by William Aldrich-Thorpe, DCW staff
This interview is long past due. Fran Haring has been a DCA icon for many years and has the distinct title of the “Voice of DCA,” as he is the official announcer at the DCA World Championships. The Labor Day 2005 weekend marked his 23rd season.
Fran has been involved with drum corps in one way or another since 1967. He has marched a total of 12 seasons, six with the Sacred Heart Crusaders from Manville, NJ, and six with the Sunrisers from Long Island, NY.
I have known Fran for many years. I first met him back in 1985 while I was with the Sunrisers. As a former member (he played a French horn from 1977-1983), he would hang around the Sunrisers quite a bit since his brother, Lenny, was still in Sun’s horn line, while I was a member of the percussion section.
Fran is now 47 years old (though he may never admit to that), he is married to a very lovely young lady, the former Barbara Mowbray, who is the daughter of the late Fred Mowbray, a longtime Drum Corps World writer/columnist.
He is no stranger to working behind a microphone, as he has worked as a radio newscaster/personality at several stations in New Jersey and Maryland. He has also worked as a section editor for USATODAY.com.
Fran took time away from his career for a few years to complete work on his college bachelors degree. He is now actively looking to get back into the media/public relations field, either full-time or as freelancer.
He can be seen/heard at various drum corps venues that includes the DCA Preview of Champions 2005 held in Groves Stadium at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. He also contributed to drum corps history as a contributing author, along with Frank Dorritie, about the Sunrisers for “A History of Drum & Bugle Corps,” volume 2, produced by Drum Corps World in 2003.
Most recently, Fran wanted to “help out” drum corps fans attending the 2005 DCI World Championship semifinals performance in Foxboro, MA, by posting a highly “tongue-squarely-in-cheek” message on an Internet forum site that is dedicated to the drum corps community called Drum Corps Planet, referring to the scheduled performance of the Hawthorne Caballeros Alumni corps at the end of the competition.
The article was titled “Cabs Alumni Primer for DCI Semifinals, Information for the Un-Initiated.” It provided nine things the fans should remember or understand while watching the alumni corps performance. One of the more memorable items was when Fran wrote, “For those of you used to the robot-like conductors who serve as drum majors for junior corps, Jim (Russo) is known as a ‘personality.’ This means that he most likely will approach the audience, smile and yell something like, ‘Hey, people!’ as a greeting to the crowd. DO NOT BE AFRAID if he speaks!”
Fran has always been a great ambassador for DCA and for drum corps in general. He is highly knowledgeable and well-versed on the activity and always presents what’s most positive about this unique genre.
Please take time to look at the end of this article for additional comments and memories by other drum corps personalities about Fran.
William Aldrich/Thorpe: I know you marched. What was your first corps?
Fran Haring: The first corps I joined was the Raiders of 88 junior corps from Highland Park, NJ, in the fall of 1967. Unfortunately, the corps broke up a couple of months later! I then joined the Little Falls Cadets from Little Falls, NJ, but I didn’t make the field with them. The hour-long trip to northern New Jersey proved to be a bit too much for a nine-year-old.
So I waited until I was a bit older and signed up with the Sacred Heart Crusaders junior corps from Manville, NJ, in 1971, playing French horn. The Crusaders were a member of the Eastern States Circuit. I marched six seasons with the Crusaders before joining the Sunrisers in 1977.
WA-T: Give me a little history of what you did prior to becoming “The Voice of DCA.”
FH: Aside from marching in drum corps, I made my first attempt being a college student at Rutgers University in New Jersey. To say the least, it didn’t quite work out as well as I (and especially my parents) had planned. I finished about two years’ worth of credits before dropping out. I finally completed work on my bachelors’ degree a few months ago, graduating from the College of Notre Dame’s Weekend College here in Baltimore.
After leaving Rutgers, I bounced around at various jobs before attending the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in the fall of 1982. I landed my first radio job about a year later.
WA-T: What was it like working with one of the legends of the activity, Mickey Petrone, founder of the National Dream Contest and president of DCA?
