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Thanks Fran! Check out Hy's arrangement of Aaron Copland's RODEO 1969 World Open. :music:



I want to thank you for this opening.

Because if it were not for 1969 this kind of discussion couldn't even begin.

History, our history as St. Rita's Brassmen began in '69 and there was a reason Wes Hobby called us the Cinderella Corps from Brooklyn New York. It goes like this:

Please keep in mind that among the other firsts in drum corps history, the Brassmen were the first to self sustain themselves by running a bingo once a week generating thousands of dollars earmarked specifically for the corps. Now, a little background.

Please take this, if you will and begin by suspending your judgment and disbelief just as you would entering a movie complex before sitting down to watch the newest block buster. Because in the years prior to DCI, the world for a Drum Corps participant was a much different place than it is today. So different … it’s practically unbelievable.

Picture a Friday night on a very busy Atlantic avenue in Brooklyn, New York. It is just about 7 PM, it’s August and the year is 1969.

Angle down on that broad avenue bisected by a median under which runs the famed “A” train and in silhouette back lit by a White Castle hamburger franchise on one corner and a Carvel Ice Cream stand on the opposite corner you will see figures.

Two-by-two, four in a group and even eight or more all somehow ignoring the traffic and crossing that avenue with one destination:

The big green doors of St. Rita’s Youth Center.

Many wear similar light-weight red jackets emblazoned with vertical black and white stripes. They are white and black and hispanic; they are young men and women who represent virtually every area of the economic, social and ethic spectrum that could be found in New York City at that time. They are members of the Brassmen Drum & Bugle Corps.

Most of the youngsters have known each other for at least two or three years. Most in the horn line began learning how to play their respective instruments only perhaps month’s before that. The same with the drummers. Most everything back then and the years before was learned on the fly. Very few corps members could read a score. The portable technology available was limited to the mostly mono cassette player of the time. That’s right, even the walkman would not be available for another ten years. So scores and repertoires were learned by rote. Because our horn line was so small, there were no real “section captains,” and discipline was maintained by two rules of law that went by one name. His name was Carmen Cluna.

Much has been written and spoken about this singular individual. For me, a rebellious, smart-mouthed, know-it-all, the most difficult thing I ever did was learn how to listen to Carmen. Because after seeing with my own eyes how he could take what could only be called a rag-tag group of boys and girls, dress them down during hours and hours of nothing but repetitive motion, then dress them up in spectacular scarlet, black and white and without hesitation spirit them off to a middle of nowhere town like Kenosha Wisconsin and set them loose against some of the country’s best of the moment, I knew that this guy was the best. And I, like the rest of the people there that night would follow his orders – not because he gave them but because they worked.

But this is about a time. And what a time it was. (kids, you might want to ask your parents about the mid to late 60s in America – I don’t think they teach the real history of that time in most schools these days)

Unrest brewed on so many levels all over the country. But at that time during the summers when rented Trailways and Greyhound busses cruised the interstates filled with boys and girls followed closely by chaperones and quartermasters the only enemy we or any drum corps faced was the weather and the hated judges. Sure, there were some rivalries – real and imagined. Some corps really didn’t like us. I personally really didn’t like some corps – they rubbed me the wrong way – they didn’t have the ‘class’ that we so studiously exhibited. But we were sheltered from the outside world. Our world was Drum Corps. We ate it, slept it and drank it.

Inside the spacious rehearsal hall, early arrivals can be heard warming up. Or doing their pre-rehearsal thing on that always overly warm New York August night:

A lone mellophone player could be heard testing himself with the familiar opening notes of Gershwin’s Concerto in “F.”

The clipped slap of leather against palm of the rifle team echo off the high windows.

The occasional high-pitched call from one of the color guard to the other as they enter and spy each other.

Add to that laughter and an ease of camaraderie that belies the fact that these young people had just returned days before from a 2,500 mile round trip to the nation’s heartland. They had met and held their own against a contingent of corps most had only heard on recordings from that company once called Fleetwood. (again, kids ask you parents about “recordings”)

There was no evident fatigue, instead there hung in the air a sense of urgency of the job to come.

The World Open Championship was less than a week away and there was work to be done.

Now if this was a movie, this would be the perfect time for a flash back.

