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A Tribute to Ralph Randall Pace


By Joe Marrella

We remember vividly those in our beloved drum corps activity who share their unique talent, dedication, creativity, and life philosophy, toward catapulting the activity and its performers to greater heights. Their greatness stands out in the manner with which they leave their mark and influence on each person who crossed their path. Ralph Pace is one such giant.

Ralph Pace’s drum corps experience began as a member of the famed Vasella Musketeers junior drum and bugle corps of South Philadelphia, followed by the Archer-Epler Musketeers senior corps of Upper Darby. He went on to create and instruct the most innovative visual designs of the activity during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, all the while influencing future designers who would further advance the activity.

Archer Epler Musketeers

Pace helped top corps achieve their goals, including Blue Rock, 27th Lancers, Cavaliers, Crossmen, Phantom Regiment, Spirit of Atlanta, Madison Scouts, and Reading Buccaneers. His visual designs and instruction helped Blue Rock, 27th Lancers and Reading Buccaneers defeat all competitors at least once during his tenure—a particularly impressive feat for the 27th Lancers, since they finished 20th at the DCI Championships the year before. Such quantum achievement comes not only from design and execution, but from the positive spirit that Ralph Pace molded in each of his students.

The critical period of Pace’s influence is that in which the activity took control of its own destiny to become a world renowned performing arts organization. The mold that needed to be broken was that which characterized drum corps as quasi-military. Marching and maneuvering had been bound by the rubrics of the US Army Field Manual 22-5 for Drill and Ceremonies. Movement had to be in military squads, executed with precise pivots, interval, body position, and cadence. Equipment carriage—flags, sabers, rifles, bugles, and drums—would also be judged accordingly. Drill was mostly linear and symmetric.

By the mid-1960s the activity was screaming to break free of these constraints, as it evolved from excellence in executing military compulsories to presenting a total show with maximum affect, exhibiting outstanding performing arts standards. Toward such disruption, Ralph Pace imagined, designed, and brought to life the earliest asymmetry that would characterized the post-military era of drill. He introduced non-traditional, non-military body movement that enhanced performance and fostered greater audience appeal. His designs and influence are seen clearly in this “Danny Boy” mashup by the 27th Lancers: As one fan reacted, “Stunning, gorgeous, impossibly difficult. I loved every second of it.”

Noteworthy in the extant comments and discussions throughout drum corps literature, folklore, and social media is Ralph Pace’s influence on and relationship with his students. There was an almost magical connection that would inspire them to reach beyond their grasp and achieve greatness. According the Crossmen Hall of Fame induction:

“Ralph Pace was one of the most instrumental creative forces…helping [Crossmen] achieve their goals of fielding a DCI Finalist drum corps in 1977. His drills were innovative and helped push the creative boundaries … his influence can still be seen today…”

“He brought what seemed to be ‘mythical powers’ to rehearsals, and commanded the respect of the members. His motto for the corps was “Every Day in Every Way.” He challenged the members to rise to great heights, he had faith in them, and helped guide them there as an inspirational figure for an entire generation of Crossmen alumni.”

1977 Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps

What is it that makes people stand up and take notice, to induct a great drum corps personality into the Crossmen Hall of Fame, the Massachusetts Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Drum Corps Hall of Fame, the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame, Drum Corps International Hall of Fame, Reading Buccaneers Hall of Fame, Cavalcade Of Bands Hall of Fame, and National Judges Association Hall of Fame? It is the dimensions of greatness: Creativity, Innovation, Accomplishments, Championships, Influence, Eternal Design Concepts, and Admirers, to name just a few.

“Ralph’s arrival to the Cavaliers mid-summer of 1979 was a ‘watershed’ moment for the organization. His high expectations, confidence and creativity made us begin to think differently about drill design and about the activity in general. While his stay may have been short, his shadow maintained a creative influence on the corps for decades.”
– Jeff Fiedler, The Cavaliers

“Forty-seven years later, Ralph Pace’s influence on my character is still evident, for which I am grateful beyond words.”
– Willie Black, Reading Buccaneers.

If you measure greatness by innovation,

“Ralph’s creation of Crown Imperial to the Iconic wheel in Danny Boy, paved our path in Drum Corps history and beyond. This 27th family is forever honored and grateful for the courage and creative genius of our Ralph Randall Pace.”
– Patte Bonfiglio, 27TH Lancers

1975 27th Lancers goose stepIf you measure greatness by a sustained high level of accomplishments,

“Ralph was brilliantly creative at a time when creativity was stifled by the ‘rules’.”
– Larry Kerchner, Composer, DCI Hall of Fame

“Ralph’s body of work with his history of teaching remains high, creative, talented, and passionate about what he does and how he works with people. I will refer to his role in the rebirth of the 27th Lancers after a difficult time in their history. His programs in the middle 70’s broke ground. He helped many a corps and instructors. Many of us owe a great deal to Ralph as an instructor because he helped bring an expanded creative range to pageantry.”
– George Olivierio, DCI Hall of Fame

If you measure greatness by Championships,

“Ralph created productions for VFW National All Girl Champion Royaleers, CYO and US Open Champions, Blue Rock, Senior DCA World Champions, Reading Buccaneers”

Blue Rock Drum and Bugle Corps Baby Elephant If you measure greatness by the incredible influence they had on others that they mentored, consider Ralph Pace’s influence on George Zingali and others on 27th Lancer’s staff, and how it impacted many other organizations throughout the years through the works of Marc Sylvester, Jeff Sacktig and Steve Brubaker.

