Inside the Arc – “Annapolis Time Tripping”

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Now that I think about it, the whole episode unfolds like a slick Hollywood script, except it really happened. If you doubt it, just ask the others. They were there, too.

It’s the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, that most excellent event that stretches summer by one more glorious day. This time holds special meaning for the drum corps tribes, whose chieftains and elders gather at the appointed place tending the ceremonial campfires, telling the ancient stories and celebrating the musical and visual bounty of one more season.

The setting is Annapolis, in an Irish pub called “Fado”, where our cast of fascinating characters find themselves during that small interval between the last note of the Alumni Spectacular and the opening fanfare of the DCA Finals.

The music of the Boys of the Lough bubbles through the place while a party of seven celebrates the recent induction of a worthy Hall of Famer. Among them is the former director of a national champion and several other event-promoting movers and shakers.

Nearby, two All-Girl World Open title holders, now with a prominent Alumni Corps, converse with one of Gus Wilkie’s triple-tongue wizards who put St. Andrew’s Bridgemen on the drum corps map so emphatically that steamy night in Whitewater in ’72.

At the bar, two judges in civvies, having fulfilled their weekend duties the previous evening at Prelims, sip something cool and fly unnoticed under the radar of the others. The whole vignette is just a brief fermata before the intensity of the evening’s struggle for drum corps world supremacy. For the moment, time takes a slight pause to catch its breath.

Annapolis Drum & Bugle Corps
Photo Courtesy of the Eastport Civic Association

“Look”, somebody says, “The parade’s started”. Parade? What parade? A glance out the window does indeed confirm that people are marching down West Street at a route step, waving to bystanders, It’s clear immediately that this is not a DCA event, just some local Labor Day tradition.

There are kids on bicycles, a fraternal group, and couple of community organizations here, interspersed with the occasional sports team and the like. Most of us take casual notice and then resume our conversations.

About a minute later, when the pub’s front door swings open, we hear it, a sound loop that lives in the soul of us all: a five-stroke roll, a few flams and the syncopation of a street beat. I don’t recall anybody speaking. We all just get up and walk, no, rush, outside.

Here they come. Around the corner and down the street they march (really marching this time, at a spot-on 128 bpm), about 50 kids in all: 2 snares, a couple of tenors and bass drums, and a cymbal. The rest are horn players, tall and swing flags, a drum major and a few adults alongside.

The first thing we notice is the cool, relaxed tempo and their smooth stride and bearing. The musicians’ uniforms are gold and black and of the casual type, with windbreaker, dark trousers and white shirt; at once economical and presentable. Some of the youngest flags have that “banner girl” look, traditional to the max. (Nobody had called the famous Italian designer for these costumes.) We’re talking “old school” here. They look great.

Annapolis Drum & Bugle Corps
Photo Courtesy of the Eastport Civic Association

There’s a roll-off (old school again), the chrome G’s flash just as they pass in front of us and a bold fanfare rings out, followed by some of the most familiar notes of all time, the bugle trio part from “The Thunderer”. Think you don’t know it? Think again: E, top space G, low G, back to E….. (Sousa loved the bugle and wrote countless parts like this into his band arrangements. These days the trumpeters have to do some fingering work. Back then, you just pulled the tuning slide out to F and wailed away without valves.)

As they pass, we can read the gold lettering on the jackets: “Annapolis Drum and Bugle Corps”. All of us had the identical thought: Suddenly it’s 1960, and there are a thousand neighborhood corps looking and sounding just like this, all on the street somewhere in America this weekend.

Annapolis Drum & Bugle Corps
Photo Courtesy of the Eastport Civic Association

Someone shouted “Yeah!” and began to applaud. The shout became a chorus and the applause swelled. The corps marched past Miss Shirley’s Café and the antiques store with a pure, confident look and sound. The kids played, we all whooped, hollered…and remembered. For a few seconds time had reversed itself. We were back in the day, with the sights, sounds, tastes…everything.

Later that evening, as I handed my finals ticket to the man at the stadium gate, something caught my eye: a tiny flash of gold by the hot dog stand, flitting by like a finch in the Ithaca woods. It was one of the little ones I had seen in the parade. She was still in her uniform. As it turns out, they were all there, along with many of their parents and chaperones, checking out some of the finest drum corps around.

Later I asked one of the staff ladies what the kids thought of all this. “They love it”, she said. “Miss Crawford got us some horns, and even came to a practice.” (Yes, that Miss Crawford, of the Air Force and Marine Corps Crawfords.)

I remembered a moment from earlier in the day, right after the corps had passed by. A very tall man in an alumni jacket had been taking in the scene when his friend came out of the pub. “Who was that?” he asked. The tall man looked directly at his companion.

”That?” he echoed, pausing for effect, allowing time to drift a bit. “That… was us!”


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 Saturday, September 22nd, 2012. Filed under Inside the Arc.