by Mike Ferlazzo, DCW staff
This article was originally published in the December 2008 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 9).
When Youth Education in the Arts! (YEA!) announced two years ago that the 22-time Drum Corps International World Class Finalist Crossmen organization was moving to San Antonio, TX, to operate under a new management team and eventually become independent of YEA, you couldn’t blame the staff of Revolution if it wasn’t enthusiastic about the news. Afterall, Revolution had already been in San Antonio since 1999 and competing in what’s now DCI’s Open Class level — winning the Division III World Championship in 2002.
But while both corps now share the city that’s home to the Alamo, no battle has broken out between them over membership, staff or facilities. Their directors agree that the city and state are plenty big enough for both of them. In fact, there might be greater strength between the two of them to raise the visibility of the drum corps activity throughout the state.
“It really hasn’t been that much of an issue [to have the Crossmen in town],” said Revolution Executive Director John Rodriguez. “We do lose members to them every year, but no more so than any other World Class organization. We understand that we are considered a training organization for these kids to go off and eventually go to World Class level and we look at that as a big feather in our cap because we’re preparing those kids for that class. And at some degree, we’ll retain and be able to grow from there.
“But with the Crossmen here [in the same city], it’s only increased the awareness of drum corps within the state of Texas and so it’s only a good positive,” he said. “We welcome them. We’re glad that they’re here. But we’re going to continue to do our thing and we’re two totally different organizations. We have two totally different styles and it gives kids a choice as far as price and genre and the whole nine yards.”
Texas has been fertile recruiting territory for drum corps for some time — particularly on the junior side, with several high school bands that have been successful in the Bands of America (BOA) competitive circuit.
DCI has tapped into that market by making San Antonio’s Alamodome the annual home to its Southwestern Championship. Bands of America — in conjunction with Drum Corps International and one of its top corps — has even conducted past student workshops in conjunction with the San Antonio event that is annually held during the Texas Bandmasters Convention which draws hundreds of Texas band directors as well as directors from across the U.S.
One of the state’s successful BOA bands has been Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio, where Mark Chambers served as the Director of Bands from 1999 to 2007. But when the Crossmen were seeking a leader for their new, independent [from YEA!] future, he opted to become the corps’ full-time director and head the organization’s move to his hometown.
Chambers was honored for his efforts as the recipient of DCI’s 2008 Dr. Bernard Baggs Leadership Award, which recognizes the outstanding director of the season as voted on by all World Class directors.
While it’s been a learning experience for the corps and its new management team during its first two seasons in San Antonio, Chambers says it’s been largely positive — even with another corps already in town — and getting better each day.
“I think it’s been good,” Chambers said. “It’s a big city and it’s taken awhile to educate our state since there’s not a lot of drum corps down here. But overall, everyone’s been really warm and receptive, and it’s gone extremely well.
“It takes a little time to kind of get things going,” he said. “But people are really talking about things and I think it’s great that we’re both [Crossmen and Revolution] here. I can’t say enough about it. It’s nothing but positive for Texas.”
Both corps experiencing
San Antonio success
It appears as if both corps are finding success in San Antonio, based on this past summer’s competitive season. Revolution fielded a corps of approximately 70 members and made the DCI Open Class finals again, placing eighth.
The Crossmen had approximately twice that many members and just missed returning to the World Class finals for the first time since 2004, finishing 13th. That’s an improvement of three positions from the previous summer in the first full year on their own.
And just like how the corps’ summer program is annually refined through rehearsal, learning how to operate a drum corps gets better with practice, too.
“It’s going well. It’s very good,” said Chambers. “We had a good model last year. We were kind of on our own. It’s my second year, so it’s always a little bit smoother. So yeah, it’s going well.”
It might not be going quite as well for Revolution, which had to curtail some of its tour last summer because of financial shortages and the group also overcome the departure of one of its high-profile staff members during tour. But Rodriguez insists the overall experience was still positive on Revolution’s members, too.
