It’s Always Been ALL-age for DCA!

| |

Granted, when Henry "Lefty" Mayer and representatives from Drum Corps Associates seven charter member organizations sat down in 1964 to establish DCA, performing membership was primarily limited to males over the age of 18. But that’s changed!

Surely, back in the time of Beatles invasion, and just six years after the founding of AARP, this country’s most recognized organization for seniors, nearly every performer with the Skyliners, Buccaneers, and others were well past the age of majority. There were exceptions, probably many exceptions, but they were likely hidden from view. At the time, DCA corps were home-based in American Legion and VFW Posts, where doorbells did not work for those underage.

But time marches on! This is not your father’s DCA!

Usage of the term "senior" to brand what we are is coming under question. At a recent DCA Board of Directors Meeting, a suggestion was made to ease away from the AARP-like word in describing the current Drum Corps Associates product. No longer an accurate descriptor of those who perform, our management believes the senior connotation limits our activity’s growth, and possibly damages DCA’s image.

Drum Corps Associates affiliates have been emerging all over North America. For 2006, DCA anticipates nearly 50 organizations will register to perform in some form, at the circuit’s A.J. Wright World Championships in Rochester, New York. Each of these groups has an annual need to identify new members. All realize the pool of recruits in every region is substantial, but also understand the importance of reaching potential new members with an accurate word of welcome that truly describes who we are.

Simply put, spreading the message "DCA membership works for anyone," has become a goal for 2006.

Hundreds of talented young adults have completed their careers in Drum Corps International, the drum and bugle corps organization that remains restricted to those age 22 and under. Thousands more might not have the opportunity, time, nor resources to tour with DCI, but still have the skills and interest in marching music to make positive contributions to this performance genre.

As DCA has grown to include corps in almost every geographic region, there are opportunities for anyone to perform, and within reasonable distance of their home community. Most importantly, DCA participation is possible at levels that accommodate everyone’s individual employment, educational, and family circumstance.

Several current DCA performers have agreed to share their opinions about the all-age drum corps experience. Here are their thoughts.

Vinny Cataudella, a junior at the University of Connecticut, has already discovered the benefit of having all-age drum corps within driving distance of his home. Now entering his second season as trumpet player for DCI’s Crossmen, Vinny also maintains a brass position with DCA’s Connecticut Hurricanes.

As Vinny explains it, " the Hurricanes took me in as a lowly 16 year old who wasn’t very confident. Within 3 months, they had me playing lead soprano. My high school experience wasn’t very good, and I didn’t learn much there. The Hurricanes’ staff, administration, and membership taught me everything I needed to know to succeed in DCA, and to make the Crossmen three years later." Fortunately, at age 20 he can continue to do drum corps at the demanding Drum Corps International level with the Crossmen. Vinny realizes, however, it will be the Hurricanes where he will hang his hat for many years thereafter.

"As much as I miss being a Hurricane during the intense DCI tour schedule, being a Hurricane is still who I am," he explains. " For me, drum corps is really all about family. We all strive to do our best, but it’s the bonds you make with other members of the corps, in pursuit of excellence, that makes drum corps unique and special for me."

"The Hurricanes are some of the best people I’ve ever met. Having all-age drum corps available will keep me content for many years to come!"

Five-year veteran of the Boston Crusaders, Heather Yaworski, age 23, brings a similar perspective. If the name sounds familiar, Heather’s father, Nick, is corps director of DCA’s Rockland County, New York Sunrisers.

When asked to compare her DCI years with membership in the all-age Sunrisers, Heather explained "In DCI, everything is basically done for you. Your meals are prepared, uniforms cleaned, wake-up calls and transportation all provided. There’s a different level of responsibility in DCA. It’s on you to keep the uniform in shape, get to the practice and show site on time, and to take care of your own meals." In the end though, Heather concurs, drum corps is all about friendships. "You meet people who will remain part of your life for years, people that might change your life forever. What’s unique about all-age drum corps is getting to work with people with backgrounds and experiences much different than your own."

Heather doesn’t really consider when, or why her Sunrisers participation will end. Many in her family have marched Sunrisers and have been not only supportive, but proud of what she has done. It’s just what they all do.

Looking ahead, Heather says "the Sunrisers have so much room for growth. This is what excites me most about the coming season."

Thirty-four years ago, Russ Ferrer, now a computer programmer living in Sterling, Virginia discovered his interest in marching music with the Cardinals Junior Drum & Bugle Corps. There was an additional season with the Crossmen, and later service as drill designer and instructor for a local high school marching band. Years passed by, most outside active participation, yet Russ continued to follow the activity. He realized family and career obligations would make it difficult to contribute the same way that he remembered.

In 2000, DCA affiliate Shenandoah Sound relocated to the Sterling area and held practice just five minutes from the Ferrer home. Visits to practice convinced Russ doing drum corps with adults is a much different enterprise today, than it was several years ago. At Shenandoah Sound, he found like-minded people who were working to put together a family-friendly, community-based organization. Despite being busy as an actor with the Sterling Playmakers, Russ knew he needed to find time to play soprano trumpet and serve on staff with the Sound.

