The picture with this article is from my mother’s 1948 high school yearbook. The resolution is poor, but one can see that the corps uniforms resembled those of Salvation Army ladies and that the girls wore sensible shoes. I don’t know whether they were a competitive unit, or why they were all brunettes. Maybe the actress Jane Russell was big that year.
My mother graduated high school with drum corps personages John “Scrapper” Keenan, Frank Benoit, Louis Maniscalco, and Mary Thomas. She herself was not involved in any marching activity, but she occupied her spare time with volunteer work, handing out doughnuts and coffee to soldiers and sailors at the U.S.O. during World War II and serving as a candy striper at Somerville Hospital. My father left Somerville High in the 11th grade to fight in Germany and Austria with the 86tth Infantry Division of General Patton’s Third Army, which was another good way for a kid to keep off the streets.
My mother was a great cook in her heyday, and we could have used her services on tour with the 27th Lancers, but she had to stay home and help to see to the needs of my five younger siblings, who themselves found constructive things to do during adolescence. My sister, Maryann, got her first paying job at age 14 and my other sister, Nancy, was in the Sunsetters, a teen song and dance troupe who put on revues in the Somerville parks during the summers. My brothers John, Frank, and Stephen all loved street hockey and baseball, Frank progressing to the Senior Babe Ruth League, where he was an excellent pitcher.
And so my brothers and sisters found peace through the trinity of employment, entertainment, and sports, while I chose drum corps, which was part sport and part entertainment, with all the commitment of a job but without a paycheck in sight. Yes, we paid money to slog through parades and to risk heat stroke during prelim shows.
I was in The Annunciators and 27th Lancers over forty years ago, and although there is no longer a drum corps in every city and town, there are still young people who love various forms of the marching arts. When I lived in Malden from 2000 to 2005, I would sometimes go to the city stadium to watch Malden High School band practice and to shoot the breeze with band director, Jimmy Lutz. On one occasion there was a gentleman with a British accent at rehearsal – unfortunately, I do not recall his name – and he told me that he was trying to promote band and drum corps in England but that the kids there only wanted to stare at the Internet.
The ‘Net gets blamed for a lot, and it can be very addictive, but before the Internet, there were other screens for lads to stare at – TV screens. I was not averse to planting myself in front of the tube watching a ”Star Trek” or “Twilight Zone” marathon. But there was nothing quite like being in the great outdoors, in the parking lot behind the Northgate shopping center, doing the same drill over and over again while receiving the fraternal correction of Ike Iannessa or Ralph Pace.
If there’s a real drum corps season in 2022, I will certainly take in a show. I just wish there were still drill teams because a hot dog or a snow-cone tastes better when I’m watching girls marching in block formation to the theme from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” That’s all for now. Pax vobiscum.