Dissolve the above scene to show a much smaller hall and a much smaller group of individuals. They are the St. Joseph Patron Cadets of just a year before. After a near meteoric rise from their small beginnings in 1963, this small corps had taken the New York Metropolitan area by storm capturing the Greater New York Circuit Championship in 1965 and placing 11th at the World Open Championship Prelims that same year.

At that time, The World Open was still a new venue for competition. The way I remember it, most corps in our area belonged to what were called “circuits.” In the Tri-State area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut there were about fifty corps. These were organizations whose roots were based out of VFW or American Legion Posts. Some others were CYO but still had ties to those venerable military-based groups. But the basis of everything began at the neighborhood level. Kids from the Garfield Cadets were actually kids from Garfield New Jersey (yes, The Cadets once had a name that included their place of origin!) and it was that way for most corps. Whether it was for lack of money or just lack of time, each area had a group of corps who regularly competed against each other in their respective circuits and only traveled for special shows.

Living and growing up in New York City with small organizations like St. Rocco’s Cadets (who were the horn line to beat during their day!) The Bronx Kingsmen (the Big Apple’s version of the Muchachos who wore beautifully designed uniforms and played nickel-plated horns that had to cost a fortune!) but there were the O.L.P.H Ridgemen. THE O.L.C. Ramblers, The Cater Cadets, St. Lucy’s, The Manhattanaires, Scarlet Lancers, Wynn Center Toppers, The CCMC Warriors, Staten Island Lawmen among others. But when you looked to the west, the competition was stunning during the mid to late sixties.

To us, it was New Jersey who fielded The Big Guns. The Garfield Cadets and Blessed Sacrament Golden Knights among them.

The big competitions like the VFW Nationals was one. The CYO Nationals was the other. I know New York State always had an American Legion Championship. The New York Daily News would sponsor a show every year and a few years before during the World’s Fair, a huge competition where I saw for the first time the Troopers and The Cavaliers.

I joined St. Joe’s after witnessing their performance at The New York State American Legion Championship the summer before. Their verve attracted me like no other.

I was a member of the Queenaires at the time. We were what was known as a class “B” drum corps. Two years on the field at the time and with really no future. We were way too under-funded, and even clad in the cast off uniforms of the once great Queensmen, we couldn’t pull ourselves out of their shadow. We scored a dismal 50 points or-so at that show and placed somewhere like 19th.

St. Joe’s on the other hand came in 3rd or 4th and even with that, the way they carried themselves shouted an unmistakable need to succeed and I knew that I wanted to be part of whatever it was they were.

Making my wishes known to the other members of the Queenaires proved to be a test in itself. Kids are mean and my leaving netted many beatings. But I recall that as more a segue than as a call for pity.

Because as I see letters and entreaties from young people these days who require vast sums of money and almost professional pre-training just to even be considered as a member of a corps, it wasn’t that way in 1967. I simply learned where St. Joes was, showed up on a Friday night during their regular rehearsal and asked if I might join. I was directed to a giant of a man (who I later found out was much more than just tall!) named Hy Dreitzer who asked which horn I played, thrust one in my hands and listened as I played a simple scale. Later, Carmen watched me march, correcting me all the while. There was a brief consultation and an introduction to the rest of the corps and I was in.

Then the routine set in. It’s regularity could have driven less focused individuals nuts but it was that routine that gave us the discipline many of us really needed.

During the winter months (the off-season if you will) we practiced Friday for music and Sunday evenings for drill.

Fridays evenings we spent at the Hall and we rehearsed drill on Sunday nights at a place known as the Armory.

(the Armory was actually a military facility that housed trucks and weaponry and was not easy to get to – and I would have to explain all the various methods of travel available to Corps members - Public and private. To explain the NYC transportation system is a book chore in itself!)

Needless to say, with 5 boroughs (counties to you) separating most members, travel time to and from rehearsals could add up to as many as 3 to 4 hours. No kidding!

If any ensemble section competed in singles or quartet competitions during those months, they rehearsed on their own.

We all took our instruments home with us and most were quite diligent about practicing there – to the dismay of most parents, family members, neighbors and friends.

During the winter, we went to school and in the summer many of us worked part time jobs. Late spring found us outside and our rehearsals moved to Wednesday evenings for drill and Fridays to hone the repertoire.

