Having been involved in drum corps, band, and winter guard for over half a century, I’m usually pretty good at following orders, but I’ll readily admit to finally having to run laps and do push ups. You see, Rick (bless him for being back in full swing as we’ve all missed you, my dear friend) specifically charged me with writing one of two articles for this issue of MMA, both of which were meritorious in their own right, and both of which you’ll be able to read at a later date. One fascinates me and my research is still a work in progress. The other was “meh”. I just couldn’t seem to dig into the storyline…yet. Sorry Rick, I give you permission to slap me silly and make me run laps when I see you! At my age, though, it’ll take a while. (Have 911 on speed dial!)
All I could think about recently was how much I’ve missed drum corps after nearly six decades, and how many drum corps friends have passed silently, without taps, or tributes, or gatherings since this blasted pandemic took the music away.
Oh, please don’t stop reading because I promise I won’t be morbid. I refuse morbidity despite another masked and socially-distanced funeral service today for another drum corps friend, Steve Kelley, who marched with the Danvers Blue Angels.
As we all stood at precise six-foot paces (based, of course, on the proper algorithm of 8-to-5), it was difficult to hear the clergy’s words, and I found my mind wandering to other times and places, and other drum corps friends lost long ago, and so, instead of writing what Rick wanted me to I decided to tell you a story and share a long-held secret. You just have to promise not to tell. Pinky swear!
I’m not sure what year it was, but I believe it was in the early 1990s. The Cardinals Alumni Association was running a DCI show at Hurd Stadium in Beverly. It was an extraordinarily beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon as we all gathered to prepare for what was to be a great night. A perfect day for a drum corps show, not too hot, a slight breeze, no hint of storms or rain in the forecast, and eight world-renowned drum corps prepared to thrill and entertain a crowd-filled stadium.
As usual, the hustle and bustle of pre-show activity and the energy surrounding everything that has to be done to ensure a no-hitch DCI show, were palpable. Unfortunately, when we arrived we discovered that the field needed to be better groomed, so Don O’Connor rushed home and loaded our John Deere ride mower onto the back of his pick-up and brought it to the stadium. Bob Mulvanity jumped on the tractor and could be seen meticulously grooming the football field, while other folks could be seen setting up the concessions and getting the grills ready. Others were seen frantically renumbering the stands to ensure seating was accurate, Steve Menesale and others in the ticket booth were organizing the charts and tickets for the drum corps fans that would surely be seen in lines from the booth back to Essex Street hoping for the best seats possible! Another large group of folks could be seen “scoping out” the lay of the field and the stadium. They were the staff and directors of the corps getting ready to set up “souvie” trucks and trailers and making sure they knew the stadium layout, practice and warm-up areas, and procedures for entering and leaving the field.
There was controlled chaos everywhere. It was typical behind-the-scenes pre-show pandemonium, and we loved every minute of the excitement and anticipation.
Frank Raffa and I were walking across the field to check out a couple of things when suddenly the Garfield Cadets’ Tour Director and a member of the Cadets staff called out to Frank to ask a couple of procedural questions. I know there were more introductions, political pleasantries, and general questions, but I have no recollection as to what they were because what happened next captured my full attention.
Amidst all the chaos, a small group of only three of four people had gathered at the center of the field on the 50-yard line. They had seemingly come out of nowhere, and with so much going on hardly anyone thought anything of the small group. We all just went ahead with the business of the day thinking one of the corps’ personnel must be checking out the condition of the field. That was normal, after all, for safety reasons as well as staging, sound, and gauging audience response height, depth, etc., and adjudicators’ perspectives.
As we were talking to the gentleman from the Cadets, he suddenly noticed the small group and asked Frank “What’s going on over there?” to which Frank turned, looked quickly and said “Oh, nothing. Let’s go show you how the Cadets will enter and leave the field.”
As Frank guided the gentleman in the opposite direction, a baritone rendition of Taps could be heard playing faintly in the background on the 50. Bob continued mowing, Steve continued setting up the tickets along with everybody in the ticket booth, Jim and the rest continued numbering the seats, and the concession stand was looking good. All as Taps played faintly amid the hustle and bustle.
With one eye on the field and one hand gently guiding the Cadets staff away from the field and toward the entrance gate, Frank quickly and silently recognized Danny Quill playing the baritone while someone was holding something that we couldn’t quite make out. Nothing made sense. Why would Danny be on the field? On the 50? With a baritone? Playing Taps?
Still, the chaos of DCI show prep relegated a single individual in the midst of so much activity unremarkable. Until we realized what the other person was holding. An urn. With the remains of Alumnus Bill Fancy who had recently died!
Danny Quill and Bill Fancy had been very close friends in the St. Mary’s Cardinals, so it wasn’t a surprise that Danny would honor his friend who had recently passed by playing Taps, but as we watched in amazement and horror, the person standing next to Danny suddenly, solemnly, and very unexpectedly, proceeded to spread Bill’s ashes over the center of the field at the 50-yard line.
Still, the controlled chaos continued, Bobby completed the mowing and collected the clippings in the tractor attachment for disposal, the seat numbering continued, the food set-up never skipped a beat, and Frank helped the gentleman from the Cadets discover how to enter and leave the field.
Just as suddenly and quietly as they’d appeared without fanfare or pomp, the small group left the field and walked to the back of the stadium and out the Newbury Street entrance, while none of the rest of those working diligently even took notice.
One might think that was the end of the story, but it isn’t.
One of the corps that was performing that warm, sunny Sunday night at Hurd Stadium in Beverly was the “Garfield” Cadets, and they were on early that evening. As you probably know, the St. Mary’s Cardinals purchased the Cadets’ uniforms in 1960 after the Holy Name Cadets were disbanded, so their Cadet jackets and white pants and bucks have always been a favorite in Beverly. As a matter of fact, in 1962, Nationals finals were held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the Cardinals and newly reformed Cadets were on “back to back”. Bill Fancy marched in the Cardinals that year and always loved and admired the Cadets. He even commented that he’d have loved to march with the Cadets. Donnie O’Connor remembered that the crowd thought for a moment that one corps was actually performing twice (especially since both corps wore nearly identical uniforms and played the same opener!!! Al Saia often said that our arrangement of the opener was better). Anyhow…where was I?
Oh, yes, Cadet jackets, white pants, and white bucks. That year the Cadets opener included a massive block formation and a high mark time that made the crowd go absolutely wild. Well, that night as the corps began to visually and musically converge for their big musical and visual GE impact “hit” and when they started their high mark time, there was a sudden (and VERY impressive) cloud of white smoke-like dust that enveloped the center of the corps on the 50-yard line!
The crowd went nuts! What an effect!!! Nobody knew how they did it at JUST that perfect moment!!! Best General Effect EVER!!! WOW!
Frank looked at me, I looked at Frank, and Frank said “Well, Bill always did want to march with the Cadets! Guess he got his wish today!”
As Paul Harvey used to say, now you know…”the rest of the story”. Keep it to yourself, will you? If you don’t tell, I won’t.
…Next time you dig up and dust off that long-buried time capsule of drum corps nostalgia, raise a glass to all those we’ve lost, and smile. May we all have friends who help us fulfill our wishes and dreams, and may we all soon hear the sounds of drum corps. Stay well, my friends!