Drum Corps International
The Joy of small corps, part 1

The Joy of small corps, part 1

by Michael Boo


Michael Boo
This is the first of two Fanfare columns specifically celebrating the joy of marching in a small corps. In this column, we hear from Nick Biwer, who marched Nite Express in 1996, Americanos in 1997 and 1999-2000, went to Glassmen in 1998 and became assistant director of Americanos in 2001. And we'll also hear about Thimothy Lewis, who is marching in Racine Scouts, a small corps and his first drum corps experience. In the second column, we'll hear from and about members from Florida Wave and Southwind (when it was still Division II). Here's Nick's story. "I am originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, hometown to Nite Express. I had known about them for years, since the days when they were the Emerald Knights, and the group of friends I hung out with at school all marched with them. I went to my first camp and it was so cool to be around so many people from all over the country that were really good and cared about what they were doing. "Nite Express was a very tight knit group. I would give a hug to any of them I saw today, even those I didn't get along with then. When the 1996 season ended, several of my friends talked about auditioning at other corps, but I was going to stay there ... then they folded. "One of my good friends had marched with the Cavaliers the year before and his brother had marched with them from 1991 through 1996, so I thought 'what the heck.' I went to the first couple of camps and it was so different from what I was used to. I was offered a spot in the contra line, but I declined it because I was in high school and couldn't afford the dues. "So, I sat around for a month and then contacted the Americanos on a whim. We had competed against them the year before and kind of poked fun at the Latin 'Gloria Estefan' music. But then the assistant director wrote me a handwritten letter inviting me to come check out the corps. "My parents drove me the five hours to Appleton, Wis., for camp and I walked in the door with my Nite Express jacket on and members said, 'You must be Nick. We've heard so much about you and are really excited that you're coming.' I was floored by the fact that the staff had told the other kids that I was coming and that they shared a little bit about me. "After that weekend, I wasn't sure if I wanted to march in a corps that small. Nite Express was Division II, but we had 116 members in 1996, with 54 brass. Then a friend whom I marched with at Nite Express decided to join Americanos and she talked me into staying. That year I learned much because of the amount of time that can be spent on individuals in a smaller unit. "After that summer had ended, I decided I wanted to march on Saturday night, so I was going to go audition at a top-12 corps. My contra tech at Americanos, John Adcock, marched Blue Devils in 1989. He was quite influential to me, so I thought whom better then the Blue Devils. John kept telling me that those guys are just like me ... no better, no worse. He said I should try out because he thought I was good enough to make it. "I practiced all day and night and then sent in my audition tape. A week later I got 'the call' from Wayne Downey. I couldn't believe Wayne Downey was calling me. He told me that as it sat at the moment, he was going to offer me a spot in the corps. This was my dream come true. I told everyone the good news. Well, my mom didn't think it was good news because I would have to move to California in January and I had just started college in Iowa. "A month went by and Blue Devils had its first camp, which I couldn't make since I was still in Iowa. Wayne called me back to inform me some veterans came back, but if I got some 'Open Class' (Division I) experience, he was sure I'd have a great shot the next year. "Soon after that, John Adcock called me and asked if I wanted to march a top-12 corps. It turns out he had gotten a job working for Glassmen. I drove ten hours to camp every month, by myself. I was contra number seven as far as most of the staff was concerned. Then May came and John decided to join the Army and quit his job with the Glassmen. I was crushed. The only reason I went there was because of him. The other instructors were good, but it wasn't the same. I broke my ankle in June after performing just two shows and was sent home. "My ankle heeled, but I almost didn't want to march again. But the following February, I got the bug again, so I contacted Americanos. They said I would be more then welcome to come back to the corps. 1999 ended up being the best season of my life and we had a great program with great members. It was like coming home ... but it was also as if I never left. "The 2000 season was coming around and I still had that ache to march on Saturday night. I met people who knew what drum corps was from like PBS, and they never heard of the Americanos. But everybody knew corps like Santa Clara, Blue Devils, Phantom Regiment and Madison Scouts. So, I was planning on auditioning for Blue Devils again. Audition time came and I changed my mind at the last minute about going to California to audition in person. I thought, 'This is my last year. I can either be a rookie age-out that is one of many, or I can be a veteran in a corps that I know, that I love, and that I will have a great time in.' "So, I stayed with Americanos for my age-out year and it was the best decision of my life. We had a great season ... almost got ourselves a ring. Division III corps are all about family and teamwork. If one member doesn't perform to their fullest potential, the audience is going to know. In a corps of 128 members, (now 135), if a few people decide not to play a part of the show, probably no one will notice. You can hide in the masses, but Division II & III challenges you because you have to know your show ... no exceptions. "In 1998, I was in a 12-man contra line. We had people that were just considered 'plugs.' In my last year, it was just my best friend Doug Chapman and myself. We couldn't even breathe whenever we wanted because there were only the two of us on contra. But, we put out a lot of sound. "I can attest that Division III corps perform shows that are as technically demanding as Division I, no matter what anyone says. "I had the talent to be in a big corps, all of the 13 Americanos age-outs in 2000 did. But we all stayed with that corps because of the sense of family. We worked just as hard and just didn't get the spotlight as much because of our size. We may have been small, but we were mighty." Erwin Lewis wrote to share the story of his brother, Thimothy, who left Alabama in May to march in the Racine Scouts. I hope to have a follow-up from Thimothy after the season is over. According to Erwin, "Thimothy is an incredibly talented musician and his pride and dedication will definitely be an asset to the Scouts. He's never heard nor seen the Racine Scouts perform, but after talking to the corps director and some of the staff on the phone, he knew right away that this was the place for him. They were all so friendly and supportive. "The decision for my brother to march for a smaller corps was really an easy one. HE LOVES DRUM CORPS! As far back as I can remember, he's always been into percussion and music (except for that little Ninja Turtle phase that came and went). He's always been the top in his class and area for percussion and no other medium offered him the challenge and fun as marching for a corps. "Every summer for the past couple of years, he has attended marching percussion camps at the University of Alabama (of which I am a proud marching alumnus) and the venerable Spirit of JSU, but we could never come up with the money to send him to march until this year, at the ripe old age of 17. He tried out for Spirit of JSU's line this year, but coming off of an incredible 2002 season, those auditioning were in great numbers and the spots in the line were few. He made it down to the last cut, but didn't make the line. "He was still determined to march this year, so when one of the instructors of Spirit recommended him to the staff of Racine Scouts, he jumped at the incredible opportunity. The price was a little bit less and the benefits far outweigh the costs. Marching, traveling and competing with any corps builds bonds and friendships that last an eternity and with the Racine Scouts being a smaller corps with fewer members, those ties can only be multiplied. "This is also a great bonus for a first time drum corps member, not to mention it gives him a chance to receive top notch instruction in the realm of drum corps and experience that will serve him for the rest of his life." 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 masters 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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