Inside the Arc – The Book of Norman

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Sometime in the fall of 1971, I was walking down Waverly Place in Greenwich Village with a friend. A group of German tourists with backpacks and “Youth Hostel” virtually written all over them approached from the opposite direction. Just as they passed, I heard a young woman exclaim, “Das ist er! Das ist er!” There was an audible reaction from the group, and a second or two later, she presented herself in front of us.

Looking directly at my companion, she said in a heavily accented voice, “Excuse me. May I have autograph?” I remember thinking, “Wow, even in Germany they know Kenny Norman!”

Ken Norman – from the author’s personal collection

Taking out his ever-present felt tipped pen, he neatly signed her notebook. She was elated. “Danke! Danke!”, she said and ran back to rejoin her group. I stared at them until I heard a young man say, “Ach, das ist NICHT Andy Warhol!”… Kenny and I laughed like hell.

Of course, the mistake was perfectly understandable when one considers the time, place, and similarities in physical appearance, making the incident all the more humorous. But it goes much deeper with hindsight.

Warhol and Norman shared several characteristics, I think. Both were geniuses at the top of their game, extremely creative and prolific, and universally recognized by their colleagues for their prodigious output and influence in their respective fields. And then there were the delightful eccentricities.

Case in point: As I type this, I am looking at an arrangement Ken sent to me (and probably, a few others) around 1979. “I think you’ll appreciate this”, said the brief accompanying note.

Ken Norman composing – from the author’s personal collection

It’s scored in his beautifully crafted, pre-Finale, eminently readable handwritten script. The voicings and voice leadings are superb (as usual), particularly considering it was crafted for bugles that had only 2 valves and were not fully chromatic. Ken was a wizard at solving such issues that consistently confounded us lesser arrangers.

It was comprised of two well-known (and much over-used in drum corps) movie themes, cleverly interwoven. There wasn’t a single superfluous note or rest in the entire piece. In short, it was perfect, as was the title:

“Star-Wocky – a commentary on the current state of affairs”. No one was ever really going to play this on the field. He had done it just for fun, to make a point. I defy anyone to claim that Warhol was more eccentric than that.

But Ken Norman excelled at everything he put his energies into. Most know of his arranging prowess. He scored music for dozens of corps, from the National Champion Kilties, Anaheim Kingsmen, Argonne Rebels and others, to neighborhood groups like the Miraculous Medal Orbits of Ridgewood, Queens, and every chart was a customized gem, perfectly suited to the skill level of the performers. But there was more, much more.

From the author’s personal collection

A Mathematics wizard, he studied Mechanical Engineering prior to Music and, frustrated with the illogical and ergonomically bizarre limitations of the G/D piston bugle, Ken helped bring about the birth of the vastly superior G/F horn that was adopted throughout the activity. He often referred to the numerous, cobbled together prototype instruments in his workshop as “Franken-horns”.

Ken also formulated an entirely new and improved system for adjudicating music in competitive drum corps that took into account achievement and content, not simply “errors”.

Literally everything he did raised everyone else’s game. A multi-year National Individual Champion of French Horn, he went on to develop the mellophone as a solo instrument, elevating its use from novelty to featured voice.

But it was the charts that had the most impact. Kenny always attributed his success to his mentor at the Kilties, Emil Pavlik, who provided him with advice and encouragement as he developed his skills, and Norman is responsible for some of the most memorable drum corps arrangements of all time. From Chattanooga Choo-Choo to Mac Arthur Park to the Third Hoorah, Eli’s Coming, Pictures at an Exhibition, Auld Lang Syne and a couple of hundred more, Ken Norman was master of every genre, be it Pop, Rock, Classical, Folk, Latin, …whatever you’ve got.

On top of this, he could play anything that had a mouthpiece, at an expert level. One evening, at an American Legion Post in Hempstead, Long Island, I watched him sit in with every section of the Sunrisers horn line as they learned “Procession of the Nobles”, effortlessly, as if everybody should be capable of doing that.

And lest anyone think of him as some sort of shy, introverted brainiac, when he was inducted into the World Drum Corps and DCI Halls of Fame, he sang his induction speeches. Who does that, in that crowd?

The Book of Norman was an open book. Kenny wasn’t a superior being left on the planet by an advanced race of aliens (though I for one entertained that thought for a time). No, he was just your garden-variety human genius, the kind that comes along every few hundred years, like Mozart, and we were lucky to have been around when he showed up.

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 Sunday, September 4th, 2022. Filed under FrontPage Feature, Inside the Arc.