The one about my sister and drum corps
|When ever I mention the subject of Drum & Bugle Corps to anyone I always get the same reaction. First they look at me like I have six heads. Then they say, "Oh, you mean marching band?" Then they quickly lose interest and walk away saying, "cough, cough, BAND GEEK, cough". I am always amazed at what a huge secret drum corps is to the rest of the world especially when it has had such a huge impact on my life. My sister and I were introduced to the world of drum corps when we were mere teeny boppers. We saw our neighbors out in the yard spinning rifles and that was all it took. Tori was hooked. Me? Not so much. I was a tad less enthusiastic, (read: lazy) back in the day and that looked too much like work. The neighbors were members of the Anaheim Kingsmen Drum & Bugle Corps. The winners of the very first Drum Corps International title.
When we got in to high school, although Tori was a seasoned Jr. high school drummer, she talked to the band director until she was blue in the face but she finally convinced him to have a color guard included among the rest of the "Workman High School Marching Lobos". (If you are a sarcastic smart ass like myself that title should automatically bring to mind a vision of a wolf on his hind legs, marching, with a mace in his paw, leading the band.)
Once enough enthusiasm was shown for the color guard she went to work at getting permission to start a competitive color guard also known as a "comp guard". These units do their shows on gym floors and compete against other guards. They are completely separate from marching band. The Workman High School Comp Guard was formed and they managed to get two girls from the elite world of the Anaheim Kingsmen to instruct them. (Props to Linda and Brenda Markham!)
I will never forget the first comp guard show in which they competed. They had decided that the uniforms they wore with the marching band, (dandy little mariachi style numbers with accordion pleated bell bottoms and bolero vests. I asked Tori to send me a picture of these outfits but Tori said her scanner is broken. I think she just doesn't want anyone to see what they looked like.), would not cut it in the comp guard world and the best thing they could come up with to wear was their Workman High School band jackets, zipped up to the chin, and Levi's and tennis shoes. This was quite the polar opposite from the standard comp guard uniform which consisted of military style cadet jackets, knee length circle skirts and black leather English riding boots for the girls and black pants and military black shoes for the boys. Guys and gals alike wore shakos with plumes. (band hats with feathers sticking out of the top). Needless to say when the Workman High School comp guard took the floor in their puke gold band jackets and jeans no one was prepared to take them seriously. Ha! Suckers!
Because of the expertise of the Kingsmen instructors the WHS comp guard blew people out of their seats. No one was expecting the snap and precision they saw coming out of these dorkily clad teenagers. That just shows that you can't judge a book by it's cover.
Tori always had a rifle in her hand. It was a red letter day in the Wyatt homestead when she and I were sitting on her bed and she decided to "toss a double". (in which one flings a rifle over their head with enough force that it will make two complete rotations before landing back in your hands which are at the waist level) and she broke the lighting fixture and the globe of the overhead light. I sat there with glass raining down on my head scared to death to open my eyes for fear of getting glass in my eyes. Even as I sat there fearing certain blindness we both thought this was hysterical.
Along that same idea, it should be noted that the acoustic ceiling in our living room had scrapes and gouges in it from many errant rifle tosses. I wonder how many other color guard people had to try to think up stories on the fly when their mothers asked them if they knew why the ceiling was all torn up?
If she didn't have a rifle in her hand she would be spinning something else. A pencil, a mop, a belt, a spoon, a remote control... I am thankful that I was too cumbersome to lift or I'm sure I would have been spun. (Oh, and just so you know...you "spin" a rifle, you don't "twirl" it. "Twirling" is for ballerinas.)
Before long they decided to get real uniforms and change their name and they became "The Canberra Brigade". They chose to honor Australia by using "Canberra" in their name and adopting a stuffed koala bear as their mascot. The new uniforms consisted of the cadet jackets from the marching band, home made black circle skirts, white cummerbunds, rubber faux english riding boots and white pith helmets. As silly as it sounds to me now...I thought they looked marvelous...and so did everyone else. They did well enough that they traveled up north and competed in the "Western Regionals" and they ended the year with a very high score. (As a side note I must add that it was with this group that I marched my one and only color guard show. I don't remember the exact circumstances surrounding this event but I marched in the nationals squad. I had completely forgotten about this until I saw a picture of who I thought was Tori. Upon closer inspection I said, "HEY! That's me!")