If you measure greatness by the innovative, lasting concepts he developed,

“He has the rare capacity to listen intensely to musical compositions and instantaneously ‘see’ drastically different, extraordinarily innovative visual structures.”
– Michael Kumer, Bands of America Hall of Fame

If you measure greatness by the number of people who admire and respect their achievements,

“Ralph was a unique instructor who often thought outside the box and to this day he is a tree that continues to bear fruit.” – Thomas Brown, Reading Buccaneers

“Multitudes of us ‘Forever Drum Corps Spirits’ have an overwhelming regard and affection for Ralph Pace. Raising the bar, exceeding our limits, and reaching for the stars. Second best just would not be acceptable”.
– Maureen McCloone, Royaleers All Girl Champions

How many among us have won guard, junior corps, and senior (aka “all age”) corps championships? –Plus being a world class instructor and consultant in demand by all classes of drum corps and marching bands?

His resume reads like a “who’s who” of drum corps. It includes the champion corps Blue Rock, Cavaliers, Phantom Regiment, 27th Lancers, Reading Buccaneers, Spirit of Atlanta, Crossmen and all girl Royaleers.

Ralph Pace is one of the only designers / instructors ever to have had two corps in DCI’s top ten simultaneously, once with 27th Lancers and Crossmen, and once with Cavaliers and Phantom Regiment.

“He is a legend among legends in drum corps and bands and has treated thousands and thousands of people to thrills and chills with his designs.”
– Bob Yarnall, Crossmen

Most importantly, he succeeded wherever he went and to whomever he instructed. Such is a true testament to greatness.

“He was innovative, had incredible attention to detail, a wonderful sense of color, certainly persistent, always wants ‘It’ to be ‘Right’, he was willing to learn, won’t take NOT possible as an answer.”
– Gene Monterastelli, DCI HALL OF FAME

Ralph Pace’s on-the-field products led to a quantum leap in the quality and entertainment value of the activity; drum corps “drill” was never the same thereafter.

The torch was ultimately passed to a new generation of creative innovators influenced by Ralph Pace.

“Ralph Pace was a pioneer in visual design. Many of the present day designers can connect ourselves back to Ralph through George Zingali, Marc Sylvester, and Steve Brubaker all of which were taught by Ralph.

Thank you Ralph for your creative vision and passion for our activity.”
– Jeff Sacktig, Cadets and Carolina Crown Visual Designer
I was in every production meeting with the corps that Ralph and I taught together. Just like George Zingali, Marc Sylvester, Jeff Sacktig, and Steve Brubaker, I learned from Ralph Pace so many concepts and how to implement them in a production—especially the importance of getting and keeping an audience’s attention while making them feel each moment.

“People engaged in conversations during production meetings often seem to be listening, in essence, they are really just hearing, but Ralph actually truly listens. I always felt his listening was part of his genuine concern for those he was engaging with so he could learn about their thoughts and ideas. The result was innovative and exciting shows time and time again.”
– Harry Jenkins, Blue Rock.

While drum corps is about competition—fierce competition—it is a tribute to Ralph Pace that there is genuine respect and reverence for him from many who taught competitors.

“In the 1970’s Ralph Pace ushered in the transformation from ‘Old School’ non-coordinated show design to modern form integration of all the elements. Ralph’s designs had a profound impact on what would become the ‘East Coast School of Drill Design.’ Pace’s work can be found in the DNA of modern show design today. He is a true iconoclast and a high renaissance genesis of our activity.” – Jim Elvord, Madison Scouts, DCI Hall of Fame

Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps 1976

Ralph made additional contributions to the activity by being an adjudicator for ten years and providing guidance to the next generation of designers.

“Ralph was a disruptive presence, able to take rough ideas and formulate them real-time with a live corps. He was a bridge between what drum corps was pre-DCI to what it would become. He released the demons from confinement, and showed the way to obstreperous design and innovation, which were carried on by his disciples.”
– Gary Dickelman, Brass Arranger, Staff Writer for DCW.

When watching one of Ralph’s drill designs for the Reading Buccaneers, George Zingali saw a moment and form that intrigued him. George complimented Ralph and wondered if he could borrow it for the Cadets; of course, Ralph agreed. Ironically, it turned out to be a big moment in the climax of the Cadets show. It was referred to as the ‘Z’ pull, shown here:

It should not be any surprise to anyone that Ralph’s accomplishments earned him a place in those many Halls of Fame cited earlier. When you consider Ralph’s accomplishments, championships, the respect and gratitude of his peers and students, and the designers he mentored who took the activity to the next levels, I humbly suggest that when they create a Mount Rushmore of visual designers, we should see the face of Ralph Randall Pace.

This article originally appeared in the September issue of Drum Corps World.

Thanks to Steve Vickers for sharing this article.