Company Front – Issue 10

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Old Ghosts

After aging out of the Santa Clara Vanguard in 1998, I soon married and moved far from home. While visiting my home town recently I was astounded when I realized that I had not been to the Vanguard Hall in five years. Amazing how time passes. I decided to pay a visit to the old Hall that was the center of my life through my adolescence.  I jumped in the car and drove the same roads I remember driving when I was first trying out for Vanguard and was scared to death that I would not make it. For fear of being too dramatic, turning the infamous corner and seeing the Vanguard Hall with the shiny fleet in the parking lot was a feeling of a soulful homecoming.

I walked into the Hall and slowly began looking at the memorabilia and photos on the walls. These photos capture SCV’s past and memorialize moments that will never happen again. After a long time of careful study of these many photos, I came across a photo of a tenor line of which I was a part. The picture was a prominently placed, framed, 8×10 of the 1997 tenor line playing during a rehearsal three weeks before finals. I remembered that day and studied the picture closely. There I was, 11 years younger, tanned by months in constant sunlight, with my life’s motivation completely focused on being a tenor player for the Santa Clara Vanguard. I saw the Vanguard Star tattooed to my chest and could feel my passion for the corps through the picture. Man, those were great days!  
As I continued looking at the pictures on the wall, I realized that the Vanguard Hall has a certain feeling. One can be the only person in the entire Hall, but one never feels alone. The Hall can be eerie that way. One may scoff at the idea of old ghosts, but there is definitely a feeling that exists at the Hall. Although the Hall was buzzing with a small number of elderly people playing slot machines in the corner, I could feel the presence of the past in some strange way. Scoff as they may, there was my ghost hanging on the wall, standing in boxer shorts, on a field in Ohio playing On the Waterfront in 1997.

I turned where I stood and looked across the Hall to the door of the uniform room. There was the room where I first tried on the uniform. I looked to a blank wall near the door and remembered doing a leg strength building exercise my rookie year that made me shake in pain. I could almost see my little 18 year old ghost trembling, wishing it would all be over soon. These memories are precious and I stood there surrounded by images in my mind that brought my old friends around me. What a band of brothers we were. Ah, old ghosts.

Jarred from my dreamy reflections, a corps member walked through the door and passed me without a word. How did I know he was a corps member? If you’ve been one, you know one. Sunglasses permanently tanned to the face, determined walk with a purpose, grubby shorts, cross trainers, and a dirty T-shirt. You know the look. He walked right past me like the old ghost I was. I could tell he was strong, motivated, driven, and ready for any challenge life had to offer, but I did not even know his name. That self-confidence and zeal was something I learned and remember well from my days in the corps and there it was, alive and well in this young man. I was proud of him, and he didn’t even know it.

What would I have been without that experience? Certainly not who I have become. Many of us owe our self concepts to our accomplishments in drum corps. This experience changes lives and makes memories. Although a troubling development has happened since I marched. My tour fee in 1998 was $875 for the entire year. I was astonished to hear that tour fees for a Corps member today is $2000. The great misfortune is all the young people who will miss out on what made such a difference in my life just because they can not afford to participate.

In a conversation with SCV Director (and old ghost) Jeff Pearson, potential members and some vets have had to quit the corps because they had no way to pay for their tour fees. “It breaks my heart when that happens,” Jeff said once while explaining the worst part of his job. He was truly grieved by this.

That strong young buck walking through the Hall with the faded baseball cap and sunburned arms will one day be one of the many ghosts that haunt the walls around the building. But how many great members have to turn in their uniforms because they can not afford to live their dreams? The thought of this possibility in my life makes me shudder. The realization that I could not pay my tour fee would have crushed me.

Tour fees all over the country are skyrocketing. The higher cost of fuel, food, and other necessary commodities are forcing the cost of business for corps to demand more from their membership. But that is not the fault of less fortunate members with the same dreams as their more fortunate counterparts. Whatever corps you came from, think about your life without those days, those friends, and those memories. Your talent, heart, and passion should make you worthy of drum corps, not your means. Consider how lucky you are to be one of those old ghosts and think about the responsibility you have as one of those old ghosts to continue this uplifting tradition in the lives of young people. What use is an old ghost if it isn’t there to help the younger ones along?

As soon as I got home from the Hall I dug out my check book and made a donation to SCV, specifically to help a member in need with their tour fees. I urge those who have been touched by drum corps to donate to a young member’s tour fee and help them live their dreams. Donate to the organization that helped you grow and mature into the person you have become. There can be no price put on the experience of drum corps in the lives of young people. The Vanguard Hall is a living breathing monument to this phenomenon. An old ghost can simply be an old ghost. An old ghost can also be the fuel and inspiration that makes the dreams of young people possible where they might not have been achievable before. Every little donation makes a difference. Walk tall old ghosts, support our young people.

Publisher’s Note:
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

Posted by on Tuesday, April 15th, 2008. Filed under Company Front.