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An interview with Ibe Sodawalla, director of Legends

by Steve Vickers, DCW Publisher
publisher@drumcorpsworld.com

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It’s a rather rare occurance these days seeing a new junior drum and bugle corps emerge. For the past two seasons, the Kalamazoo, MI-based Legends has been making a mark in Midwest competition and on the national scene.

Their founder and director, Ibe Sodawalla, has created something he can be quite proud of as the group sports a classy look, talented young performers and a staff that is helping the organization move up in DCI’s Open Class.

I’ve watched this group go from exhibitions in 2007, to being strongly ranked on DCI’s roster. It’s been quite a number of years since the state of Michigan has been represented by a corps — Dimensions in Grand Rapids was the last one seven years ago — and they’re based in a city with a reputation for supporting the occasional DCI regional show.

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Steve Vickers: I know you have a background working on the management staff with a number of corps in the Midwest. Did you march in a corps or how did you get interested in the drum and bugle corps activity?

Ibe Sodawalla: The summer of 1995 I attended a Fred J. Miller Clinic as the drum major for my high school marching band. One of the things the staff mentioned was this really cool group called DCI. I told my mom and dad about it immediately after I returned from the clinic and said that we had to go see DCI.

My dad took me to the “Preview of Champions” in Ypsilanti, MI, later that summer and we saw a number of incredible drum corps perform. I was disappointed that DCI did not perform that evening until I was to later find out that DCI was the governing organization, not a drum corps. Nonetheless, after I saw that show, I knew I wanted to perform with a corps one day.

In 2000, I had a serious decision to make if I wanted to participate, for it would’ve been my   age-out year. I auditioned at the Blue Devils. After making their euphonium line, I packed my bags and moved out West to spend time in the winter months rehearsing and getting ready for tour.

By early May, I had to leave due to a family medical emergency and I thought that would be it. After all had gone OK on the home front, it was too late to return to the Blue Devils. I received a call from one of my friends who was marching Scouts. A euphonium hole opened up. I was able to come in early June and became a brother . . . my rookout experience.
I knew at that point I would be dedicating my life to drum corps, but I wasn’t sure what that meant yet. My work began with instructing and arranging, and over time, administrative and management responsibilities.

I’m a music arranger with a business called Thoughts in Progress Productions. I continue to arrange for a number of high schools and colleges, along with Legends and the Colt Cadets.

SV: Which corps were you involved with to gain management experience?

IS: I started doing administrative work with Dimensions in Grand Rapids MI, during the 2002 season. They invited me to be program coordinator as well as to arrange their music.

From there I found myself arranging a staff to help instruct the corps and by 2003 they asked me to transition to be their executive director. The 2003 tour opened my eyes to every facet of a drum corps operation. Unfortunately, in 2004 we tried to come back out and that was not possible.

At that point I received a very special phone call from Greg Orwoll, director of the Colts who asked me if I would be interested in working with the Colts and Colt Cadets. In April 2004, I found myself with packed bags and headed to Dubuque, IA, where I stayed through October 2006. During that time I learned a number of things from   Greg and the Colts organization about how to run a world class operation and non-profit organization.

Greg always said that “. . . it always looks easy from the stands, but running a drum corps is not as easy as it looks.”

One last place of significant importance is my time at Western Michigan University as a Concerts Office Assistant for the School of Music. From 1996 to 1999 I learned a great deal from my mentor, Carl Doubleday, which I apply in my administrative duties for Legends.

SV: Were you already living in Kalamazoo or did you select that location because of the awareness of drum corps generated by the DCI show held there over the years?

IS: Kalamazoo is the home of Western Michigan University, where I studied music education and entrepreneurship through my undergraduate years. While at WMU, I worked with some area schools and put together a standstill brass and percussion program at Portage Central High School during the winter months that later became known in the area as Legends. At that time, the DCI Kalamazoo show hadn’t started, but there were drum corps events around the area.

I focused on keeping Legends in the Kalamazoo area, for our roots with the indoor program has helped to propel the corps. The   Legends Performing Arts Association was initially incorporated in Portage, MI, and after some discussion with the board, it was time to align the organization with the identity of Kalamazoo.

SV: Give me a time-line of how you built your organization before entering competition.

IS: The corps actually evolved from a brass and percussion ensemble that I created in 2001 with a group of Portage Central High School students. The following year, students from area band programs participated, which started to give some inspiration about an ensemble from multiple programs.

In 2006, there were a number of our members participating in the activity and I thought it might be time to see how audiences in the outdoor activity would receive our program. I took our indoor group and did a   10-day summer program where we performed as a standstill exhibition unit at some DCI events, a couple of parades and Chicago Navy Pier. After that season, the Legends Performing Arts Association was formed, in September 2006, and began its work as an independent organization.

