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by James Hager, Jr.

I have been through my share of misfortune the past several years. Family members passing away, including my Dad this past March, close friends losing their loved ones, and life in general not being that rosy picture I had foreseen when I hit my 40s. Periods of anxiety and frustration that I never dreamed of, a lack of enthusiasm or passion that I had always found deep within, were trading forces around me. My friends were all experiencing similar doldrums.

Luckily for me and my “inner° circle of close friends, we travel every August to Allentown for a real male bonding weekend. It just so happens we have all marched in drum corps, are still clinging to the “dreams of our youth,” and attend the DCI East contests. We leave early Friday morning, telling stories on the way, catching up on rumors and basically renew our strong friendships. We re-hash who beat whom and when, and “do you remember when we … ” Our goal each year is to add another friend and this year we had eight guys. We needed a Suburban to travel in style and it was decorated as a drum corps shrine with pictures from different sources, albeit mostly Blue Devils.


Earlier this summer, I had received a tape with the Blue Devils and Cadets 1997 shows with additional music from their stage performances. One tune in particular by Blue Devils, “When a Man Loves a Woman,” was played almost continuously from Maine to Allentown and back. A gut wrenching performance with every brass voice heard, it is a beautiful example of quality and emotion. We also had the luxury of attending a Blue Devils rehearsal and took a few hours to speak with members of their pit, a few horn line members and James Gulke, their drum major. We showed them our Blue Devil shrine” and they must have thought we were nuts. I even gave one of their quad players my reunion corps T-shirts right off my back. Several of us have different backgrounds and we each took some time to ask questions about their corps, specifics about performing, etc. These “kids” were so full of determination and energy it was becoming contagious, and I could sense my enthusiasm returning. Each corps member was very responsive and we all enjoyed some laughs. When it was time to leave, group pictures were taken, we piled into the Suburban and cranked up the tape of BD playing you know what. The pit crew laughed and just shook their heads, and as we drove by the field where the corps was rehearsing, many members got up and were raising their fists and waving. It was all smiles. Our male bonding weekend was another outstanding success and will continue to grow.

Friends at DCI in Allentown

Doug Stebbins, Dave Stebbins, James Gulke, JIm Hager, Chris Perry

Last August, several of us also made the decision to go to the DCI finals this year. Since Disney and DCI were celebrating their respective 25 anniversaries, we wanted to be part of it – this being my 14. I attended Blue Devils rehearsals and brought copies of the group photos taken in Allentown and gave them out. The members were all smiles and many of the hornline remembered me from Allentown. (My wife thinks I’m a Blue Devil stalker.) Even more impressive to me was the fact that drum major James Gulke had remembered my name! I spoke with drum instructor Scott Johnson, having met him years ago, and recalled our marching days from the late ’70s.

At semi-finals, Blue Devils were truly on another mission. A “10” in Visual Performance should tell you something. High energy and emotion were cranked on “extra.” Santa Clara and Cadets were both outstanding, but BD just took over. I went to see several of the members after that performance and it was just one more big show, then hopefully an encore performance.

Finals were a slightly different story. SCV was down a notch from the night before, while Crossmen and Cadets put on very energetic shows. Blue Devils did a conservative but nearly flawless performance. I went onto the field after scores were announced and was overwhelmed. Smiles everywhere. I was asked to be photographed with many of the members. It was a purging, my soul being lifted up with the spirit of these champions. Hugs and thank-yous to me, when I felt like I should have been the one thanking them. We exchanged email addresses and I promised the returning members that I’d be in Allentown next year. Their encore was a gas.

On the way home, I cried a little bit while listening to that Blue Devils show – “Casablanca” – reminiscing about my Dad and my family and friends, and those members in the Blue Devils that helped me to regain some of that energy, passion and determination in life that had been given to me from drum corps. It is good for my soul.


* Featured image: “Rock Road at PA145 Allentown Quakertown Signs” flickr photo by formulanone shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license – image cropped