It was only after much begging and deal making that my parents allowed Tori to join the Kingsmen.
It was 1977 and we were juniors in high school. The age group of the Kingsmen were 12-21. That meant that there were marching members who were old enough to smoke and drink and my parents weren't too sure about allowing Tori to mingle amongst them. My parents made me ride with Tori so that she wouldn't have to go all the way to Anaheim alone. I thought that I should join the Kingsmen since I was always there anyway, but it only took me about 2 seconds to remember that I didn't like anyone telling me what to do. Drum corps is VERY disciplined. And back then I was not. They practice many, many long and hard hours. The Kingsmen color guard is well known in the drum corps world as being so tough that they eat rocks for breakfast. There are no smiles when in uniform and I pity any fool who attempted to break their ranks. They practice in the freezing cold and they practiced and performed in the blazing heat. There were times that they practiced in the summer months at Anaheim Stadium that the asphalt below their feet caused the soles of their vans tennis shoes to melt enough to stick to the ground.
When the summer time practice schedule kicked in I no longer had to drive to Anaheim with Tori. Thank goodness for that, because they would practice from 10:00 in the morning until 10:00 in the evening. Tori would come home so sunburned and so tired & achy that she wouldn't even eat dinner. She'd just fall on to her bed fully dressed and then wake up and fly out of the house eager to do it again the next day. Oh! Did I forget to mention that the members of the Kingsmen paid money in order to be a part of this madness? It used to make us all laugh when we'd talk about drum corps with people who were unfamiliar with the sport and they'd say, "How much do they pay you to do this?"
In July the corps would pack their bags, (actually they were limited to one suit case) and jump on to 2 or 3 Greyhound buses and take off on a tour of the United States. In addition to the money each marching member had to pay to belong to the corps, they had to pay a fee to go on tour. The corps was supplemented by a fairly large bingo game and each member had to have a sponsor work so many hours of bingo. My parents worked at that bingo game many, many times. I just about fainted when I heard that my dad was actually going to work at the bingo games. That was just not something he did as it would require leaving the house, and there was no bar in the bingo hall. (at least not of which I was aware.)
In 1978, for reasons still unbeknown st to me, my father decided to go on tour with the Kingsmen as their quartermaster. Quartermaster = guy who fixes everything from chin straps to truck engines. At first my sister was stymied and then she was livid. My dad had a bit of an elbow bending problem that seemed to manifest itself on a regular basis and thus you never knew what shape he would be in. This trip turned out to be more of a bonding experience than my sister ever thought it could be and my dad told stories of his 1978 drum corps tour until the day he died. My favorite story is not one that my dad told but one that was told about him. The corps was on the outskirts of Las Vegas and the truck he was driving broke down beyond his repair. While the truck was in the shop he went to a casino and played some Black Jack. His elbow was in full swing as he took a seat at the table. Some of the other adults who were with the corps were at the same casino and they kept hearing about the unreal player at a certain table. After searching for a bit they discovered that the reckless player was my dad. They watched in amazement as my dad was dealt an 18 and HE HIT ON IT and got a 3. He just couldn't lose! If my dad had been the one to tell us this story I may or may not have trusted that it was indeed fact, however the person that told this story back in the day is now my brother in law so I believe every word of it.
I remember being so insanely jealous when Tori got to go on tour. The farthest we ever traveled as kids was to the wilds of San Francisco so national travel with almost 150, (64 people per bus, 128 on the field), of your closest friends just seemed like more fun than a barrel full of monkeys to me. (I stayed home and went to the beach, slept in, stayed up late, went out on dates and goofed off. I thought I had it so rough, but I have to admit that it was kind of cool being an only child for 6 weeks of the year.)