“They’ve [the corps] done a tremendous job,” said Rodriguez after the DCI Open Class finals show. “From where we started at the beginning of all-days [rehearsals] to where we ended here today, it has been just a fantastic journey. The kids have grown, both on the field and off.
“We started off with a very young organization this year and we’ve gone through a lot of trials internally as far as the members and the struggles of trying to get to that next level. And they’ve just been fantastic. They really are true motivators and they make me proud to be a part of this activity.
“We had to make some of those [financial] decisions this year,” he said. “They probably weren’t the most popular decisions, but moving forward we knew that it was the best situation for the organization and for our longevity.”
While in Bloomington, Rodriguez said he had plans to put new fund-raising programs in place to solidify the corps’ financial future, which includes next year’s 10th anniversary celebration. He reported that much of its debt was manageable and accumulated long before last summer’s record food and fuel prices.
Ultimately, he wants to continue to make Revolution an experience that’s accessible to all interested young people.
“Our goal has always been to try to keep our tour fees as low as possible, so these kids who come from financially-challenged backgrounds can participate in this beautiful activity that we call drum corps,” Rodriguez said.
“I’m a firm believer that it shouldn’t be for the rich only. It needs to be for every kid who has the desire to want to put forth an excellent performance. They have the right to be on that field.”
And both corps are finding members from across the nation’s second largest state and even beyond.
“Texas is a big state, but it’s definitely one that can be traveled very, very well and we’ve got a lot of kids down from the valley area,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve got a lot of kids from Houston. We’ve got a good San Antonio nucleus. We’ve even got seven kids from Japan.
“So we’re trying to think out of the box in regards to membership, so once again people are recognizing the sound that we’re putting out — the technicality within our book. And this is becoming a place where these kids want to come rather than a place that they settle for.”
San Antonio is now a
drum corps destination
San Antonio has become one of the country’s prime destinations for young people interested in marching with a DCI corps, whether it be the lesser-experienced Open Class variety or the activity’s elite World Class level. And some day, there might be two corps from the city competing at the activity’s highest level. Revolution has a dream to join the Crossmen there — someday.
“You know, possibly [becoming a World Class corps someday], but right now what we want to do is be a successful drum corps on the field financially — both on the front side and the back side — and build our volunteer base and our membership base,” Rodriguez said.
“And when the time’s right and we know all the players are in place and all the pieces are there for the puzzle, we’ll cross that bridge when the time comes. We’re in no rush.
“I think a lot of the problems that a lot of organizations of our caliber have is that there’s this push to get to that Saturday show,” he said. “But you know what? It shouldn’t be about that. It should be about the members’ experience and that was one of the focuses I had this year, making sure that the members’ experience was top-notch. I don’t think there’s one member on that field who will tell you otherwise.”
If and when the management team takes Revolution to the next competitive level to compete on the same field as the Crossmen, it might eventually lead to one of drum corps’ famous inner-city rivalries. But for now, Rodriguez is happy to have his corps admire its new uptown neighbor.
“You know, maybe when we get to that level [World Class], there will be [a rivalry],” he said. “But right now, they’re good to look up to and kind of have them on the platform and say, ‘You know, at some point we’ll be right up there.’
“But you know, I really don’t see it [a rivalry]. I don’t see it with the members or so much so with the staff — maybe a little more with the staff than anything else. But who’s not going to want to draw those comparisons or have that little friendly rivalry going on?”
For now, both corps are content to work together to grow drum corps’ presence in the Lone Star State.
“There’s a lot of potential [in Texas] to be developed and we’re hoping to be a part of that,” Chambers said. “And like anything else, growth and possibilities are endless. So we’re excited about it. It’s just one day at a time for us.”
For information about the Crossmen organization, visit their Web site at www.crossmen.org.
Revolution’s Web site is www.revolutionypa.org for details.