Inside the Arc – “The DAO of SNARENESS”

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My friend Curt Moore, drummer with the extraordinary Latin/Jazz group Soul Sauce, was in an earlier life the lead stick in the Santa Clara line of the early’70s and subsequently a top-gun instructor and DCI adjudicator. He has played with Grammy nominees, written books, created videos and conducted clinics and seminars in the US and abroad, percussionizing everywhere from Brooklyn to Basel. He knows from drumming.

He refers to drum corps snare players as “fighter pilots”, an exquisitely descriptive phrase when you consider it. They cruise around the field in squadrons with what seems a singularity of purpose: to intimidate whatever is in their path, their main targets naturally being judges and other snare lines.

1972 Santa Clara Vanguard – Curt More, center snare
from the author’s collection

This is accomplished by firing off machine-gun like bursts of notes reminiscent of dog-fight scenes in the soundtracks of vintage war movies. There is some evidence that this is precisely the type of entertainment preferred by old school drummers. The younger ones, of course, gravitate towards video games with titles like Uzi Warrior and Death Duel in Doubletime. It’s no wonder that many find great satisfaction in jamming a maximum number of beats into the smallest conceivable unit of the space/time continuum.

Proof of this abounds in the so-called “indoor drumline”, my candidate for Oxymoron of the Decade. Cramming a dozen or two outdoor instruments whose original purpose was to signal troop movements in epic medieval battles into a small resonant box (like a middle school gymnasium) seems just a bit contradictory, to say the least. Plugging them into mics and amps, then folding in a few thousand watts of electronica is flat out diabolical. I predict some latter-day Leary will soon suggest a return to the basics: “…turn down, turn off, tune out”.

Park City Pride drumline
Copyright Moe Knox

Sometimes, a solitary snare will pull out of the formation for a brief strafing run, either returning to the group or being joined in turn by the others in ferocious sequence, followed by the heavy bombers in the tenor and bass sections. But we know who the real strikers are.

It’s not that brass players are passive, exactly. They too are out to impress and often go overboard, like frat house jocks at the homecoming party. That’s why violinist Diane Nicholeris sometimes calls the cats who sit behind her in the San Francisco Symphony “brassholes” whenever they play too loud. But horn players are relatively harmless by comparison. Snares are more like trained assassins.

Renegades – 2009
Copyright 2009 Charles Frey

It’s not that they play fortissimo all the time, though some do and never seem to realize they are one-trick ponies. But those are the rookies. The seasoned vets will sneak up on you, sandbagging their victims with a false sense of security, then delivering savage and rapid Tae Kwan Do blows to the unsuspecting. These are the Ninjas of the Ninestroke, wielding flashing hands and deadly sticks, and making thousands jump, shout and cheer.

Now, who wouldn’t want to be in that posse?

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 Tuesday, January 8th, 2013. Filed under FrontPage Feature, Inside the Arc.