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Let me begin by saying I am in awe over the history of the Yellow Jackets.  Then let me tell you my story.

As a youngster of 13, I was often described as “he has so much potential but is un-focused.”
By this time, I had tried the Cub Scouts, the Sea Rangers, Karate, piano lessons, all-borough and all city orchestra and the chorus – you name it, I tried it and was totally bored. I mean, really bored.  

It was then that my parents handed me over to a man by the name of Norman Johnson.  Mr. Johnson had started a Drum & Bugle Corps in our neighborhood of Hollis, Queens.  St. Catherine’s of Sienna Queenaires.  Well, wait a minute.  This was pretty cool.  I already knew how to play French Horn – you know, the curly instrument and I could read, and with the Sea Rangers thing I could march.  Now, the Queenaires were not a good Drum  Corps by any stretch of the imagination. But Norman Johnson was an enthusiastic horn instructor and he, along with Mr. Wilson our corps director opened up a whole new world to me.  We participated in parades and because I was studying at Music & Art High School, I could even help with arrangements and teach parts to the other horn players.  I was never what you would call a great player, but I played ‘clean’ and Mr. Johnson was a great believer in loud, so I learned to play loud.

The next couple of years allowed me to see many other corps from NYC. The Scarlet Lancers, Wynn City, The Carter Cadets, The Manhattanaires and then in 1964 the World’s Fair competition and I saw the drum corps I’d only heard on those Fleetwood recordings. And Mr. Johnson said that one day we would march against corps like that.

Well it did take a couple of more years, because at that point we’d never even marched on a field.  But in 1967, we found ourselves at the New York State VFW Championships in the War memorial Stadium in Buffalo.  And that’s when my life changed for good. Truth be told, with a score of like 50 we could have been the worst corps on the field, but I knew that day, I was going to wear a St. Joseph Patron Cadet uniform as soon as I could.  I don’t remember who won that competition but I knew it was that corps from Brooklyn who had the stuff I needed. The real discipline, the real drive and professionalism and I wanted a piece of that.  And I got some, too. I probably broke the record for getting thrown out by Carmen for the most different infractions. But just like the corps I cam to love, I always came back – begged, cajoled…promised – I couldn’t let it go!

And I say all of that to say this:  Those corps, from the Queenaires with their hand-me-down uniforms from the once great St. Catherine’s Queensmen, to the Manhattanaires to the Warriors and Carter Cadets and the Kingsmen and St. Rocs, OLPH and all the rest we had one thing in common. The very precept of what Drum Corps was and really should always remain. A gathering, learning experience for youngsters.  How to work together, win together and lose together.  To see other neighborhoods and other kids doing that very same thing – because even in competition, there was a sense of camaraderie.  And here’s the thing.  It was all because it was us against THEM!  And THEY were the judges.

There can only be one way to win a competition. Tick for tick. Excellence in execution.  That is why, way back when no matter how entertaining your corps was, the one who marched more in unison and played most error free got the least ticks and the most points – end of story.  And the great part about it, was that whether you stank or whether you were great – you could always blame the judges.  There was only one guy who had the role of speaking to the GE question.

Hey, if you could get 70 people to march in across the field from the off-the-line position to mid field and keep that company front straight like the Troopers (and yes, St. Rita’s!), you were going to give the GE guy goose-bumps and the execution guy fits!  If you had a guy who could solo and had the right arrangement to back him up (think of the Cavaliers’ Captain of Castille in 1965 with all that triple-tonguing and the double ‘b-flat’ at the end of that solo – wow!)  

Yeah, I want that back.  Songs you recognize.  Drills that include our beloved American flag. Shows at least 10 minutes to show your real stamina and cohesiveness of design with a beginning, middle and end.  And a real common enemy to which to express our distain.  Horn judges with tin ears, drum judges that a good drill can leave flat footed and caught in the wrong place – like in front of the horn line with no real sight to the drummers (that always was cool to me!) Drill judges who could get their heads knocked off when somebody in the color guard whipped that flag around – nice!
So, is “Death to the current DCI” too harsh?
Gregory M. Bruce - aged-out 1971
(puppet) St. Catherine Queenaire / St. Joseph Patron Cadet /St. Rita’s Brassmen

Gregory M. Bruce
Senior Copywriter - Broadcast Producer

“Food for thought has always been good for the soul.”
Where has drum corps been and which direction is it now headed?

To the Drum and Bugle Corps Fraternity

Our web site (as I envisioned it) was created in part to preserve as accurately and as concisely as possible, a record of the historical events that took place to a phenomenal Brooklyn, NY drum and bugle corps.

Our web site does not exist to be a pro (rubber stamped) DCI forum and neither was it intended to be an anti DCI forum.  However, our web site will take a stand on the current conditions of our beloved activity. We will not be lead blindly down the path like sheep nor will we bury our heads in the sand and ignore what is happening around us.

If anything, our “positive mission” (with or without DCI) is to find a way to bring community based drum and bugle corps back where it will do the most good.  Bring it back to the thousands of kids who can ill afford the expenses of current day drum corps and to give back to our communities what was given to us as children and young adults.

(Photo courtesy of Harold Barber)

All of us from the “Classic Drum Corps Era” aka pre-DCI, learned and honed our craft, we are in debt to those institutions that made drum corps affordable. (I.e. Churches, AL and VFW Posts, Boy Scouts Troops, Police Athlete League (PAL), etc)

A letter written by one of the mentors in my life, (the late) Carman Cluna, is a reminder to us all of what the drum and bugle corps activity should be doing and how profited he was in making his statements almost some 20 yrs ago.  The reason/mission why the drum corps activity was created in the first place to keep kids out of trouble.  (To teach them discipline, how to work together as a unit, and to give kids with NO musical background whatsoever a chance to discover the joy of playing a musical instrument, precision marching and maneuvering, utilizing a color guard with an American Flag section to instill the concept of a community/nation relationship all within a paramilitary frame work.)

(P.A.L. Cadets photo courtesy of Harold Barber)

We do not see anyone of these concepts prevalent in today’s approach to our activity, in fact is has gone 180 degrees in the opposite direction from the mission of the past.

My own humble beginnings in a drum corps began as a cymbal player, in a church’s drum and glockenspiel corps. In 1966, a junior high school teacher, named Mr. Johnson, started a small drum and bugle corps in the school called the Decatur Cadets. Mr. Johnson’s vision was to teach us the values, moreover it helped to keep us in an activity that would eventually build our self-esteem and thereby kept us off the streets on those many hot mischievous summer nights.

I am now a teacher in a New York City elementary school. I teach kids with no musical background how to play drums. The auditions are always packed and each year I have a full drum line. I teach them basic drum rudiments. It is a joy to see their incredible transformation.

(P.A.L. Cadets photo courtesy of Harold Barber)

Local community supported with “local community populated” drum corps members can and must happen again, it is achievable, because I am doing it.

To conclude

In 1972, only a hand full of individuals (DCI Founders) got together to plot the course of the drum corps activity (primarily as a money making enterprise) and they made a difference. In 2005, it is still conceivable that a few individuals can get together and make difference.

We at the St. Joes/St. Rita’s Brassmen web site wish to create a “spark” that will “unite a movement” resulting into action being taken and a stand being made.

What is your stand?
Click here to comment

Harold Craig Barber
New York City Public School Teacher
Drum Instructor
Former member St. Rita’s Brassmen and New York Skyliners
One of the Original Founders of the www.stritasbrassmen.org web site