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HIGH LIFE : Oompah Oomph : County Drum and Bugle Corps Marching to a Different Beat These Days

July 16, 1988|JASON POMMIER | Jason Pommier--a graduate of Valencia High School, where he was drum major for the marching band--will attend Cal State Fullerton in the fall. He will major in communications and play with a school-sponsored jazz band

In their formative years, drum and bugle corps competitions were not so much showcases for music as exercises in military manners.

Corps members were judged by the creases in their uniforms and the shines on their shoes. Their shows were more regimented too, with an emphasis on patriotic music and presentation of the American flag.

Today, things are different.

Today, the emphasis is on show business.

Drum corps evolved from military performance groups. At one time, 2,500 existed throughout the country, as nearly every local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars post had a corps to call its own.

As the emphasis was placed more and more on the patriotism of the events, the musicians grew less satisfied. And finally, in 1972, many joined forces to create Drum Corps International.

With the formation of DCI, gone were the military restrictions, replaced by an emphasis on visual pizazz and musical variety--ranging from jazz and classical songs to big-band and Broadway show tunes.

Harvey Berish of Anaheim has been involved with drum corps for 35 years. He joined his first group in the Bronx when he was 12. He has marched, taught and directed drum corps and is publisher of World of Pageantry, a monthly newspaper devoted to marching band and drum corps activity.

"Drum Corps has evolved into show business, with better instrumentation and more dance movement," Berish said. "Corps are now community-sponsored groups and are well organized."

Drum corps, for the uninitiated, are similar to marching bands but feature only brass and percussion instruments. Drum corps members, whose maximum age is 21--except for senior groups--practice year-round but perform only during summer tours, which can sometimes cover 15,000 miles, crisscrossing the country.

DCI helps to promote 250 drum and bugle corps throughout the country and two in Orange County: the Velvet Knights and the Kingsmen.

Thirty years ago, the Boy Scouts of Anaheim formed a drum corps, which they continued to sponsor for five years. The corps then split into the Anaheim Kingsmen and the Santa Ana Velvet Knights, both now based in Anaheim.

The Kingsmen, officially classified as an A-60 corps--which means they have 60 or fewer members--were the very first DCI world champions, winning the title in Warhawk Stadium in Whitewater, Wis., in 1972.

Keith Wilbur, now 34 and a computer systems engineer in Irvine, played soprano trumpet with the Kingsmen when they won that first championship.

"When we won the title, it was raining hard," said Wilbur, whose one brother and three sisters were also in the Kingsmen. "The wind was blowing strongly, and we were soaking wet. As we ran to our buses, the public address announcer told us our scores. We were so happy. Many people screamed for joy and others cried. It was an experience that I'll remember the rest of my life."

The Velvet Knights, dubbed the "clown princes" of drum and bugle corps, most closely resemble the Stanford marching band in zaniness of field performance and appearance. They have performed this year in white tuxedoes, baseball caps and red, high-top sneakers.

The VKs (as they are affectionately known) are a world-class corps, meaning that they have more than 60 but no more than 128 members and compete in the open division.

Jennifer Scott, 17, lives in Anaheim and will be a senior at Valencia High School. She is in her first year marching with the VKs. She decided to join because her friends are members.

"There's not as much pressure as in high school (marching band)," said Scott, who also marches with Valencia's band.

"The intensity levels differ like a roller coaster," she said, "but I'm not as nervous on the field (compared to high school half time performances). It may be tough going back to high school."

The VKs' summer tour, which started early this month and will end in late August in Kansas City, will include stops in 50 cities in 33 states.

The Kingsmen, on the other hand, will take shorter, weeklong tours along the West Coast before heading back to Kansas City, where the DCI championship will be held.

While many believed that the 10,000 fans who attended the first championship in 1972 set an attendance record that would last forever, this year's championship on Aug. 20 at 54,000-seat Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City is already sold out.

In fact, a recent show--"The Kingsmen Invitational" at LeBard Stadium at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa--drew 7,500 spectators.

One of the duties of DCI, which has branches all over the country, is to organize tours and competitions for its area's top drum corps.

The nation's top 12 drum corps in the open division, determined at the DCI championship, are not only guaranteed a minimum number of shows each year but also a guaranteed appearance fee of $2,500 per performance.

The drum corps groups ranked from 13th to 25th place at the championship receive a guaranteed fee of $1,800 per appearance. The other corps, as well as those in the A-60 division, must negotiate their own fees.

Paula DeVusser, 16, and Rachele Sakamoto, 15, are in their first years with the Kingsmen. Both attend Costa Mesa High School.

"Drum Corps is helping me to meet new friends and to learn responsibility," DeVusser said. "And it's helping me in giving me a lot of dance experience."

Sakamoto said: "Overall, the practice has taught me how to work with people. The rest of the guard are like sisters to me. The members of a corps treat rookies very nicely. They make sure that you're on time, and they help you out."

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