Inside the Arc
“Once Upon A Time” meets “Someday”

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(The basic facts of this particular story are true. Variations have played out throughout the land for years. May it ever be so.)

Once upon a time, in a more or less remote corner of the drum corps world, a group of good folks convinced the local law enforcement authorities of the benefits to the community of forming a youth musical group. And so it came to pass that some horns, drums, flags and other necessities were acquired, along with volunteer instructors who set about the task of bringing order to chaos.

Within a few seasons, the little corps was doing quite a respectable job of representing the town, which had heretofore been known primarily as a repository of sports memorabilia. By the mid-1980s, the little corps had begun to make appearances at some fairly prestigious shows, with fairly predictable results. This is called “dues paying” in corps circles.

At one such major show (1986 DCI Prelims to be precise), a couple of brass players and staff members (myself among them) watched a national powerhouse warm up in the parking lot. “Impressive” doesn’t begin to describe that unit. They were magnificent, had been for a good while, and still are. We were looking at a winner in the process of winning, and we knew it. These folks were my friends and I had worked with them a few seasons before. It pleased me to see their continued success.

The youngest member of our group, a baritone as I recall, spoke up. “Man, those guys are just out of this world! How can anyone ever compete with them?” Before any of us could respond, a mighty musical roar emanated from the once-and-future champions, seeming to confirm the sentiment. In that moment I remembered feeling the very same way, years before, in a similar situation. Indeed, my young student had just paraphrased quite accurately what I had said to one of my own instructors so long ago.

A “satori” is a zen revelation, a kind of epiphany, and I had one at that moment: Insight is something you get from others. Your obligation is to pass it along. And so I passed on what my teacher had told me.

“They’re great all right, no question, but do you think they just happened to drop out of the sky like that? A few years ago they were just a bunch of little kids trying to stay in step at the Fireman’s Parade, banging drums and missing every third note of “St. Louis Blues” on their glockenspiels. There was a time, my friend, when that corps was not nearly as good as your drum corps is right now.”

There was by now a distinctly incredulous look aimed in my direction. I pressed on. “They did all the right things, worked harder and more efficiently than they thought possible, had great management, took plenty of body slams, continued to believe in themselves, got up and persevered. And if your corps follows that plan, someday…someday, they just might be looking up at you.”

A couple of weeks ago, in a town called Centerville, someday finally came.

Ok, so it only took 20 years, but it happened, and I’m happy for that baritone kid and everybody else who ever marched in that corps and any other corps that’s ever achieved that kind of recognition.

And the powerhouse corps? Don’t forget, they had a moment like that once too, besting someone who seemed to have been unbeatable forever. This story is one big cycle. And don’t worry about them. They can take a punch and bounced right back off the canvas. That’s what powerhouses do. And now there’s one more of them. We should all celebrate that.



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 Sunday, July 29th, 2007. Filed under Inside the Arc.