In 2007, Legends sponsored a new ensemble — a touring drum and bugle corps on a 22-day Midwest performance tour and a continued partnership with the Legends Indoor Ensemble from the Portage Central Bands. We applied for DCI participation, where we were granted exhibition status and put on our first field shows during the summer. We were encouraged to do a much shorter tour and stay in our geographic region, as well as put a number of organizational items in place.

The operation added necessary rehearsal camp weekends for preparation of the music and field show. The tour included performances on the DCI and Mid-America Competing Band Director Association (MACBDA) circuits. Along with circuit participation, members represented our community at three July 4 parades in the Chicago area and we had three community appearances.

For the 2008 season, Legends was granted DCI Open Class membership. The performance tour was just over   double at 47 days, including appearances on the East Coast and in Canada, covering 5,000
miles. We held our first annual DCI Open Class “Drum Corps Preview” event in Vicksburg, MI. Legends finished as an Open Class semi-finalist at the DCI World Championships in its first year of competition.

This past 2009 season, the corps finished tenth as a finalist in DCI Open Class and received three awards of achievement: DCI OC Most Improved Corps, DCI OC Jim Jones Leadership Award (Most Outstanding Drum Major, Kelly Koch from Parchment, MI) and I received the DCI OC Corps Director of the Year award. Our tour was nearly 6,500 miles and the first stretch of travel outside our region, performing in Orlando, FL, and a free day in Washington, D.C.

2010 marks the fifth season for the corps and the tenth for the indoor ensemble. We have launched a new winter guard program this season, which participates in the Midwest Color Guard Circuit, Winter Guard International and the Michigan Color Guard Circuit. We are looking to add the Legends All-Star Band as an ensemble that is comprised of middle school and high school students to perform at special events.

The Legends programs now support 130 members in its ensembles, sponsors two DCI events in the West Michigan area and we are endorsed by major music suppliers like Yamaha, Remo, Sabian, Tree Works Chines and Innovative Percussion.

SV: What WGI class is your guard in?

IS:   We are competing as an Independent A guard. We have a unique aspect to our program, titled “Holiday Road,” where we integrate live musicians (seven brass performers) into the product. This concept has been something we’ve wanted to try and continues to follow the Legends brand as a part of our overall programming philosophy. This has been a special year for all of us with a new program and I am thrilled with the progress. We look forward to what the future holds for this ensemble.

SV: Have you been able to gain support from the Kalamazoo business community?

IS: Yes, I’ve seen some great support from our community starting with the area foundations that are here to support the arts and non-profit organizations. There are also some key businesses that help us with what we need for tour and storage in the off-season.

I am continually excited about the next phase of Legends, for there are a number of resources that have been untapped and have started hearing about the organization and what we do. The Irving S. Gilmore Foundation has been pivotal toward support in areas of scholarships, operating expenses and capital purchases.

SV: What about your staff? Who’s involved and where did they get their experience?

IS: The staff at Legends is one to keep your eyes on, for they are all specialists in their respective areas and have been involved with the drum corps activity. One of the focuses for me was to build a team of people with a larger infrastructure and a number of departments.

Our personnel are music educators, private instructors, designers, orchestra musicians, composers and non-profit managers. We have instructors involved with a number of winter programs and have also come from World Class corps backgrounds including Santa Clara Vanguard, Phantom Regiment, The Cavaliers, The Cadets, Madison Scouts, Bluecoats, Blue Stars, Colts and Pioneer.

Most of our team has also marched in A-60 and Division II-III, so they have a real understanding of what comes with being an Open Class corps.

My senior staff includes: Allison Patrick, operations and member/event management; Kevin Cort, tour operations; Landon Ewers, percussion supervisor and composer; Ryan Miller, visual designer and color guard supervisor; Derek Faasse, brass Supervisor; Steve Cross, visual supervisor; and Traci Glasscock, food and volunteer coordinator.

The design team includes myself, Landon Ewers and Ryan Miller. We’ve designed all the Legends’ programs together.

Our percussion department, led by Landon Ewers, includes: William Boswell, John McFarland, Nick Braasch, Dan Stephens, Justin Arenas, Steve Dailey, Geordan Sherd, Mark Lopez, Jason Lundgren and Denise Martaus. The brass department, led by Derek Faasse, includes: David Elliot, Drew Miller, David Seel, James Hughes and Jeremy Wissner (consultant).

Our golor guard department, led by Ryan Miller, includes: Scott Coolidge, Jenny Wippermann, Brandon Paul St. Anne and Brent Decker. The visual department, headed by Steve Cross, includes: Mark Sopjes and some shared personnel from the brass and percussion areas.

