Inside the Arc
“Old School/New School – Earning Your Ancestry”

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Twyla Tharp has written a fascinating book. You ought to know who she is, especially if you are interested in the great debate over the past and future of Drum Corps as we know (or knew) it.

Actually, any thinking person should know lots of strange-named folks, like Ezra Pound for instance or Dweezil Zappa, or Vladimir Ashkenazy. The mere look and sound of these names alone makes them interesting. And what’s Drum Corps if not “look and sound”?

Ms. Tharp’s book, “The Creative Habit”, is about both. She is, after all, an icon in the performing arts, perhaps the most important choreographer of her generation. This qualifies her (at least in my view) to speak authoritatively on creativity, especially when the subject in question is all about looks and sounds.

Here is a practical handbook for creating works of art and should be required reading for anyone who presumes to participate in the construction of anything as creative as a Drum Corps, band or guard show at any level, be it as writer, arranger, equipment truck driver or (!) sound technician.

This quote, about halfway through the book, hit me like a snare line rim shot:

“Before you can think out of the box, you have to have a box.”

She means this both literally and metaphorically. While most of us begin a new project with a file folder or notebook, she chooses a storage box into which goes every note, CD, photo, article…etc. No real surprise here. But on a deeper level, she makes it quite clear that to create a new work, one must see it as an extension of something that has come before – a new way to connect things that already have a history, a frame of reference.

New stories are actually creative re-tellings of ancient ones. “Metaphor is the lifeblood of all art, if it is not art itself”, she says, and. that is why you must learn and respect the history of your art form. Ignore this at your peril.

Ms. Tharp recounts studying photos in the dance archives of the New York Public Library , accessing the work and personal images of her artistic forebears, “…shadowing my predecessors. This is how you earn your ancestry.” (A priceless insight!)

Anyone who dares to be creative in the Drum Corps activity without a deep understanding and respect for its rich history is a fraud. And a “performer” without this knowledge is merely a petty poseur.

So here’s your first research list (others to follow):

  • Bill Ludwig, Sr.
  • Joe Genero
  • Hy Dreitzer
  • Bernie Baggs
  • Rita Macy
  • Ralph Silverbrand
  • Bobby Thompson
  • Sandra Opie
  • John Pratt
  • Billy Hightower
  • William Edward “Pete” Emmons

Some rather exotic-looking names here, no? It’s not my job to tell you who they are, it’s yours to find out. Ask around. This is not optional… it’s required if you wish to “earn your ancestry”.


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 Wednesday, September 12th, 2007. Filed under Inside the Arc.