Inside the Arc
“The Girls of Summer”
One bright May morning in 1958, a cub scout stood on 221st Street in Queens, in front of Sacred Heart Church, awaiting with great anticipation the start of the annual Bazaar Parade. His uniform was meticulously pressed, and the gold piping matched the polished Rexcraft G Bugle he proudly carried. The scoutmaster had asked him to play “Assembly” a few moments before to gather all the participants: the rest of the Cubs, the older Boy and Girl Scouts, the pixie-like Brownies, clerics, nuns, chaperones, classic car drivers, the Beagle Club and everybody else who would soon march around the neighborhood announcing the start of the school’s annual fund-raising spectacular.
Playing the call was a great thrill, naturally, and the youngster had spent hours practicing all the calls he had learned from the weekly episodes of “Rin-Tin-Tin” to earn that prestigious assignment. But there was an added attraction today. For the first time, the parade would have live marching music. The drum and bugle corps was coming from the neighboring parish of St. Catherine’s to lead the parade. He had heard of such groups but never seen one and could barely check his enthusiasm when he heard the drums begin their street beat, just out of sight around the corner.
He just couldn’t contain himself. He broke away from his troop (strictly verboten) and ran to the end of the block just as they wheeled around the corner. The American flag, flanked by rifles and sabers, and sixteen red, white and black silks flashed in the sun. The drums thundered into a roll-off. Dozens of silver horns, the likes of which the boy had never seen, dipped down, then up to playing position, and then…that SOUND! It was beyond all imagining! The intensity, the power, simply overwhelmed the senses of an 11 year-old. What was that song? “Give my Regards to Broadway?” “Over There?” He stood in awe, transfixed by the splendor and force of a life-altering experience.
He knew instantly this was something to which he must belong. He pictured himself holding one of those beautiful horns, helping to make that amazing sound. It would be a dream fulfilled.
Then, in an instant, the dream crashed. Could it be? God, no! Frantically he scanned the ranks. But it was no use. All of them, all of them wore white boots and (gasp!) skirts! Drum Corps was…just for girls.
Of course, it all worked out eventually, though it took a while for him to comprehend the drum corps facts of life, the girls being a great help with this, naturally.
And to be sure, there were some “powerful good” all-girl corps in those days, and for the next 25 years or so. And they didn’t need a “League of Their Own” (though later there was one, formed by DCI) since they could compete quite successfully with the best all-male and co-ed units, thank you very much.
There was some extraordinary talent in corps like the Bengal Guards (started in Orange, Texas in the ’30s by the Stark family), the legendary Audubon Bon Bons (who finished 2nd at Nationals in ’57, body-slamming everyone but the Garfield Cadets), the ND-ettes from Connecticut (possibly the best marching corps in the East in their prime), St. Ignatius (taught by the Dream Team of Cluna and Dreitzer), the Alberta Girls of Edmonton, the Americanos, Bandettes, Chatelaines…the list goes on.
The ND-ettes – 1969
Photographer: Moe Knox
Individual achievers abounded. Audubon’s Rita Macy was the National I&E snare champion, defeating even the great John Flowers. Cherokee Merino of the ND-ettes was a hellion of a snare drummer who broke the drum line gender barrier later with the Milford Shoreliners, and St. Rita’s Brassmen in their heyday. (Is there a Drummers Hall of Fame, by the way?).
What these young women and their sisters brought to the drum corps activity deserves to be remembered and celebrated. They rocked. Hard. And lots of them still do. I, for one, salute them. After all, I owe my entire musical life to the St. Catherine of Sienna Marianettes. They were my jump-start. Thanks, ladies.
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 Xtremebrass.com. The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author.
Posted by Frank Dorritie on Wednesday, May 16th, 2007. Filed under Inside the Arc.