"In all-age corps, Russ describes, there’s more allowance for the distractions an adult has in their own life. The overall experience is more relaxed and casual." He adds, "it’s also about the people, the fellowship with corps members and fans." Now age 47, and back in corps, Russ concludes "this man has not been this happy, for a long time!"

Tyler Honeycutt, age 19, came to DCA’s Carolina Gold in 2004 with no prior corps experience. The full-time student at Mars Hill College in North Carolina was , however, encouraged to check-out Gold by an age-out from perennial DCI finalist Carolina Crown. Like the others, Tyler’s participation as tenor in the Carolina Gold drumline, is highlighted in the friendships he has made across all age groups.

"There is something about that feeling you get when people who have been doing this activity all their lives, who are sometimes legends of drum corps, come to you after a show and thank you for your performance. It’s amazing!" Tyler said "I’m sure I’ll stay involved in all-age drum corps for a very long time, even when I am no longer able to march."

Matt Steppe, current New York Skyliner, has much to appreciate from his participation in all-age drum corps. The former member of Sound of Long Island, Crossmen, and Syracuse Brigadiers, used a performance at the DCA Mini-Corps event with the Golden Eagles to convince him drum corps will always be a regular part of his life.

"To get to experience it all again," he said, "the shows, the crowds, the long, hot rehearsals. It’s the greatest feeling in the world." For Matt, "marching with Sky is a dream come true." He grew up listening to his father’s DCA albums. "Dad, and my two older brothers were members of the corps."

But there’s more, Matt explains, "Sky is where I met my fiancee, Kerri (colorguard). We will be married this September, a couple weeks after DCA Finals."

Missy Heckman, member of current DCA World Champion Reading Buccaneers color guard has made a journey from Buccaneers (at age 15) to Crossmen until aging out, then back to Buccaneers. "The Buccaneers definitely prepared me for Crossmen," said Missy. "I met friends there that I’ll have for the rest of my life, and now at Bucs, we are able to march together again. Plus, I can still work full time and do drum corps!"

Internet message boards have also been quick to discuss retirement of the terms "senior drum and bugle corps." John Stark, Director of the Imperials, a Massachusetts-based group whose recent Open House flyer included an invitation to apply to anyone, aged 13 to 100 years old, offered the following comment.

"As we continue in our efforts to resurrect the Imperials, we find that "all-age" is the best term for a corps aspiring to be a DCA competitor. Our percussion section is populated by mostly teenagers, while the average age of our hornline is 28 years. The colorguard is a mix of teens and people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. "Senior" is a term used out of habit, and it definitely does not describe the realities of today."

John advises "I firmly believe the future of drum corps and its resurgence lies with all-age, family-style, community based corps that are more plugged into their particular locale, and the general public within it." He continues, "we have lots of fun just practicing, performing, and improving without the weight of a big tour, camp-style housing, and big bills to worry about."

Another poster viewed the changing face of DCA this way.

David Mickus, also a member of Carolina Gold, wrote "Honestly, one of the best things to me was having the environment filled with such a variety of people. Experience with inexperience, professional and novice, age and youth. Seeing the dynamics that came into existence between different types of people, in all stations of the corps (marching members, staff, administration, etc.) is a very educational opportunity.

I got to see how some people deal with younger or "greener" people in positions of authority. You get to see wonderful mentor relationships form. You see actual teachers become students all over again. You see people that lead by experience gained over many, many years.

All of this taught me about the way people interact and how to deal with various social situations that I could not have learned anywhere else."

Poster "krazyivan" believes physically, all-age corps might not be as demanding as DCI, but playing wise, all-age membership is just as hard, if not harder. He continues, here you are, at 15, standing next to a guy who has had the mouthpiece he uses longer than you have been alive, not to mention how long he has been playing the instrument! It kind of forces you to step up to that level.

Brian Downing, screen name "Jocko the Wonder Llama," member of California’s River City Regiment, an all-age group not affiliated with DCA, and retired from the U.S. Army, enjoys being part of a father-son combination in his corps. He adds "and let’s be honest, having a few young hard chargers around helps keep my motivation level up, and helps remind me why I came back to this after 25 years away. "

There is no question, Drum Corps Associates has entered a redefining moment in its proud history. Participation at DCA’s season-ending championship is at an all-time high. A truly diverse group of performers will appear in Rochester, New York for 2006. All-age groups have been popping-up everywhere, and they all seem to be having a really good time.

DCA President Gil Silva had this to say, "DCA becoming younger could well be one of the best things to happen to us. It certainly seems to have opened doors to us in new areas of the country. I’m enjoying it!"

Soon to celebrate its 42nd year, DCA is now ready to embrace what could be a working formula for continued growth in its number of members. Becoming marching music’s "one-size-fits-all" option appears to have caught on.

Maybe it is time to run (er, march) with that concept!

For more information about an all-age corps near you, visit Better still, speak with someone in uniform at an event in your area. They’ll be glad to meet you!

Fred Windish is the Director of Marketing and Public Relations at Drum Corps Associates and the author of Drum Corps Planet’s DCA … All-Age, All-Good! column. You may contact him directly at prdirector [at] dcacorps [dot] org. Watch for regular updates from Fred in this section.

Posted by on Saturday, March 4th, 2006. Filed under DCA ... All-Age, All-Good!.