SDCA Presents Arena Drum Corps

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Size does matter, and so does the environment in which things are presented. Another thing that matters is the local grass-roots origins of what have now become prominent drum and bugle organizations. Thinking things like that, and then talking about them in December of 2007 at a Racine Kiltie open house, eventually caused former Chicago Royal Air soprano soloist Chris Ferrara to do something about them – establish the Small Drum Corps Association (SDCA). Eventually working with one time McHenry Viscount and Royal Air Alumni Corps member Jeff Williams, and with encouragement from Cavalier Drum and Bugle Corps founder Don Warren, on January 19th of 2008, Ferrara arranged for an initial meeting to be held in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin hotel.

Attended by representatives of five corps, this gathering was reported on Drum Corps Planet, and soon a total of thirty-nine organizations had expressed interest in what has since become an “arena drum corps” concept. As Ferrara explains it, after what he confesses to have been fifty years of drum corps experience: “In that time I saw many corps with small numbers march onto the field. They all had good programs, but their performance was dwarfed by the size of the stadium.” The solution – put these groups indoors on a basketball court where their sound will reverberate and their numbers will be better suited to the environment in which they perform, and the result might very well be a full scale resurgence of the locally based drum and bugle corps movement that was the foundation for today’s drum and bugle “super corps.”

What is emerging with the establishment of the SDCA is a return to the idea of local drum and bugle corps, the revival of community festivals with drum corps shows coinciding and a concept of entertainment based creativity that can achieve the maximum with the minimum. According to Ferrara, aside from a general prohibition of “band instruments as we are drum and bugle corps, B flat bugles excepted” and a requirement to entertain a crowd, “there are no rules for performance.” Shows, he says, will be judged by a “people’s choice” method, although “professional staff will critique the performances of the brass, percussion, and marching, not judging but adding suggestions and recommendations.” Essentially, Ferrara says, “we want to take the corps with fewer members and give them the opportunity to perform in an environment that will enhance their size and performance level.” Yet added to this is also both an educational and a potential recruitment objective. Performances will be held in high school and college basketball courts, and the hosting corps will be asked to provide free brass and percussion clinics to the schools’ band members, as well as to give those band members who attend complimentary tickets to attend the shows. The hope, Ferrara openly admits, is that interest in drum corps will result and even that new drum corps can be established, essentially restoring the community based activities that were at the grass-root base of what has become the modern drum and bugle corps activity.

Will it work? Although that is, at present, a largely unanswered question, The Alamo Rangers, which eventually became The Chicago Royal Airs with whom Chris Ferrara marched for a decade and then again in its reunion corps, recruited kids from around its sponsoring American Legion Post with free hot dogs fifty years ago, and then, when I first heard the sound that the Royal Airs made when playing within the enclosed space of the National Guard armory where they practiced on Saturday mornings, I joined the same day. So work it should.

Currently, interest in participating within the SDCA has been expressed by The Bandetts, The Blue Notes, The Blue Saints, Capital Sound, The Chippewa Valley Raiders, The Classic Cavaliers, Chops, Inc., The Colt Cadets, The Derby City Knights, The Governaires, The Lakeshoremen, The Madison Scouts, The Northernaires, Pioneer, The Royal Airs, and The Twi Light Knights. At the same time, Ferrara states that he has been talking with corps managers from all over The United States and Canada and that “all have embraced this ides.” In evidence of that interest, the first show has been scheduled for March 21st, 2009 in Menominee, Michigan, to be hosted by The Northernaires. The following day, in Fond du lac, Wisconsin, the second show will take place, and then on April 25th and again on April 26th there will be shows in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area, with an additional show being sponsored by The Royal Airs on May 9th in Villa Park, Illinois, and then others taking place in Rosemont, Illinois, in Momence, Illinois, and, on the 9th of August at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, and many other shows are being lined up. SDCA will be sharing the gate money equally with all of the performing corps. Ferrara says Arena drum corps will not interfere with DCI or DCA but will instead provide additional opportunities to perform and be better prepared if that is their goal.

For groups performing with more than thirty horns, there are also plans for performances in small to moderate sized football stadiums. Ferrara even envisions a day when it might be possible to showcase “arena drum corps” is spaces like The United Center where The Chicago Bulls play basketball, seating as many as 22,000 people. It sounds ambitious, but if anybody can pull something like this off, my bet is that Chris Ferrara might just be the guy to organize and enthuse others to the point of turning their collective visions into reality. In about 1980, it was Chris who started bringing the former members of the Royal Airs, many of whom had not seen each other in as many as twenty years, together for an annual picnic. Twenty-two years later, it was Chris who was one of the primary organizers of The Chicago Royal Air Alumni Corps, reuniting on the field as many as one hundred and forty former members during a summer that turned out to one of the highlights of each of their lives. Arena drum and bugle corps? A return to community-base drum and bugle corps with an emphasis upon entertainment that brings back flag presentations and concert formations while creating the sound and visual excitement that first inspired the movement that has created Broadway shows like BLAST in addition to what DCI and DCA drum and bugle corps have become today? Will it work? Don’t ask me, ask Chris Ferrara, and just have him save me a ring side seat.

For additional information see the web site

Jeff Helgeson

In addition to having been a member of The Chicago Royal Airs from 1963 to 1968, and again during the alumni corps seasons of 2002, 2003, and 2004, Jeff Helgeson was the 2003 individual mellophone DCA national champion.

Posted by on Wednesday, October 8th, 2008. Filed under DCI World.