Inside the Arc – The Veterans’ Bequest
One day in the fall of 1960, an older gentleman handed a shiny chrome bugle to a 13 year old and showed him how to hold it properly. The youngster already knew a few calls, but had never been this close to a bugle with a valve.
“Go ahead and play one of your scout calls”, said the man, “and don’t worry about the valve. We’ll get to that”. Five minutes later, with the man’s expert guidance and encouragement, the kid could negotiate his way through “the scale”, albeit tentatively. The man was pleased. The kid was ecstatic.
Soon, he was learning actual songs and playing in the 21-man horn line of the Xavier High School Regimental Drum and Bugle Corps. As far as he was concerned, that ranked right up there with sitting in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium when Mickey Mantle hit a homer in the World Series, the ball landing two rows in front of him.
It wasn’t until a year or so later, after he had retired, that I discovered Jim Donnelly’s actual drum corps identity. He had taught the perennial National Champion St. Vincent’s Cadets of Bayonne, NJ, as well as several other prominent units during his long career, writing iconic arrangements and (along with Caesar Lamonica and Scotty Chappell, it is said) “inventing” the French Horn bugle in the process.
In my mind, he became some sort of musical archangel, sent down to open the drum corps Gates of Heaven for the literally thousands of kids his talents reached. What I didn’t know was that he had fought in the trenches of Europe in WWI. Jim, along with the aforementioned Scotty Chappelle and many others, was among those veterans who came back from the mud and the blood and, after having saved our civilization, invented Drum Corps for us.
I suppose it wasn’t an exclusively altruistic gesture. In point of fact, the boys who went “Over There” wanted to continue their comradeship and so formed American Legion and VFW posts for that purpose. To celebrate their common bond they also held conventions which included much revelry, occasional Reveille and some spectacular annual parades.
In the beginning they hired bands, but soon realized they could make their own music by forming drum and bugle groups. Naturally, this evolved into the “friendly” competition for National Parade Champion. And that, boys and girls, is how we eventually came to have DCA, DCI, DCE, DCM, WGI, DCUK, The Field Bands of South Africa, Drum Corps Japan, WDCHOF, BHOF, Alumni Corps, I&E, Sound Sport,… and every other spin-off of drum corps you can think of, now and into the future.
Each November 11th, at precisely 11:00 AM worldwide, millions remember the cease-fire that ended World War One. It would also be well to recall that it signals the very beginning for the activity we call Drum Corps, the one we all support and love with such passion.
We’ve all seen the phrase, “If You Can Read This, Thank a Teacher”. Well, if you’ve ever played music or spun a flag on a football field (or enjoyed watching someone who did), thank a veteran.
“Thank you, Mr. Donnelly. I still play that horn”.
(Images from the author’s personal collection)
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 Xtremebrass.com. The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author.
Posted by Frank Dorritie on Monday, October 26th, 2015. Filed under FrontPage Feature, Inside the Arc.