Tori would always come home with tour stories that, interest me to this day. They went from city to city, state to state, sleeping on high school gym floors or National Guard armories. (I had never even heard the word "armory" until I heard that Tori had spent the night in one.) When they arrived at where ever they were going to sleep, the kids in the corps would lay their sleeping bags out on the floor, lined up perfectly next to their neighbor. The girls would be on one side of the gym with their heads separated from the boys heads by their collective suitcases. Each horn player would have his/her horn on the end of their sleeping bag when it was not in use. This was the Kingsmen way.
Once they got to stay at a school for the blind. The showers were not divided by gender so in an effort to accommodate the Kingsmen, some brilliant thinking person put up a cardboard partition. Of course it got wet and fell down right in the middle of shower time.
To pass time on the long, long bus rides they did whatever they could to entertain each other. They had coronation ceremonies, colored in coloring books and listened to music. This was before Walkmans and iPods were invented so everyone got to listen to the same thing. I believe this is where she fell in love with "Yes" and Frank Zappa. During her travels she learned a fun little game called "Stick Quiz" where, with no warning, you ask your partner a trivia question and if they don't get the answer correct they get to hit you with a drum stick. She still likes to play impromptu games of stick quiz.
The two years she marched with the Kingsmen they ended the year in 14th and 19th place.
The Kingsmen had a comp guard years before my sister joined the corps. It was typical Kingsmen; no nonsense and completely military. The powers that be decided to really mix things up the year my sister was involved and they put out a color guard that was wearing turquoise and black quiana knit one piece lounge wear looking outfits.
They had silver turbans on their heads and a TON of make up on their faces. It was quite the juxtaposition in comparison to the military cadet jackets and circle skirts. The music was almost sexy and that was a huge turning point in the world of color guard. They were able to combine soft steps and swaying movements with all of a sudden snaps and jumps. The first time this show was presented the crowd was dumbstruck. No one expected this out of the girls who were supposed to eat rocks. This guard, too, ended the year with a very high ranking.
In 1979 Tori joined another color guard, "The Royal Regiment".
This color guard had a very little bit more dance involved in their style. They still had more snap and precision than most of the other color guards but they threw in a couple of pas de bouree's, and at least one plie' that I can recall.
This was very different from the strictly military style of the Canberra Brigade. As with the previous guards Tori marched with this one ended their competitive year with a very good placement in the ranks.
In 1980 Tori followed her best friend, Kathy Mac, to New Jersey so that they could both march with The Bridgemen.
I just didn't know who she thought she was picking up and moving 3,000 miles away but I wished her well. I wrote to her every single day. As you can plainly see I have no problem with the written word but apparently Tori's writing capacity is a whole different story. She would write back every couple of months and she would call when she saved enough money to put in a pay phone. I called her every once in a while and that was an ordeal and a half. Tori and Kathy lived in a basement apartment that had no telephone.
The apartment was across the street from a "Shop-Rite" grocery store. I would call the number to the pay phone at the Shop-Rite and let it ring and ring and ring until someone would answer it. Then I would tell them that I was calling from California and that I needed them go across the street and knock on the basement apartment door and tell them that I was on the phone. It worked every time. On a couple of occasions Tori or Kathy would even be the one to answer the phone!
The Bridgemen used a completely different style in their show. They were all very, very skilled performers but they used a lot more fun and silliness than the Kingsmen could even imagine. Their marching cadence was more of a funky beat and instead of marching to it, they had their own little dancing shuffle. The first time I saw it I laughed very hard, but then I learned that this little shuffle was almost a sacred dance step and I came to revere it as did everyone else. Their uniforms were bright yellow and black. The color guard wore black tights and flat, cloth shoes. Instead of wearing shakos they wore black fedoras with a pink scarf wrapped around it. They were all about having fun but they were still very, very good at what they did. It was because of them that Tori finally got to march in "the night show" at DCI. The night show is the latter part of the Drum Corps International show. It takes place at night under the bright flood lights of which ever huge football stadium they happen to be in. ( When Tori marched in the night show it was in the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Canada.)
