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A Conversation between Rick Wygant and Tad Faccini

Rick spent six years in the hornline of the Garfield Cadets. We all know his distinctive tone quality, as he was the soprano soloist from 1984 through 1988. We became acquainted through social media, and I have asked him an insufferable amount of questions about his drum corps experiences.

TF: Let’s start with your musical training.
RW: I grew up in New Jersey and am a 1984 graduate of Waldwick High School. I attended William Paterson University where I received a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education in 1988. I did some graduate study in Trumpet Performance at Montclair State University in the early 1990s.

TF: List your corps experience.
RW: 1976-78: Imperial Knights; 1979-82: Fantasia III; 1983-88: Garfield Cadets; 1989-1993: Crossmen Brass Staff; 1994: Westshoremen Brass Arranger; 1995-2007: Jersey Surf Brass Arranger/Musical Director; 2000-04: Juliana (Holland) Brass Arranger; 2006: Skyliners Brass Arranger; 2007: Fusion Core Brass Arranger.

TF: In early August 1983, the still-undefeated Garfield Cadets brought down everybody at DCI Midwest. Your reaction? How did the staff keep the corps focused headed toward Miami?
RW: 1983 was the most surreal experience of my life. As a naive 16-year-old who joined Garfield in mid-May, I was so immersed in catching up on the whole winter’s worth of work that I never had time to process where I was. I spent that entire summer beating all the corps I’d idolized for seven years, and it never fully sank in until the season was over.
For many years, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding the “non-competitive philosophy” to which Garfield subscribed in the 80s. I will state — for the record — that it was absolutely true. We NEVER talked about winning and losing during those years. The focus was simple: waking up each day and getting better. Competitive success was simply something that happened along the way. As a result, maintaining focus through the rest of the 1983 season was actually quite easy, because it was part of our daily conditioning.

TF: What was different about the ‘83 semifinal performance where you finished behind Santa Clara Vanguard and were tied with the Blue Devils? Was Saturday’s rehearsal any different?
RW: The 1983 Semifinals performance was simply an off night. We were good but not great. It was probably the best thing that could have happened to us, because we were reminded that no matter how good you get, autopilot is a myth. Regarding the rehearsal on Finals Day, that still stands as the most intense, confident and focused rehearsal of which I was ever a part as a performer or instructor.

TF: What was your personal reaction when Garfield won?
RW: Finals Night is a story I’ve told many times over the years. If the ”out of body experience“ is a real thing, then that night was mine. I remember nothing at all about the performance. I know it happened, and I know I was there, but I can’t recall a single moment about it. Retreat was more of the same for me. Brandt was reading through the scores, and I remember, ”In second place, with a score of 93.8…the Blue…” The crowd jumped up, and everything froze. I don’t remember hearing our score, and I have no idea what happened next. I completely blacked out. The next thing I remembered was that there was a medal hanging around my neck, and I have no idea how it got there.

TF: In 1984, at the ripe old age of 17, you were chosen to play the soprano solo in “Tonight.” How did that arise?
RW: Until the beginning of August, that part was played by the entire section. We were somewhere in the Midwest, and before a performance, brass arranger Jim Prime asked me, “How do you feel by the end of the show?” Being young, dumb and not knowing that I was supposed to feel tired, I told him that I was fine by the show’s end. And that particular night, he said, “Pay close attention tonight, and let me know.” I did, I felt fine and told Jimmer so. That was when he told me the new plan (solo).

TF: You marched with your older sister Kathy (Mellophone 83-85). Did she act like a “big sis?”
RW: Kathy and I marched together for a total of 10 years, and for most of it, we were the typical “big sister/little brother.” We acknowledged each other’s existence but didn’t interact very much in public. It’s funny in retrospect, because we have mutual friends who never realized that we were related! All of that changed on Finals Night in 1983. The field was finally cleared, and the corps had the opportunity to celebrate. In all of the milling about, I backed into someone, turned around and discovered that it was Kathy. It was at that moment that we realized what we had shared after all those years, and it was “okay” to be seen in public as siblings. Our relationship completely changed that night.
By the way, in the end set of “America” (’84), we stood next to each other. That was the only occurrence in the ten years we marched together. This was a particular favorite of my father, because he was an avid photographer, and it was the one time he could ever get a “two kids in one shot” photo. Needless to say, the scrapbook contains many variations of the shot from different shows that season.

