From 1969 to 1975 along with Jimmy Wellinghoff and my brother Peter, I played solo soprano for the St. Aloysius Blue Eagles drum and bugle corps. The drum corps was the first entity to place a musical instrument in my hands (actually 3 instruments, first a G-horn, then a one-valve, then the prized valve & rotor bugle). To this day, I’m still not sure whether I want to thank them or blame them – but that’s a story for another blog. I know this blog might not appeal to everyone, but to those who were part of drum corps, some of my memories might bring a smile:
- Saugerties for 4th of July - Every 4th the Blue Eagles used to travel up to Saugerties, New York. We would play a “round robin” in front of the firehouse and get to spend the rest of the day down by the water. Couldn’t wait to strip out of our uniforms and put on our cut-off jeans and jump in! Two different years, one of the two buses that St. Aloysius owned and we used, broke down in the tunnel in New York (both times I was on it). They used to get us home just in time to shoot off fireworks.
- The Puerto Rican Day Parade – I marched in 6 of them and every single year something bad would happen. I remember some of the horn line dropping from heat exhaustion. I remember Mr. Scomma telling me that he would carry my helmet. I thanked him but told him, “No thanks” – after all, it was the only thing that protected my head from all the rocks and bottles that the Puerto Ricans would throw at us from their roof tops. I’m still not sure if that was there ethnic way of thanking us for traveling all the way to the city to march 5 miles in blistering heat. I remember one year, someone got hit with a bottle and his head was bleeding (anyone reading this that remembers, leave a comment and let me know who it was – it was one of the older guys in the baritone section or the double-bass player). That parade ended with our whole corps having to run for our lives a couple of blocks to our buses. Nothing like ending a few miles of marching with an all-out sprint in 90-degree humidity.
- Our band review down in the “Madonna” room – every year, the Blue Eagles would perform in a band review, held in the basement of the church, for the community. We would put our uniforms on downstairs in the school cafeteria, then walk up Stockholm St. and line up just outside the entrance to the Madonna Room. I used to think it was so cool because the drum line would play and we would march in single file to a room full of people for a rare indoor performance. Afterwards, we got to hang out while the room turned into a dance hall. It was our chance to hang out in our uniforms and try and attract a girl or two. It beat having bottles thrown at your head.
- Our competitions – the Blue Eagles was considered a “junior” corps. I remember competing against the Wynn Center Toppers – they were composed of mainly African-American kids …or what I thought looked like African-American adults posing as kids! They were unbeatable and some in their drum line looked older than my parents. I still remember their cadence “…dum da-da-da-da dum da-da ..dum da-da-da …Da-DA! We never placed very high.
- Our repertoire:
o They Called the Wind Mariah
o Big Country
o Man From La Mancha
There were so many other memories. My brother Peter went on to play solo soprano for the Long Island Sunrisers (1974-1976). He had wanted to join the Hawthorne Caballeros but he couldn’t find someone to drive him to New Jersey. As it turned out, he was very happy to join the Sunrisers – even though they weren’t very good in ‘74-’76. I wanted to join them with him but I was too young – besides the minimum age requirement, it was all the nudity that was a regular part of being in a senior corps …but that’s also a story for another blog.
If you read this and have your own drum corps memories – please, leave them in the comments! Peace! g
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Dean Wesley Smith