I got to go on tour with the Bridgemen in 1981 and the difference between the Kingsmen and the Bridgemen touring styles were many. It is no exaggeration to say as far as the Bridgemen were concerned "anything goes!" When they got to their over night accommodations the room looked like a cyclone hit it. There would be sleeping bags strewn all over the room. Guys and girls were sleeping next to each other, uniforms were flung about, suitcases were left wide open..it was a mad house.
At the end of the year's my sister was with them they came in 3rd & 6th.
You are only eligible to march in a Jr. drum corps until you are 21. After that if you want to continue your tenure in the drum corps world you have to be an instructor or an administrator or join a senior corps if there is one available. (Senior corps are few and far between.) Tori got to go on 2 additional tours as the assistant to the director of the Bridgemen after she aged out. After those 2 wacky years were over Tori decided to come back home to southern California and settle down. She got married and had 5 kids. She had a brief time out when she had to dance with the cancer monster but after she kicked his ass to the curb she joined in on the bottom floor of putting the Kingsmen Drum & Bugle Corps back to their original military glory. In the 25 years that had passed since she aged out the Kingsmen Drum and Bugle Corps had ceased to exist and the style of drum corps had changed 95%. There are no more military style corps. The color guards are actually more like dance squads with very light rifles and flags of every different shape and size. High leg lift and English Riding boots have been replaced with jazz shoes and butterfly wings. (At DCI this year I think I even saw a barefoot colorguard~)
It took a couple of years to find enough people to fill the ranks but when the dust settled the Kingsmen Alumni Corps was created. It was a sad day when Tori realized that she was no long able to spin her rifle anymore. Chemo and arthritis had taken their toll on her muscles and bones and it just caused her too much pain. She decided that she would march with her rifle as a part of the group that guards the national flag, known in the drum corps world as the Nationals Squad. There was a huge stigma to over come because back in the day the Nationals Squad was where they put the boneheads that couldn't march. It is harsh to say that but back then it was the truth. In an effort to quell that thought process Tori did everything she could to make it fun to be in the Nationals Squad. She wore red, white and blue pants. She found and wore tennis shoes that were made out of American flag print. She passed out little American flags to everyone in the squad. And she trained them to be the very best that they could be. They worked just as hard as everyone else in the corps to rise to the occasion so they could all be "Kingsmen".
Once the squad put their brand new uniforms on it all clicked. The new uniforms were exact replicas of the Kingsmen uniform she wore in the late 70's. The corps was alive again and this squad was going to be the first Nationals Squad most of the kids marching today had ever seen. (For some reason the American flag is no longer a mandatory part of a drum corps show and thus there is no reason for a squad to guard it.)
Tori is on the far left of this picture. See the man in the second row with the sabre (sword) in his hand? He's in his 80's!
When this corps of Kingsmen alumni and guests took the field at DCI and the Rosebowl the average age of the corps members was 49! I have to say that from my seat in the stands there was no way you could tell that you weren't watching a regular aged corps. Well, unless you factor in the point that the music that was coming off of the field was enough to blow your hair backward! They were amazing. I was in awe of them. I mean, I was winded just walking up the stadium steps to find my seat and all I had in my hands was a $6.00 diet coke! On the field they were running and drumming and blowing on horns and spinning rifles and tossing flags. There were also several of them marching with xylaphones and tympani drums. They were carrying them. They were not on wheels. If this doesn't make any sense to you...imagine what it would be like to run around a football field carrying a barbeque.
Kingsmen on the Jumbo Tron
Kingsmen on the Field at prelims
Me and Tori at DCI
Tori and the DCI Banner at retreat
I wrote this tribute to my sister and her world of drum corps in an effort to thank her for all of the things that drum corps has brough in to our lives. Because of this world of drum corps we have both made life long friends. We have traveled the United States extensively. We have laughed. We have cried. We have dated boys we met through drum corps and one of us even married one! We have developed a love for the smell of bus fumes! Because of drum corps we have the ability to "hold it" longer than anyone else we know. We know how to pack light and sleep on a moving vehicle. We appreciate music written by Hector Berlioz and Maynard Ferguson.
Thank you, Tori. You ARE the mayor of Nationals City.