On Saturday evening, August 31, 1996, Mr. Al Saia was inducted into The World Drum Corps Hall of Fame, founded in 1976. This is a most prestigious honor, as Al joins fellow New England corpsmen Scotty Chapell, Dom Bianculli, Earl Sturtze, Vinnie Ratford, Pepe Notaro, Alan Smyth, Tom Long, Darcy Davis, Dominic Del Ra, Joe McNaught, Ray Samora, Jack Whelan, Duke Ducharme, Ed Trainer, Cliff Fisher, Jim Pinette, Gerry Shellmer, and Gil Silva.
Al’s drum corps career had its start with the Sacred Heart Crusaders of Malden in 1937 and a life-long relationship began with Arthur “Scotty” Chappell, and the corps’ spiritual director, Father Sheehan. He started out in the horn line, but early on the powers-to-be spotted something special and he was promoted to drum major.
In 1939, Sacred Heart won the World’s Championship at the New York World’s Fair, but their young men, Scotty, and Father Sheehan had a greater challenge to attend to, World War II.
Following the War, Lt. Norman Prince Senior Drum & Bugle Corps was formed, made up almost exclusively of Sacred Heart alumni. Al joined and played in the renowned slide section. Equipment wasn’t what it is today, and the only way to play chromatics was with the use of a tuning slide, Chappell’s genius once again at work. Prince won its 1st of five V.F.W. National titles in 1946.
Al was called back into the service and, following his 2nd stint with Uncle Sam, returned to Prince and his spot in the horn line. Shortly afterwards, Joe McNaught started his distinguished tenure as music director and Al became drum major, winning two V.F.W. National Championship Military Drum Major titles.
In the early ’50s he started his teaching career and before he retired from instruction taught an astonishing 33 units, among them St. Rose Scarlet Knights, St. Mary’s Cardinals, and the Cambridge Caballeros, all of whom competed in V.F.W. National Finals contests.
The highlight of Al’s career didn’t occur on a sultry summer day at a contest, however. No, it would have to have been on a picture-perfect New England spring evening, when he and the Caballeros were warming up in a Boston institution, Symphony Hall, where Al’s father used to take him as a child. He and his nervous protégés were awaiting another Boston institution, Arthur Fiedler, who had asked the corps to audition for a possible joint concert with the Boston Pops. Fiedler was late and Al had drum major John Tyree take the corps through the program. When the Cabs finished “Malaguena,” their legendary concert piece, there was shouting from the balcony. Even the cantankerous Cantabrigians knew you weren’t supposed to yell in that hallowed hall. As the corps and staff looked to the balcony, trying to ascertain what was going on, the figure of Mr. Fiedler became clear and he was yelling, but the single word became discernible. It was, “Bravo,” over and over again. The corps had passed its audition.
Not content with the adjudication of drum corps, Al joined the Massachusetts All American Judges Association and later, Bay State and D.C.A. Judges Associations, for whom he judged local, state, major invitational, and world contests, including C.Y.O. and Eastern Mass Finals, Mission Drums, and the D.C.A. Finals.
When C.Y.O. Chief, Tom Long, came up with his innovative Junior Judges Group, Al was tapped to head up the Brass caption.
Al was introduced at the Hall of Fame by another prominent Princeman, Dick Doucette, and when asked to best describe Al replied, “It would be most fitting to say he is a perfect clone of Arthur “Scotty” Chappell.”
The ever humble Saia, after thanking the selection committee and members of the Hall of Fame, paid special tribute to his role models, first his father, who introduced Al to music lessons at a very early age (five) and later took him to join Sacred Heart to start his corps career, where he came in contact with another role model, Father Sheehan, who taught the corps close order drill on Saturday mornings.
He then went on to try to describe Scotty, a difficult chore. “Scotty was more than an instructor. To many of us he was our mentor, father image, and role model all in one. I named my youngest son after Scotty. However, he was very sick at birth and passed away when only a few months old. Years later, my first grandson was born and named Scotty also. I didn’t know it at the time but my three children, at some point, decided that whomever had the first son would name him after the brother they lost.”
“When I was inducted into the Massachusetts Drum Corps Hall of Fame, my grandson, Scotty, was presenter. When Scotty Chappell was inducted posthumously, I accepted on his behalf. It almost makes you believe what goes around comes around.”
He also gave thanks to fellow Hall of Famer, Joe McNaught, for his efforts with the Prince chorus and keeping the guys together.
Al’s last remark was aimed at Chappell. “Scotty, keep that blank file open but don’t beam me up yet!”