Drum Corps International
The Family feeling of marching Division II & III

The Family feeling of marching Division II & III

by Michael Boo


Micahel Boo
The following is a series of recollections by Andy Lalor, a member of the Black Knights drum line in 1988 and drum major of Mirage in 1993. I am an alumnus of Mirage from Rantoul, Ill. Mirage was active in Division III from 1993 until 2000. I had been active in marching band since seventh grade, marching trumpet, tuba, and percussion battery, eventually becoming drum major of my high school band my junior and senior years. I had also been an avid DCI fan, attending every show that came through the St. Louis area. I had the opportunity to march with the snare line of the Black Knights of Belleville, Ill. (part of what was then Class A-60) in 1988. I thought about marching Division I in high school and even arranged to attend a Star of Indiana audition camp in 1990. (I never got to go...some last-minute school event came up). In college, I heard about a new corps forming in Champaign County, Ill., so I called them for information. I spoke to corps director Keith Ayers and his wife, Tonya, a few times and just knew this was the group for me. I called up a buddy of mine from high school and invited him along (he jumped at the chance), and we set off in March of 1993 for the first camp. As soon as we arrived at the school, Keith pulled me aside and told me I was the only prospective member there with any corps experience, and that he was very glad I was there. As I met and worked with the other members, I got a feeling that we had something special on our hands. Two weeks later, I brought along another friend from high school. After the first few camps, the permanent roster was set, and we began putting together our show. With 23 members (11 horns, five battery, one pit, five guard and me as drum major) we spent countless hours on a hot, humid, uneven practice field (that flooded under six inches of standing water in the slightest hint of rainfall) learning, cleaning and perfecting our show. Along the way, we endured the usual corps life: Sunburns, sprained knees and ankles, mosquitoes big enough to carry off a small dog, hard gym floors, peanut butter sandwiches and cold, cold showers. As an added bonus, our home base was an elementary/middle school in one building. Imagine how low those showerheads were! Along the way, we became a family, closer in some ways than we were with our flesh-and-blood family. We worked as hard as we possibly could because 22 other people could be let down if each person didn't give everything they had at each rehearsal or performance. When you've got three sopranos, it's a lot more obvious when someone breathes in the wrong spot than when you've got 24. We spent almost as much time together outside of Mirage as we did in it. We missed birthdays, anniversaries and barbecues with our families so we could get one more run-through or work out a two-bar rough spot in the drum feature. Mirage was pretty much all we lived for. All that hard work never got us any attention from most drum corps fans, but we did get some appreciation over the summer. We won several trophies in the never-ending series of parades we marched that summer. We were invited to be the halftime entertainment at the Shriners' Illinois All-Star Football game at Illinois State University's Hancock Stadium. And best of all, the other Division III corps on tour that summer gave us encouragement, offering helpful hints and advice despite the fact that we were competitors. The Racine Scouts and Pioneer were the greatest people we encountered that summer! And, to top it all, we scored a 35 in our first-ever DCI competition. When the summer ended, we had a very touching age-out ceremony on our waterlogged practice field for my pal Amos, the guy I'd brought to the first camp. When it was time to say goodbye, we all cried like babies and hugged each other until our ribs were sore. Leaving that group at the end of the summer was like saying goodbye to my brothers and sisters. Due to my school schedule and my marriage in 1994, I was not able to make it back for my age-out season. But I had friendships and memories that would last a lifetime. The only show that takes place in my area with any regularity is the Alton Drum and Brass Review in Alton, Ill. I have attended that show nearly every year since 1996, usually with my friend and fellow Mirage alum Amos. There have been a large number of young men from Alton who have marched with the Cavaliers, so Alton became kind of a second home show for them. That means there are some heavy hitters there every year (2003 saw the Cadets, Bluecoats, Crossmen and Crusaders take the field). But there is always a selection of Division II & III corps to go with them. The Joliet Kingsmen were there this past summer. I really identified with them: A corps in Division III for the first time, with 23 members, learning the ropes and working their tails off to be a competitive drum corps. Sound familiar? I enjoy the sheer power of Division I corps, but there's something magical about 30 kids putting everything they've got into their 11 minutes of fame. In February of last year, Keith Ayers, the director, founder, and driving spirit behind Mirage, was killed in a car accident. When I found out, I just sat there, cold and disbelieving. My teacher, mentor and friend was gone. His widow, Tonya, contacted every Mirage alum she could find, as well as Keith's high school students from the Champaign area, and formed the Keith Ayers Memorial Band. Ten years after my season as a DCI drum major, I was given the opportunity to step off one last time, leading some of my old friends and many more members of my extended Mirage family in the Rantoul and Champaign/Urbana Independence Day parades. It was amazing to take to the streets again, conducting the traditional Mirage parade tune, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." Though a lot of us are now in our 30s, and most of us are really out of practice, we put on performances that I think would have made Keith smile. This is something that I think exemplifies the family feeling of marching Division II & III. About 50 people dropped their 4th of July plans and flocked together to honor a fallen member. We were rewarded for our efforts by being named the Best Band in the Rantoul parade, complete with a ridiculously large trophy. Besides actually performing with my Mirage family, reconnecting with the people who meant so much to me was worth the shin splints, aching shoulders and wicked sunburn. Our tenor player in 1993, Dave Schmuck (who went on to the Cavaliers and now instructs for them), was not able to march in the parade, but joined up with the group afterwards. Even though he looks a lot different than he did ten years ago (I know I do!), I recognized him right away. I walked up to him, said "Hi," and waited. It took a few seconds, but he looked at me and yelled, "Lalor!" and hugged me like I was his long-lost brother. It was like that with people all day. We had grown apart, but as all families do, we all came back together after a family tragedy and turned our collective grief into something positive. That sense of family -- of belonging -- is what I think Keith was going for when he put Mirage together. The marching, musical and performance excellence for which we all strived could only be achieved through the trust, respect, and love that united and bound our corps family.
 
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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