1968 was a pretty good year for St. Joes but we were beset by a problem all corps of that time faced. The specter was poverty.

The neighborhood surrounding the Church was a cloistered one and had been for generations. The people of the parish began having more and more a problem with supporting an organization when so many of it’s members were not from “the neighborhood.”

Winning, it seemed wasn’t everything. We were asked to leave and except for the dedication and strength of the men and women, instructors and mentors, mothers and fathers we would have ceased to be.

But we were saved. Some weeks later, we arrived on the corner of Shepherd and Atlantic Aves in the heart of Brooklyn, USA. Carman Cluna himself greeted each and every one of us at the door and introduced us to our new moderator, the one and only Father Dominick Schiraldi. a man whose devotion to life, and youth should be the stuff we see on the news more than the negative images of late.

We now had a new home with a Moderator and parish committed to our success. For many of us our schedule and commitment to the corps was broadened to include Thursday nights during which we ran a bingo to raise money for the Corps –I believe we were the first drum corps to institute this practice.

The money raised that first winter out-fitted the corps from top to bottom – new uniforms, new horns (in “g” thank you very much!) from Olds, new drums by Ludwig including tympani and Zilgen cymbals. Rifles, flags and poles harnesses, sticks, a truck – well you get my drift.

Then, to really “seal the deal” and truly establish St. Rita’s as the competitive drum and bugle corps we wanted to be, we acquired a new drum instructor/arranger. With the addition of Eric Perrilloux to our roster of instructors, the “Pure Eastern Drum Corps Team” that made the Skyliners the force that they’d become: Cluna, Dreitzer and Perrilloux were united once again and the transformation from St. Joe’s to St. Rita’s was complete.

Hence the sobriquet: “THE CINDERELLA CORPS FROM BROOKLYN NEW YORK” as the famed Wes Hobby would introduce us.

With that background, we will move forward in time to the week before The World Open.

Our rehearsals that week were nothing less than spectacular.

We had a very tough repertoire and an even tougher marching program that covered an enormous expanse of the field. This is important to the “tick” style judging of the time for a number of reasons. (the “tick” by-the-way, and in the best of all worlds, was and remains in my estimation, the most fair system of judging a competitive Drum Corps Show.) A “tick” was worth one-tenth of a point and was deducted along the way by various field judges – 2 each for Drums, Horns and Marching and Maneuvering. The General Effect judge scored his overall feelings from some high point in the Grandstand. I believe the breakdown was 30 points for M&M, 20 each for Drums & Bugles and 30 for GE. When you consider the time on the field divided by seven judges, a score of 75 to 80 or better was pretty darn good and that’s just about what the best corps were receiving.

We had a small horn line even by eastern standards and down right tiny by western standards of the time and when you spread a small group of players out, it becomes easier to single out perhaps the weakest 2nd soprano player in the line and then just wait for him to make mistakes.

It is unfortunate to note that there were judges like that. I’m not grousing or making excuses because no matter how good a corps was, there was at least one or two players who had a tendency to “crack” on certain notes or let the drill get in front of the playing. But if you had 50 horns versus a corps with 32, the weaker players would be harder to find. I’m speaking as a horn player here, but I’m sure that thinking crossed the minds of drummers and color guard as well. 3 snares are easier to follow then six and so forth.

And please understand that during the late 60s and early 70s many corps fielded youngsters 12 or 13 years old. The fact that they could even remember all there was for them to do during an 11 and a half minute show was a testament to their time and dedication. Apparently A.D.D. didn’t exist back then.

Be that as it may, we were proud of our growth and during that mid western tour we did show our mettle. We’d started the season extremely well and believe me when Carmen Cluna told us that our off-the-line would mirror the famed “company front” patented by the Troopers, we did believe that it would be the hardest 48 steps of our lives. To pull that stunt off in “Trooper Territory” was a massive ego-boost.

Here’s another thing unthinkable today. If I use phrases like “Off-The-Line,” “Color Presentation,” “Concert,” or “Exit” those were parts of a total show and by the rules had to be included. To me a show is anathema without the presentation of the colors with a piece of music that in some way represents America and the martial aspect of the Drum Corps’ history. One of the reasons there are still so many corps that still bare names like “Cadets,” “Scouts,” “Mariners,” “Regiment.” “Lancers” and “Troopers” to name a few. I’ve alluded to the length of our shows. As long as 12 minutes. Marching from one end of a football field from left to right from the spectator’s perspective. And we all marched. Even the Drum section including tympani and any other percussive instrument the corps used marched. “The Pit” was something you sounded like on a bad day.

