Inside the Arc
“Echo – Schmecho”

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It’s a blazing hot Sunday afternoon in 1962 and a couple of thousand of us are watching the Garfield Cadets challenge Blessed Sacrament for bragging rights to Jersey and the rest of the civilized world. They build a massive company front, push it forward to the very edge of the sideline and high mark time to the thunderous end of the iconic Berlioz opener, “French National”.

They’re on a mission. The horns are roaring, drums pulsing, the dust flying everywhere, the crowd cheering. Two unison sixteenths, a final fortissimo staccato eighth and it’s over…except for the Roosevelt Stadium roof reverb. It’s still resonating as the corps executes a swift to the rear and the lead baris, in soli, whisper the first phrase of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, backfield, the two echoes meshing in a dreamy musical ether…

Hawthorne Muchachos at the ’77 Dream
Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ
Photo by John Babcock

It rained all that week in Chicago and Soldier Field was a giant, muddy swamp. There would be no VFW Nationals here. McCormick Place, however, was between events and just about big enough, but who ever heard of holding a corps championship inside? Tommy Howell and I slipped in with a work crew and piled up picnic tables right behind the aluminum stands, just to the rear of the judge’s position, then scrambled up. Amazingly, no one bothered us. And so it came to pass that the greatest drum corps show of all time was held in an indoor venue, and it sounded, well, amazing.

From the Bridgeport PAL to St. Kevin’s, Madison, Boston, Cavaliers and right on up through the Royal Airs, the sound enveloped and washed over and through us. We were in Drum Corps Heaven…

Once upon a time, the Barnum Festival Parade took a route on the way to the stadium that passed under a huge railroad bridge. The premium (free for early birds) seating was right there, and the sound of the Hurricanes as they came through was indescribable for its power and intensity…

And then there were the parades down 5th Avenue where it was required to play your signature piece for the Cardinal and his retinue on the steps of St. Patrick’s, directly across from the statue of Atlas at Rockefeller Center. Hearing the Skyliners’ “Little Old New York” there was prima facie evidence that drum corps music had been destined by a higher power to be played in concrete canyons…

So now we have the big dance in an enclosed stadium, with perfect atmospheric conditions for performer and fan. Who said “Don’t play loud”? Just contrast the fortissimo with judicious piano, stop the cluttered and amateurish over-writing, and for Pete’s sake, turn down the bloody synth.

Take this to the bank: you wouldn’t like the sound of drum corps in the desert.

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, December 9th, 2009. Filed under Inside the Arc.