TF: Where were you in relation to the infamous 1984 Whitewater pileup? What the heck happened?
RW: It happened right behind me. Eight sopranos went down, and I was the 9th in line (hence, this article’s title). It was a blind backup at a 2-step interval, and the person on the end didn’t keep his interval. He went down, and we all know the rest. The only reason I didn’t fall was because the form was traveling on an angle that allowed me to see a little bit of what was behind me. I was able to change my path and move behind it.

TF: Have you a favorite moment from the “West Side Story” show?
RW: The best moment was hitting the surprise company front near the end. I’ve always been a junkie for crowd response, and the combination of hitting that front from seemingly out of nowhere and the crowd’s reaction was always my favorite thing.

TF: What was it like putting the 1985 show on the field? Was there a sense of urgency given the brand-new show and the late start with neophyte Michael Klesch taking over the arranging duties in March?
RW: The 1985 show was great fun, simply for all of the new visual and musical challenges. We never felt a sense of urgency — we simply knew that this was going to be a huge undertaking, and that it would not come easily or quickly. In my six years as a Garfield Cadet, that show was unquestionably the most difficult.
TF: Talk about 1986’s “Undiscovered Bernstein.”
RW: 1986 was challenging for many reasons. Coming off the threepeat, we had a brand new visual team who needed time to settle (in addition to having impossible shoes to fill). Thanks to the Rules Congress, shows had to be 1.5 minutes shorter; that spring, the entire show concept had to be changed. We were originally going to play “Prelude, Fugue and Riffs” after “On the Waterfront,” but that was in anticipation of performing a 13-minute show. Also, there was a huge turnover after 1985, so we were very, very young as a result. It took most of the season for all of these factors to work themselves out. For the most part, the season was quite a struggle, but I don’t think I marched in a harder working corps than that ‘86 team.

TF: Other than the return of the Zingali/Sylvester visual team, how was Garfield able to turn 1987 around so well?
RW: ’87 was better for several reasons. Having Zingali’s visual team return was huge, because it injected a higher level of confidence immediately in the membership. All of the folks who returned from 1986 now had a higher level of experience that allowed us a better level of understanding regarding the work that we would have to do in order to be successful. In conjunction with those factors was that the show was designed brilliantly. By that point, we had come to expect there would be many adjustments and changes throughout the summer, which was not a concern. We grew to understand that any change was simply going to make a great thing better, and not just a Band-Aid to try to make things work.

TF: ‘Fess up. Did you — or did you not — play the end solo?
RW: Maybe.*

TF: 1988 is very underrated for its musicality both in writing and performance. How did you feel about your age-out show?
RW: The ’88 show was a lot of fun to play. We chose to take some new musical and visual risks that were met with varying levels of success. Strictly from a performance standpoint, I definitely enjoyed marching and playing that show.

TF: What was it like seeing the Cadets for the first time in 1989 as a spectator?
RW: I was on staff with the Crossmen, and the first time I got to see the Cadets of Bergen County was in Hershey, PA at the beginning of July. I had spent more than a quarter of my life with Garfield at that time, and knowing I was no longer part of it was pretty emotional for me.

TF: If you could change just one DCI rule, what would it be and why?
RW: Caption awards at Finals should be awarded for Saturday night only. The averaging over three nights makes no sense and does nothing to heighten suspense. It just adds to the confusion. As there is absolutely no chance of ever re-creating a 1977 Oakland Crusaders scenario (15th place corps winning High Percussion), it’s a pretty pointless rule.

TF: In closing, can you list some unforgettable moments as a Garfield Cadet?
RW: In six years and well more than 250 public performances, it’s not easy to choose moments. The 1983 season was quite magical for me, simply because I was so young and never processed what I was part of until it was over. The 1984 and 1987 seasons produced many great moments because the shows themselves were so great. The 1985 season was special because that show was so incredibly difficult and forced us to create the “educational technology on the fly” to figure out much of it. The 1986 and 1988 seasons were their own special kinds of success, because we had so many fresh faces and tried so many new and different things. We had to learn to work incredibly hard to live up to the standards achieved by previous seasons. I have always said that for those six years of my life, I was incredibly fortunate to be the right age in the right place at the right time.

TF: Rick chose not to comment on the Hopkins allegations but closed with this:
RW: I’ll simply say that I’m thrilled to see my Alma Mater working so hard to move in a positive direction and put that chapter of their history behind them.

* Rick elaborates on his response regarding the ’87 show-ending solo in this Facebook video