We thought we were good enough to compete big time after that trip. You could see that Carmen and Hy and Eric knew it, too.

Of course the judges never really thought so. St. Rita’s was really too small for the all important and subjective GE scores. Later of course, Carmen would devise shows that broke that mold. We were the first to run on the field; the very first to stage “shows” and to use theatrical gimmicks. It was thrilling to know you were changing history. But that was in our future.

Our horn line was so good that during the mid-west tour we stunned on-lookers by playing our show in an Ohio Howard Johnson’s parking lot on kazoos! We took the audiences in Kenosha and Racine by surprise, too. Great orchestration and placement created an amazingly large sound. And even with all the travel, we were a composed group on the field for those competitions.

Our rehearsals that week before August 14th1969 were the absolute best. They weren’t perfect but they were the controlled chaos that made us smile inwardly and left us with none of the exhaustion that sometimes came during the hot, humid New York summers.

We’d peaked and we knew it.

To be perfectly honest, Carmen, Hy and Eric were just like great football coaches. Time and time again, the idea of show time was diverted from our heads. Just do it like you did it in practice. Execute, execute. Easier said than done.

The World Open was a tortuous two-day affair that involved preparing for and putting on two shows. One 7 minute production for the prelims and then a full 12 minute show for the finals if you got that far.

In the heat of August during these shows, many ambulances were filled with young people who had passed out due more to stress, nervousness and the anxiety of both than to mere exertion.

The bus ride up to Lynn, Massachusetts began …

August 14 World Open - Class A Prelims Lynn MA 7 75.300

August 15 World Open - Class A Finals Lynn MA 7 69.050

I have taken the lessons learned from my year with St. Joseph Patron Cadets and St. Rita's Brassmen and folded them into a lifelong quest for excellence in my work given to me by Hy and Carmen and a continuing belief that honesty and morality are better tools for living than anything else given to me by the greatest moderator a group of young people could ever have, God rest him - Father Dominic Schiraldi.

Too bad DCI could not bring any of those things to bear for the children who occupy the marching arenas of today.


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Thanks for that awesome historical account about St. Rita's Brassmen! It was really very interesting, and, although I came onto the drum corps scene a bit later, I can relate to much of what you described in your story. Thanks for taking the time to write it!

I only wish that I had been on the drum corps scene even sooner! And I wish that I had been there to see you and the Brassmen performing back then!

It was obviously a very special time to be part of this great activity!

Best regards,

Jim Jordan

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:doh: Puppet, I couldn't had said it better. B) Our era and corps were UNIQUE!!! It is truely sad though, that we will never hear again a drum corps announcer shout; From Brookly, NY ....... :(

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:wub: Puppet, I couldn't had said it better. B) Our era and corps were UNIQUE!!! It is truely sad though, that we will never hear again a drum corps announcer shout; From Brookly, NY ....... :(

Brother: I'd love to see you more positive...

...if you build it - they will come...

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Brother: I'd love to see you more positive...

...if you build it - they will come...

Guy let me respond by saying this:

By 1972 (my age out year) there were exactly four (4!) Drum Corps that excited me with their esprit, horn arrangements and over all general demeanor. I witnessed two of these corps at a show August of 1969 in Kenosha Wisconsin. They were Anaheim and Madison. And while we were all quietly awed by both organizations (at least I was!) The very next day showed my a very underwhelming Trooper group.

But it was The Kingsmen and the Scouts (along with us of course) that were the class acts of that weekend.

It was a telling trip for us - to see what we perceived as rich kids from the West who turned out to be just regular kids and what a surprise to see how diverse a group of kids the Scouts were!

That was the wonder of the time!

All of us recall the time in the middle of a Howard Johnson's in Ohio, waitress came up to one of our contra players and actually said: "I've never seen a colored person in person, before." After we ate, the entire horn line - I think there were 32 of us at the time - purchased kazoos and played our entire rep in the parking lot to a stunned audience.

Proving the power of Hy's arrangements.


As I say in all posts on the Brassmen web site: All The Love, All The Time!


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