Inside the Arc – The Ace of Bugles

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Appleknockers Soprano Q-tet c. 1963 – From the Author’s collection

As everyone knows, the Greeks had their Mt. Olympus, the Romans their Pantheon, and the Norse their Valhalla, special places wherein resided the larger-than-life gods, demi-gods and heroes, under whose influence mere mortals went about their petty pursuits.

Today most of us scoff at such a simplistic view of the cosmos, but there are lessons in the great myths. Some people do stand apart from the rest of us and we know it and honor them, even if we do so without admitting that to others.

Ace with DCA I&E Medal Photo Credit – Bill McGrath collection

Drum Corps is no exception and does a better job than most in passing down the great tales about the achievements of our own heroes and heroines. We gather at regular intervals, like a massive far-flung tribe, to attend festivals, ceremonies and tests of strength and agility, and to share the myths and stories about memorable events and those who made them memorable. One such super-hero is Ken Petersen, a/k/a “Ace”.

Ace has been playing solos before Drum Corps audiences since the 1950’s, and though countless thousands have seen and heard him, many still don’t recognize his name. This is intentional. Ken Petersen is the antithesis of everything we have come to expect about a “rock star” performer. He has spent a lifetime avoiding the spotlight, even as he performed brilliantly as a featured artist in literally hundreds of shows, from Allentown to Quebec to the stage at Carnegie Hall.

Appleknockers at Carnegie Hall Photo Credit – Moe Knox

I recall listening to him in that house in 1964, romancing a single-valve bugle to produce the most singing tone I had ever heard. “Who IS that guy?”, I asked an older colleague. “Don’t know”, he said, “Ken somebody”. Somebody, indeed.

I was so un-hip, I didn’t even realize that his corps, the Geneva Appleknockers, had just about invented the “stage show”, had cornered the market on jazz phrasing in Drum Corps…and had been at it for years.

In Mighty St. Joe’s performance. Photo Credit – Chas Groh

Years are pretty irrelevant to Ace. He’s 90 now and has been playing all along. He doesn’t know the meaning of “quit”. As a youngster, he suffered a serious facial laceration playing football. (There were no facemasks then.) This required wires and staples. While he healed, Ace learned to play baritone as he worked his way back to the soprano bugle. According to the story, a later more serious illness required a lobectomy. No big deal. He just learned to breathe more efficiently.

In recent years Ken has appeared as a soloist with Mighty St. Joe’s Alumni and the DCA Champion Ghost Riders Mini Corps. In his spare time, he won a couple of ensemble titles at DCA as a member of the Three Tenors.

So now you know about the Ace of Bugles. When I grow up, I want to be just like him. So do you.

Check these:

At 11:59 and 18:09 Ace solos with St. Joe’s at the DCA Alumni Spectacular in 2009

Ace with the “Three Tenors + 1”, featuring the late, great Kenny Norman, Jeff Mitchell, and the author. (Note: all the clams are mine. The other cats were perfect.)

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, May 26th, 2021. Filed under FrontPage Feature, Inside the Arc.