Inside the Arc
“The Connector”

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In his recent bestseller, “The Tipping Point”, Malcolm Gladwell makes reference to the theory of “Six Degrees”, the idea that everyone on earth is connected by acquaintance in no more than six steps. This is a fascinating notion, and I wonder if it’s true. (I suppose it really depends on how one defines a connection.)

Consider the actor, Kevin Bacon. You may not have met him, nor have I. Still, I am acquainted with Tony Spiridakis, who directed him in “Queens Logic”, so if you and I were to meet, you are three degrees from Kevin.

Drum Corps is a prime example of this phenomenon. It’s not that “everybody knows everybody”, but in a couple of steps you are bound to encounter someone who knows a great many, ergo, you are related by degrees. Gladwell calls these people connectors, and they are the prime reasons why a given idea reaches a “tipping point” and becomes a trend. I would suggest that Drum Corps is nothing if not one big trend, one which influences mightily another (larger) trend called Marching Band, which in turn drives a good deal of music education in this country and (indeed) world-wide.

In 1969 I got an invitation to a party. It was to be held in New Jersey on New Year’s Eve, and the host was a prominent corps instructor/arranger/adjudicator with nationwide connections. This much I already knew. I expected to have a good time and meet a couple of interesting people. I did not anticipate finding myself in the equivalent of the court of the Sun King…and having my life changed forever.

Understand: this was pre-DCI, that great, primal gathering of the tribes from all corners of the known Drum Corps world which has evolved over these past 35 or so seasons. And make no mistake: we are, indeed, a tribe. We have rituals and commonality of belief, whether we march up 5th Avenue or down Colorado Boulevard. We speak the same language, albeit with slightly different dialects. We are united. We are strong. But this was an evolutionary process, and it began in the living room of Donald Angelica.

Donald was a prodigy, a student of the great Dr. Bernard Baggs, a phenomenal trumpet player, soloist with the Holy Name (later, Garfield) Cadets, and then the Hawthorne Cabs, instructor/arranger for both (and a host of others), director of the nationally-ranked Bergenfield HS Band, the most sought-after music adjudicator in the country, and his New Year’s party was the hottest ticket in town for anybody in the corps activity. It was the bar scene from Star Wars-meets-the Exotic/Erotic Ball-in the Hall of the Mountain King. In short, everybody who was anybody in Drum Corps was there.

And Donald was the perfect host. The party was raucous, but everyone left sober after the obligatory morning gourmet breakfast. The guest list was impressive that night in ’69: Madison’s Scott Stewart, SCV’s Gail Royer and Pete Emmons, Bobby Hoffman, a kid named Delucia, Ken Norman of the Kilts, cats from the Cavaliers and all the Canadian corps, DCA poo-bahs, George Tuthill…and on and on. Corps directors from Wyoming mixed with drummers from Brooklyn’s CMCC Warriors, guard divas from Jersey drank with arrangers from Great Bend. And the soundtrack (on Donald’s monster stereo system) ranged from Mahler to Lou Reed to Sly Stone to Coltrane. In short, it was a total gas. Drum Corps heaven.

And it didn’t stop there. A few weeks later, Donald called and asked if I’d like to attend a rehearsal his band was “observing” that afternoon. “Where?”, I asked. “Lincoln Centre. The Phil. Lenny’s conducting”, he replied. I remember thinking, “This guy really knows how to treat his students”.

And when it was over he said, “C’mon. There’s someone you should meet.” A few of us followed him backstage and I figured he knew someone in the orchestra. Standing in the hallway was a man in a silk smoking jacket, a phone extension to his ear. “Oh, Donald”, he said, “good to see you”.

Drum Corps was just a hobby for amateurs in those days, but Donald Angelica taught us to be proud of what we did and to see it as part of the larger musical continuum, one which included all genres. He validated us and challenged us to be great, to take what we did seriously and treat it with the respect it warranted. He profoundly changed the entire activity for the better. He was a consummate teacher, and in Gladwell’s term, a “connector”. Remember the man in the smoking jacket? Next time you and I are in the same place, come and introduce yourself. It’ll place you two degrees from Leonard Bernstein.


About the Author:
Frank Dorritie is one of the legends of the activity .... a performer, instructor, arranger, adjudicator, and observer over the past 5 decades. Frank has been playing the bugle and trumpet since the 1960s, and has performed with artists like Billy Cobham and Maynard Ferguson. He has instructed and/or arranged for the Blue Devils, Cadets, Santa Clara Vanguard, Cavaliers, Chesterton and Tenri High Schools, the Bushwackers, Bridgemen and a host of others. His audio production honors include 9 Grammy Nominations, 2 Grammy Awards and membership in both the World Drum Corps and Buglers Halls of Fame. He is active internationally as a clinician and adjudicator, holds the DCA Soprano/Trumpet/Tenor Individual titles for 2003, 2005 and 2006. Frank also chairs the Department of Recording Arts at Los Medanos College. His popular brass method book, “Power and Endurance”, is available from The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author.

Posted by on Tuesday, December 12th, 2006. Filed under Inside the Arc.