In the tour department, led by Kevin Cort, we have: Jason Fritz as tour manager, along with Valerie Glasscock and Brett Bellingar as operations assistants. Volunteers are led by Traci Glasscock, where she oversees scheduling, food planning, medical, uniform and transportation support.

We also have a governing board that includes: Patrick Flynn, Bart Jonker and Jonathan Schnicke. This board is looking to expand by our next election in October.

SV: Do you draw your membership primarily from central Michigan or have you had members from farther away?

IS: We do draw membership nationally, however, our target area is Southwest Michigan.   Members have come from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Missouri and South Carolina. We’ve started to see more interest from other states and I anticipate seeing more attend camps and programs in the future. 60% of our membership does come from Michigan.

SV: In the course of your first two years in competition, what kind of feedback are you getting from the judges and the general drum corps audience?

IS: We are received very well from both the judges   and the audience. The programming philosophy at Legends is to remain entertaining while exploring literature that has not been performed on the drum corps field. Our past two seasons were products that aligned with our organization the first about the path one takes and the second about stages of development.

SV: Michigan has difficulties related to the economy and high unemployment. How has that affected your fund-raising and recuiting efforts?

IS: The struggles are evident in areas of fund-raising and recruiting, for we continually have to be creative and collaborative to make things possible. We are working hard to move forward and one of the key aspects that has helped is to be clear every year about our goals, which helps to keep people engaged and supportive to our efforts.

I am also in the process of creating our next five-year plan, which helps to forecast where we are heading for people and businesses interested in supporting our growing drum corps organization. I don’t see how we would survive without collaborative efforts and creative ideas.

SV: What is in store for fans this season musically?

IS: We are excited to bring a mixture of literature to the field this summer, including wind band, orchestral, jazz fusion and movie soundtrack genres. We will be showcasing three different ancient cities in our 2010 production titled “Ruin” where you will hear the following music selections: Vesuvius by Frank Ticheli; Eruption from the “Tarkus Suite” by Emerson, Lake and Palmer; selections from Pini di Roma and Fontane di Roma by Ottorino Respighi; and Unstoppable by E.S. Posthumus;

SV: Tell me about “Building a Legacy.”

IS: This is a campaign that will be launched by Memorial Day weekend. It is a $250,000 campaign that will help purchase uniforms, trailers, instruments and scholarship program   initiatives. Anyone who would be able to help support Legends through this campaign should   e-mail me at: ibe@legendspaa.org or visit us on-line at www.legendspaa.org.

SV: Anything else you’d like to add?

IS: The building of Legends has been nearly a decade-long task and it takes some risk, patience and sacrifice to make this great organization possible. I know I would not be able to do this without the support of many people, including my parents (Anita and the late Dean Sodawalla), Patrick and Rennee Flynn, Jeremy Wissner, Allison Patrick, Landon Ewers, Ryan Miller, Traci Glasscock, Jason Lundgren, Kevin Cort, Valerie Glasscock, Greg Orwoll, Vicki Schaffer, Dan Acheson, Sue Kuehnhold, Dave Eddelman, Jeff Fiedler, Brian Hickman, J.W. Koester, GM Kuzma, Brian Beute, Christina Kleymeer, Carl Doubleday, Margaret Hamilton, Dr. Robert Spradling, Beth Jonker, Jonathan Schnicke, Jonathan Reinhard, Bill Pease, Mike Idzior, Bart Jonker, Tim Overturf, David Montgomery, Richard Steward, Michael Dombos, Dr. Stella Sung and Sandra Gagie.

After many years of service, these folks have helped to make things possible for Legends, but also helped to bring some direction and guidance to the formation of the Legends PAA and my personal and professional growth.

Also, thanks to the many loyal fans and supporters of Legends. We look forward to seeing you on the road this summer.

SV: I appreciate your taking time to spend talking about your corps. Best wishes for a wonderful 2010 season!

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Drum Corps World is published as an on-line electronic magazine by Sights & Sounds, Inc., Madison, WI. It is supported by advertising from manufacturers, service providers, corps, circuits and show sponsors. The publication began in October 1971 at the same time Drum Corps International was formed and has been produced continuously as a tabloid newspaper until April 2011 and on the Internet since May 2011. It is released monthly, as well as six additional e-mail blasts, one in late June, three during July and two in August.

The worldwide staff of writers and photographers provide show reviews during the season and interviews, feature articles, news and human interest stories during the off-season. The photographs that appear in the magazine are provided by 27 staff members who are scattered around the world. The publication covers World and Open Class Drum Corps International corps, Open and Class A Drum Corps Associates corps, alumni, mini-, parade and standstill units, as well as the growing activity in Europe, the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Philippines and South Africa.