My first experience with this wonderful activity
I remember this night as if it were yesterday. It was a warm night in July of 1975. There was a fog settling on the stadium of Belvedere North High School. A crowd had gathered in the stands: gathered for what was to be a magical evening. This was the setting of my first drum corps show. I don’t remember particulars but I do remember feelings. And as my father pulled the Ford Econoline into the parking lot, I was not prepared for what I was about to feel.
Dad tasseled my hair and Mom made me put on an oversized Western Electric wind breaker. We entered the gates and I asked for popcorn. There were people everywhere. The meager high school stadium was filled to capacity. Dad bought me a Cavalier’s shirt. I shrugged, not really knowing who the Cavaliers were. In hindsight, I suppose I could’ve been a bit more cooperative after all, I knew what a Drum & Bugle Corps was, I had just never been to a competition and I really wasn’t interested.
My Dad was Ralph Irons. He, along with fellow Drum Corps enthusiast Bob Goodrich were the Director and Business Manager of the Men of Brass Drum & Bugle Corps from Romeoville, IL. I had attended a number of rehearsals with Dad but my interest was minimal. My sister was involved in the activity as well so it was difficult to avoid.
It was a late Saturday afternoon when Mom called me in the house and told me that we were going to a drum corps show. Big whoop I thought. I was still thinking this as the competition began. The first Corps to perform was The Vaqueros from Aurora, IL. I’m ashamed to admit that I remember nothing of this corps from that evening, and I was under the assumption that this was how the entire boring evening was going be. And when Brandt Crocker announced the next corps; I was immediately captured by the Corps name: “The Phantom Regiment.” Unlike the rest of the performers, these guys were intense. They wore pith helmets instead of the common shako or Aussie. Their drums and other instruments seemed bigger than the others. And they had capes; big black capes – this was important to me. The whole attitude of the corps then was so remarkable, and they hadn’t even played a note.
Image They began their performance with Jenkins’s American Overture. It was haunting, and I was hooked. That years performance of Gershwin’s An American in Paris was just as unforgettable. My life as I knew it would never be the same. I sat there in the stands transfixed by the spectacle. With each performance I grew more and more addicted to the sights and sounds of what would take over most of the rest of my life. I can still remember the thunderous triple-tom solo from the Cavaliers drumline. And the Trooper’s sunburst took my breath away.
I don’t recall who won that evening but it actually doesn’t matter. I will never forget that night. It was the beginning of an experience that most people will never understand. Since that fateful evening, I have marched in a handful of corps; aging out in 1988. The activity has certainly changed since that night back in 1975: The drums are louder and brighter. The horns are crisper and the color guard has become a vibrant and intrical part of the performance.
Before my father passed away in 2008, one of the last conversations we had was about drum corps and that night. I am so appreciative to have been able to be involved in an activity so magical and powerful that it has changed my life.