On Dec. 2, I received the following series of e-mails from Blue Devils board of directors member Larry Aldrich. At the top, Larry stated, "These letters (in chronological order) speak eloquently about the brotherhood of drum corps. Needless to say, it makes me proud to be involved in drum corps and with the Blue Devils, in particular. But truth be told, I'm certain that any number of corps would have reacted in identical fashion. "This is why we 'do drum corps.'" Larry, I couldn't agree more. The following texts are used with permission of the various parties. Message 1. Nov. 25, 2003. Sent to David Gibbs, director of Blue Devils. Mr. Gibbs, For many years I have enjoyed attending drum corps performances throughout Southern California. I often organize groups of my family and friends who also have a wonderful time at these events. At your most recent show in San Diego on June 21 of 2003, I invited my sister's father-in-law, Leonard Birch, to see the corps perform at Westview High School. Leonard had been a musician most of his life and a long-time fan of drum and bugle corps. He performed with both the San Diego Concert Band and the El Cajon German Band. Unfortunately, he, like myself, played the clarinet, and so was never able to perform as a drum corps member. In late 2002, Leonard was diagnosed with cancer. The following months were filled with enduring painful treatment procedures as well as frustration and sadness when all efforts were proven ineffective. During that evening in June, although weak and frail, Leonard sat with his wife Marjorie beside the rest of us on the cold and hard cement bleachers to watch what he knew would likely be his last drum corps performance. Although he truly enjoyed every corps that performed that night, he became increasingly happy and excited as the final Division I corps took the field. During the final 20 minutes of the program, when the Blue Devils and Santa Clara Vanguard performed their powerful shows, I looked over and saw Marjorie with her arms around Leonard's shoulders as he sat resting against her. Although his body was tired and weak, the expression of energetic joy on his face matched those of the teenage drum corps fans seated all around him. On the early afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 22, Leonard finally succumbed to his cancer at the age of 67. These subsequent days have been filled with both the sadness of loss and the relief that his suffering has ended. There will be a memorial ceremony on Saturday Nov. 29, at St. Paul's Cathedral in San Diego. He will be cremated wearing his band shirt and his ashes will be scattered at sea. While I understand that your primary goal is to educate and impress valuable traits upon your young members in a very competitive environment, you should also be aware of the other perhaps unintended effects that you have on people along your way to the DCI Championship. On the behalf of all of us, I would like to express our deep gratitude to the entire Blue Devil organization. You gave Leonard one of his last moments of pure joy, where his physical and emotional pain was temporarily forgotten, and his world was filled with swirling precision movement of bright colors and the sound of great music shared with those he loved most. Sincerely, your loyal fan, Ian McIntosh
Spring Valley, Calif. Message 2. Nov. 26, 2003. Sent to Ian McIntosh by Blue Devils Board of Directors member John M. Donovan. Mr. McIntosh, Thank you for your note to David Gibbs of the Blue Devils regarding the passing of Mr. Birch. Please accept and extend our sincere condolences to Mr. Birch's entire family. I must say that I haven't read a more touching message in quite some time. We often are swept up in the competitive nature of the drum corps activity and lose sight of the way in which we touch the people our groups perform for. Your note put a spotlight on the joy we can bring to thousands. Thank you. We would like to do something to celebrate Mr. Birch's life at his memorial service on Saturday. Regrettably, our 2003 members will be gathering in Concord to celebrate this past year's achievements and World Championship at our annual banquet on Saturday night. However, I have made arrangements with one of our alumni in Southern California to attend the memorial and perform something in honor of Mr. Birch's love for drum corps, if the family would so desire. We do not want to intrude in this time of grief, but want you to know that we'd be honored to have someone there. Please give this some thought and let me know if you'd like our family member to attend as soon as possible. You may contact me directly via return e-mail or on my cell phone at (number deleted), day or night. Again, thank you for your heartfelt message and kind words. Your message has touched our collective spirit and gives us even more reason to continue our efforts in this activity. Warm regards, John M. Donovan
Member -- board of directors, the Concord Blue Devils Message 3. Nov. 26, 2003. Sent to John Donovan and David Gibbs from Ian McIntosh. Dear John and David, Thank you for your kind responses to my message. I have forwarded your very special offer to have an alumni representative perform at Leonard's memorial service to his son, David Birch. I am not involved in the memorial service planning, so I will let you know when he calls me with his response. Hopefully they can include this in Leonard's tribute. I will also ask the family if they have a photograph of Leonard available. Please feel free to share my message with DCI and your Web site. Ian McIntosh Message 4. Dec. 1, 2003. Sent to John Donovan and David Gibbs from Ian McIntosh. Dave & John, This past Saturday we gathered for Leonard's memorial service. The large number of people attending was very telling about the effect that he had on the lives of many. It was also remarkable to me how many of those paying their respects were musicians (Leonard met his wife Marjorie in high school when she played piano accompaniment for his clarinet solo). One of the most moving parts of the ceremony was the solo bugle performance of "You'll Never Walk Alone" by your corps alumni, David Emmond. The full and beautiful tonal quality of his playing resonated within the large cathedral and moved many to tears (myself included). I was particularly touched by the fact that this piece is so deeply rooted in drum corps tradition and history, which made David's performance a tribute from not only the Blue Devils, but from the entire drum and bugle corps community as well. Speaking with him briefly after the ceremony, he was very kind and personable. His obvious respect for the occasion and desire to play a part in it was very touching to us all, but particularly to Marjorie, who now plans to cheer for the Blue Devils at every San Diego performance. David was the finest example of the talent, class, and professionalism that have made the Concord Blue Devils our favorite drum and bugle corps by far. Thank you again from all of us. We look forward to cheering for you at your next regular season show in San Diego, as well as during the "Tour of Champions" in Southern California. Sincerely, your ever-loyal fan, Ian McIntosh, Spring Valley, Calif. 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.