really hard to single out just one or two individuals. There are so many great qualities that each of the directors possess -- all the way from senior, Division I, II, and III directors that give so much -- some individuals that come to mind are Jim Jones, Gail Royer, Scott Stewart, Freddy Martin, Brad Caraway, Harold Ott, Jeff Fiedler, Dave Gibbs -- like I said earlier, many, many great directors that have given this activity so much and continue to do so today.

DCI.org: What advice would you give to young people who aspire to be corps directors?

Salas: Remember why we do this: It is for the members of each and every drum corps. Our first priority is to make sure that they have a positive experience and that they receive all the valuable lessons that we each have learned from our experiences with drum corps. If you are becoming a director for the "glory," then you are doing it for the wrong reason -- because as we all know, it's not about glory, it's about seeing those young adults with smiles on their faces and the gratitude that they express after being involved with an organization that means so much to you. Remember, it's not about you, but the members and everyone involved with the corps. DCI.org: Who is your favorite collaborator/partner in crime?

Salas: My favorite collaborator/partner in crime is Michael Cesario. What a talented and caring individual. He goes way beyond what is expected of someone involved with an organization -- whether it's in a teaching or consultant position. He really does care about the members in each and every group who has the opportunity to experience his vast knowledge and experience. He gives because he really does care. He is a great example of doing "the right" thing and letting it be about the members. DCI.org: Do you have any favorite road anecdotes from your many years in drum corps? Salas: There is one in particular -- and believe me, there are many, being that this is my 37th year being involved in the activity. It was when I was teaching the Madison Scouts rifle line and we were at a contest with the 27th Lancers. George Zingali and I were good friends and we were always kidding each other about our corps. Well, it was after a contest out East, and we were just chatting about rifle lines (because I thought the Scouts had the best rifle line -- of course he thought 27th was the better line) we decided to have a "contest" between him and I. We got a rifle and had a bet that whoever could throw the highest toss without dropping would be the champion rifle guru -- it was wild. We had both corps cheering like crazy for each of us -- and talk about the fun we had, everyone was going wild cheering. And the winner was -- I guess you'll have to wait until another time to hear who won. DCI.org: What has been your favorite corps performance ever? Salas: The 1981 Madison Scouts performance in Whitewater, Wis. It was one of the most incredible performances ever. The color guard was spectacular -- it was one of those performances that you've always wished for -- and definitely had a lasting memory.

DCI.org: How do you keep yourself musically and visually current? What do you watch for ideas?

Salas: I try to keep myself active in all aspects of pageantry. I still teach winter color guard and on occasion consult for marching bands. I also like to attend various art forms -- i.e., movies, theatre, concerts, dance recitals, sports, anything that deals with the arts. I think that we are constantly learning and need to expose ourselves to every facet of entertainment and creative arts. I feel we still have so much to learn about what we do -- and only dream of where we can go. DCI.org: Any ideas for which direction the Madison Scouts will head visually or musically in 2004?

Salas: Well, we're on track with a show that gives the guys a chance to perform in a way that has "Madison" written all over it! If you go back to some of the landmark Scouts shows of the past, you'll see how many innovations they brought to the field. In fact, that's one of the great things about that DCI Legacy DVD collection. You realize that the Scouts produced so many "drum corps hits." When we jumped over our flags, or formed our trademark Fleur-de-lis, or did the "hat bow," it was innovation that produced the crowd response. Pieces like "Ice Castles," "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," "Rhapsody in Blue," "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Malaguena" and scores of others are immediately identifiable with Madison. I defy you to think of anyone else when you hear "You'll Never Walk Alone." So it seems like we must be true to all parts of our heritage by bringing something truly new "to the table" -- you know, new timbres, colors, sounds and textures. The standards for depth and richness have never been higher, and we think we can present content of complexity and dimension second to none. On the other hand, this corps is always aware of its special bond with the audience. People expect us to provide a certain entertainment value, a certain variety of effects, a certain emotional pull that is part of our identity and part of our fame. No matter what we do that's unique or new, I guarantee we will not forget to "sign our name," sending that signature straight to your heart. The 2004 show will explore some new ground and reclaim some old turf. We owe that challenge to the guys. They need to live on the edge and still be connected to the great Madison Corps of all time. That's the kind of continuity our members expect. DCI.org: Describe what you think a Madison Scouts' show will look in 2015. Salas: I wonder how C.H. Beebe, our founder, would have answered that in 1938! When you've been around as long as the Scouts have, the one thing you learn is there's no telling where this great activity will go next. Some folks say "back to basics," and some say "full steam ahead," but what's best for our members and our audience will always be what's next for us. I'm guessing jet-powered rifles and nuclear baritones are not on the horizon, but who would have predicted B-flat horns or amplification? One thing I can say for sure, we will continue to create visual and musical "drum corps hits" that communicate with the fans. At our last camp, one of our alumni pulled me aside after hearing the first play-through of this year's opening. He said it best, I think. "Great," he laughed. "Music you'll always remember, from the corps you'll never forget." 2015? We'll be there.

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