The Question: Of all the arrangements you’ve done for drum corps, what are your favorites?
The Answer: First of all, there is no way I can remember all of the arrangements I’ve written, let alone prioritize them. In fact, if anyone out there remembers something I’ve written, please let me know via the magazine. It would be fun to reminisce. (Probably embarrassing, too!)
Keep in mind that I’ve written for over 120 corps – some of them entire shows year after year, some of them a single chart. Also, I started writing for and teaching the corps I marched in (Blue Rock), as well as others, when I was 14 years old, so there’s a large body of work we’re dealing with here. (That’s also why it seems like I’ve been around forever!)
So often, the proficiency, or the status, of the drum corps doesn’t adequately represent the quality of the arranger’s work. I’m sure other arrangers out there will agree. Often the joy in writing is to help a smaller or less technically proficient horn line sound good. That is always a challenge – often harder than writing for a line that can play anything you put in front of them.
Remember, as you read this, that there were far more drum corps not so very long ago – probably more in any given metropolitan area than there are in the world today. The greater New York/Northern New Jersey area alone contained dozens of corps, some big, some tiny. The same is true for the greater Boston area. Or the Philadelphia area. Or the Chicago area. Drum corps were community activities, and most competed locally or regionally- rarely nationally.
I used to teach corps every night of the week. Often two a night, and three a day on weekends! For example, when I lived in Boston, I taught The Majestic Knights (Charlestown), The I.C. Reveries (Revere), The Norwood Debonnaires, The Nashua Spartans, The Don Juans (Cambridge), and The Renegades. (If I’m leaving anyone out, please let me know.)
Here’s a bit of trivia: The very first corps I taught in Massachusetts was the Randolph Brigadiers. I was this kid from Jersey, a stranger, who was coming up to Boston to attend Berklee. I had answered an ad in Drum Corps News over the summer for an arranger/instructor. Things were going along nicely that first winter, or so I thought, when WHAM! — they fired me via a pink slip in the mail! It was the only time I was ever fired from a corps and I was flabbergasted! It turned out that another horn instructor from Massachusetts wanted the gig and convinced them that they should fire me and hire him because he was a much better arranger and instructor than I. That’s when Eddie something, not Denon, (I just can’t recall), took over. Well, let’s just say that they all went on without me, and I went on without them.
As time went on, I was hired by the Hawthorne Caballero senior corps from Hawthorne, NJ. ( I believe Don Angelica had recommended me.) I used to fly to North Jersey every Friday to teach them. Then the Hawthorne Muchachos hired me, so I’d teach the Muchachos from 7:00-9:00, then The Caballeros from 9:00-11:00. Then it was off to the Newark airport to often be the only passenger on the 3:00 AM flight back to Logan.
After I moved back to New Jersey, I taught them both on Tuesdays as well as Fridays. Immediately, The Bridgemen were added to my schedule two other days of the week, followed by the C.W. Townsmen (later The Royal Brigade), The New York Knickerbockers, The Saints, and a whole slew of other corps. Some of them I taught, some of them I just wrote for. It was a very busy, fun time. I can remember going to competitions where I’d have every corps in the show!
It wasn’t long before I was writing for corps all over the United States and Canada. At the same time, in my “other” life, I was conducting for Don Rickles’ show and traveling all over the country with various singers. I was doing a lot of “show biz” writing; a lot of TV work (The Tonight Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Jerry Lewis Telethon, etc.); a lot of recording work, writing commercial jingles, conducting in New York, Vegas, Reno, Lake Tahoe, Bermuda, etc., etc. I was a busy guy! Still am!
But, I always made time for all of the drum corps I wrote for and taught. (Sometimes I’d chuckle when I’d come back from working with The Tonight Show Band, or some other gig where I’d work with the finest musicians in the world, then go to a drum corps rehearsal. where none of the players read, and I’d have to “remind” them that the #!!@ valve was pressed in for a #!!@ D!!! Talk about culture shock!
On to the charts. Don’t forget – times, tastes, and styles have changed over the years, not to mention the fact that some of us actually arranged music then! Another very important point to remember is that drum corps began as an activity wherein non-musicians could express themselves musically. Consequently, getting players to blow into the horn they were blowing into probably only had one horizontally-placed valve that they played with their thumb, and, if they were very lucky, they could pull their sanded-down tuning slides out far enough to play a few of the notes that weren’t possible in the overtone series of G or D. That’s what we were up against! Tone quality? Intonation? Musicianship? Are you kidding?!!! It got better with the advent of G-F, piston/rotary horns, then mechanically better with 2-piston instruments, but it was still an activity for primarily non-musicians. Now drum corps, at long last, has “re-invented the wheel,” and we’ve reached the same place that the rest of the musical world reached in 1845, when the piston valve was invented, and it was realized that it took three of them to cover an acceptable chromatic scale (i.e. “all the notes”). 150 years! That’s all it took! (The funny thing is – three valves, two valves, one valve, no valves, seventeen valves …. it doesn’t matter – modern drum and bugle corps have never played on bugles, with the exception of the flugelhom, a relatively recent addition. They have been, and still are, primarily cylindrically-bored instruments like trumpets and trombones, not conically-bored instruments like those in the true bugle family.) But I digress…….
Some favorite charts:
• Blue Rock: “Baby Elephant Walk,” “Lincoln Portrait,” “Quiet Village,” “Requiem for the Masses,” “Spinning Wheel”
• Boston Crusaders: “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Promises, Promises
• Hawthorne Muchachos: “Pictures of Spain” (original), “Espiritu del Toro” (original composition), “BS&T Concert” (“Cowboys and Indians/ Go Down Gamblin”‘), “Mexican Hat Dance”
• Hawthorne Caballeros: “Captain From Castille,” “Enchano,” “Everybody’s Everything,” “Faces,” “Flamenco Cha Cha,” “Macarena,” “Man of La Mancha,”
• Imperial Guard: “Emerald Eyes” (original)
• Garfield Cadets: “Echano”
• Bridgemen: “Big Apple Medley” (“Traffic Jam,” “New York, New York,” “42nd Street”), “Big Noise from Winnetka,” “On Broadway Medley,” “Civil War Suite,” “Free,” “Harlem Nocturne,” “In the Stone,” “Sophisticated Lady/It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” “Land of Make Believe,” “Mr. Clown,” “My Favorite Things,” “What I Did for Love/One,” “Pagliacci,” “Ritual Fire Dance/Sabre Dance,” “West Side Story” Show, “Spanish Dreams,” “Thunder and Blazes,” “To the Last Whale,” “William Tell Overture”
• Sky Ryders: “Come in from the Rain,” Here’s That Rainy Day,” “Home on the Range,” “Macarena,” “Over the Rainbow,” Quien Sabe,” “Rainbow Connection,” “West Side Story” Show, “Wizard of Oz” Show
• Geneseo Knights: “Casals Suite” (original), “Eleanor Rigby,” “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “In Like a Lion” (original)
• Star of Indiana: “Mickey Mouse,” “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”
• Troopers: “Battle Hymn Fanfare”
• Crossmen: “Jack Miraculous,” “Superman” Show, “Tiger of San Pedro”
• Spirit of Atlanta: “Blues In the Night,” “Los Hermanos de Bop,” “Porgy and Bess” Show,” “We Are the Reason”
• Bluecoats: “Nutville,” “Palookaville” (original), “A Whiter Shade of Pale”