by Mike Ferlazzo, DCW staff
This article originally appeared in the Augut 2008 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 5).
Since its image makeover in 2003, Carolina Crown has made one of its programming hallmarks approachable music with a big, warm brass sound. So when Drum Corps International expanded the member limit to 150 this summer, Crown’s staff decided to make that big sound bigger. No, make that the biggest.
Crown’s creative team made a strategic decision to field a DCI record, 80-member brass section, including a record-tying 16 tubas, to power “Finis”, a program that features endings of 13 classical hits. Apparently the design team wants to keep that record and a consistent massive sound intact, regardless of this summer’s setbacks.
“It’s an 80-person brass line, with 16 tubas and six alternates that go along on tour as understudies, in case some injuries happen and what not,” said Crown Program Coordinator Jim Coates, who also serves as the corps’ chief operating officer.
The 80 brass members gives the program the musical “oomph” to pull off such powerful classics as Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor, Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, not to mention the “Amen” tag. And in the process, its big chords generate a powerful response, raising both goosebumps and an adrenaline rush from the audience and Crown’s conductor alike.
“Oh, my God, it’s an incredible feeling. I feel so lucky to be in front of a horn line like we have at Carolina Crown,” said 21-year-old Evan VanDoren of Bloomington, IN, one of Crown’s drum majors. “I wake up every day and it’s just wonderful.
“In my mind, I try to stay pretty focused on keeping the ensemble together, but sometimes it’s hard to keep my mind off the incredible feeling it is to be in front of an ensemble like we have,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Crown’s 16 tubas, which are featured in Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, tie 1992’s Star of Indiana for having the most contras on the field. Interestingly enough, Crown’s tuba tech, Tim Snyder, has ties to both ends of that record.
“Our tuba tech was part of the Star line that had 16 tubas and he’s been telling us how great it is to have experienced the last time there has been 16 tubas, and then this first time in such a long time,” said 19-year-old Brian “Gio” Giordano of Fairfax County, VA, one of Crown’s mighty 16 this summer. “And it’s just great. Everybody’s great. I love it at Crown.”
And if you love tubas, you would love Crown, which actually has set the record for the number of tuba players in uniform. According to Giordano, the group actually started with 19 tubas upon spring training move-in day at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC.
The corps left for tour with 18 tuba players, but were down to just one understudy by the time competitions began.
“We still have one alternate and he comes out for the encores,” said Giordano, who marched with the Crossmen two years ago and was an alternate with Phantom Regiment last summer.
“We’re just really happy to have him because he’s a really great guy. I just hope to see him marching in the future. I don’t want to see anybody go down, but at the same time I know that if something happens to any one of us, he’ll just be able to go out there and do his best.
“And with our unfortunate loss of the 18th tuba, we now have enough tubas for everyone to play,” he said. “We started off with 17 tubas and were trading in and out. Horns were going into Yamaha for repairs. At one point we were down to 15 tubas for 16 people marching out on the field, but we have them all now and we’re all ready to play them.”
While tuba playing in drum corps is typically a male-dominated world — and 16 of Crown’s 17 are carried by men — the one woman, 20-year-old Danielle Deditz of Orlando, FL, just happens to be the section leader. Just like the fans’ reaction to Crown’s powerful musical production, the section leader experience has been a real rush for her.
“It’s a great experience and I can’t imagine it any other way,” Deditz said. “I never marched with another girl contra. It’s great being section leader and keeping these boys in line.”
Deditz has known the tuba way for quite a while. She made the big instrument switch to tuba in the seventh grade.
“That’s when I thought I was just going to be sitting in a chair, but I was sadly mistaken,” she said. “It kind of worked out for the best.”
Now in her fourth year of drum corps and third with Crown, she says she doesn’t do anything special to train for carrying the corps’ biggest horn all season, just push-ups and the regular rigors of spring training camp.
And she’s now plenty strong enough to take care of both herself and the boys in her line.
“I get the mama role quite a bit and then when they don’t do their stuff, I say, ‘I’m not your mom. I’m not going to clean up after you’,” Deditz said. “It’s kind of like a sister. I would rather be looked at as a sister and someone who’s working along with them.”
Typically, tubas are visually positioned in the back of the brass section, but at 16 strong, Crown’s tubas have become a show in and of themselves. They’d like to take that time up front in the spotlight to literally blow the house down at DCI World Championships.
“I think with the 16, we’re just going to be able to push the box all the way back at Bloomington. Hopefully we’ll topple it over and shatter some glass,” Giordano said with a wry smile.