Company Front – Issue 5
It was late May of his age out year. Ray Valarde was marching his second year in the Vanguard snare line. His identical twin brother, Art, was the top bass drummer. Art and Ray were inseparable, living a drum corps dream they never thought possible back in their days with the Sound Machine Youth Marching Band. Their proud parents glowed with enthusiasm for the success of their boys. They were always in the front row screaming so loud the entire drum line shared quiet chuckles in full uniform standing in their opening sets ready for the drum major to count them off before a hometown crowd.
The news of that fateful night in late May of 1999 hit the corps like a tidal wave. Art was dead, Ray was severely burned – the victims of a freak car accident on a local freeway that tied up traffic for hours. The corps in mourning, Ray requiring skin grafts, the summer was off to a tragic beginning. Ray’s future was uncertain at the time, but following a heartbreaking funeral, he made a choice and walked back onto a rehearsal field after only three weeks in the hospital, wearing bandages and carrying unspeakable grief.
“Even though DCI offered me a bonus year due to my circumstances, there was never a question in my mind in regards to returning immediately. Marching Vanguard was our dream, and those were my brothers out there,” Ray said passionately. Ray was given specific doctors’ instructions to stay out of the sun due to his burns, a hard thing to do in drum corps. Every morning his fellow snare drummers bandaged his arms and helped him prepare for another day in the sun. He was told to wear gloves to protect his hands, but he refused, causing his hands to change colors throughout the season as they burned further. “I never questioned my choices. There was only one choice to make.”
Drum corps stopped being an activity for Ray and the corps. Gone was the lamenting of morning basics, sore feet, and lack of sleep. The corps stepped into a new realm and every single action it performed was done with the memory of Art close at hand. Drum corps stopped being a quest for existential greatness, and stepped into an everyday memorial of the meaningfulness of loyalty, brotherhood, love, and precious life. The snare line was reminded of this every morning as they helped Ray bandage and dress his arms before the day’s responsibilities.
From Art’s funeral, to DCI world championships two and a half months later, Ray endured heartbreak, grief, physical pain, and an emotional roller-coaster ride. The drum corps activity gave Ray a way to pay homage to Art’s memory. Drum corps was more than a summer activity for him. Drum corps was Ray’s final walk beside his twin brother and Ray’s way of coping with the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder developed by the accident and the trauma of losing his closest relative.
The events surrounding Art’s death and Ray’s perseverance, loyalty, courage, and strength are events that can teach us all about the meaningfulness of the drum corps activity. Drum corps can be a place to perfect one’s musical prowess, or it can be a place to discover the meaning of mission, valor, emotional strength, heart, dedication, and devotion.
The story of Art and Ray still resonates within the ranks of the Santa Clara Vanguard and gives members struggling with their way strength to push on in spite of their troubles. This tragic story of meaning, trauma, faithfulness, and vigor elevates drum corps to more than a simple activity involving accuracy, speed, athletics, drill concepts, and screeching blasts from the lips of talented horn players. This story illuminates the emotional ballet that is drum corps. This story of spirit, strength, and character demonstrates the invisible show behind the show.
I recently visited Art’s grave and stood before my friend and his headstone, with the Vanguard uniform star engraved on the bronze marker. The pain never goes away; you just learn to deal with it. I felt the urge to stand at attention out of respect for my brother. Without hesitation, I squared shoulders and stood stiffly looking down at Art who still wears his Vanguard uniform. I stood there, thinking of Art, and remembering the meaningfulness drum corps created in my life. Drum corps is not just about the drum, the horn, or the saber. Drum corps is much more than the performance excellence, pageantry, musicianship, intensity, and hard work demanded of each member. Drum corps is much more than a musical education; it is a place to learn loyalty, passion, and strength of character. These were the lessons of the World Champion 1999 Santa Clara Vanguard. It was a lesson every member will remember for the rest of their lives.
What was/is meaningful in your drum corps career?
Company Front is a regular series of articles and essays, written by a group of young authors that have published books related to the marching arts. You’ll find all of the issues of Company Front by clicking here.
Jeremey "Spike" Van Wert is the author of Not for the Faint of Heart: My journey into manhood in the Santa Clara Vanguard and will be approaching his contributions to Company Front from the perspective of the psychological experience of growth in drum corps and its lasting influence on the lives of its competitors. He is currently a graduate student, studying Marriage and Family Therapy. The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author, who may be reached by writing to jvanwert [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com?subject=Regarding%20your%20Company%20Front%20column%20on%20DCP