FH: Mickey could be quite the curmudgeon at times, but he also was one of the wisest, most decent people I’ve ever met. He had some great stories about his many years in drum corps and had a perspective on the activity that many of us “newcomers” lack. He truly was a living legend and I think we all miss him very much.
WA-T: What does drum corps mean to you?
FH: More than anything, it means friendships and camaraderie. I’ve met so many good people through drum corps and have made some lifelong friendships. Drum corps, without a doubt, is one of the most unique activities around, for all of us who’ve been fortunate enough to be involved.
WA-T: How did you get involved with your first corps? What and when was the first attraction/exposure?
FH: In 1967, my older brothers, Lenny and Marty, joined a local junior corps, the Raiders of 88 of Highland Park, NJ, the next town over from Edison where we lived. The Raiders competed in the Garden State Circuit that season. I remember going to a few shows with my parents to watch the corps. That’s basically how I got hooked.
WA-T: You have been involved in the activity for many years. What are your fondest memories/worst memories?
FH: One of my best memories is being part of the first Sunrisers corps to win a DCA championship in 1977. That was an absolutely unforgettable summer. Another memory, this one a bit mixed, was performing my best show in my drum corps career at the 1981 DCA Finals, after my brother and I got word that our mom, who was terminally ill with cancer that summer, would not be coming home from her latest trip to the hospital.
I’ve also been privileged to get a chance to see so many great corps performances, both in DCA and DCI, “up close and personal” from the announcer’s table.
I suppose my worst memories have been the times when I found out about the passing of another drum corps personality. Mickey and Billie Petrone, Vince Bruni, Bob Murray, Jim Costello, among others. I’m grateful to have gotten a chance to know them and work with them.
WA-T: Tell us about your past experience marching with the Sunrisers?
FH: Bill, you also spent some time with Sun, so I’m preaching to the choir a bit when I tell you that the Sunrisers were (and still are) an absolutely amazing group of people, almost literally from all walks of life. Of course, I was lucky to be there when the corps won its first three DCA titles; that’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.
It’s funny in a way. We had a reputation as a very buttoned-down, disciplined group because of our performance style and the success we achieved. Yes, we did work VERY hard, but off the field and away from practice we could also — and this is putting it mildly — party with the best of ’em!
WA-T: In your years behind the microphone, what famous or near-famous people have you met?
FH: I’m assuming you mean “famous” in the drum corps arena. I’ve had the privilege of meeting or working with a whole bunch of big names from the drum corps activity, many of them members of either the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame, DCI Hall of Fame or both.
One of the biggest thrills for me happened a few years ago at DCA Championships in Scranton when I was introduced to Jerry Seawright, the founder and longtime director of the Blue Devils. I’ve been a Devils fan for a long time, so it was a real honor to meet the man who pretty much got that great corps started and brought the Blue Devils to prominence.
WA-T: When was your first DCA Championship? What was that first DCA Championship like for you, sitting at that table on the sidelines of J. Birney Crum Stadium in Allentown, PA?
FH: My first year as the announcer for the DCA Championship was 1983, the year after my final season with the Sunrisers. That was back when prelims and finals were held on the same day, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.
After some early nervousness, I felt I was really starting to hit my stride during finals that night. That was, until the field microphone I was using failed, not too long after the start of the show! Yes, failed. Dead. No sound whatsoever, no matter what we tried to do.
A crisis during my first championship show as an announcer. I eventually had to re-locate to the press box, where we found a microphone that worked. But to be honest, it took me a little while to settle down and regain my focus.
WA-T: Have there been any times, since your first DCA Championship, that you weren’t at the microphone during finals?
FH: Nope. I’ve been there for every prelims and finals since 1983.
WA-T: When was your first time behind the microphone announcing a drum corps show? How did you get approached for the gig? Was it a junior show or a senior show?
FH: The first gig I did was for the corps I marched with, the Sunrisers. I emceed the indoor concerts the corps hosted in the spring of 1981 and 1982. I basically volunteered to do the job both years. In the summer of 1983, I co-announced (with another Sun alum, John Hodge) the Sunrisers’ outdoor show at Hofstra University on Long Island.
The first outdoor show I did “solo” was the 1983 National Dream Contest in Bayonne, NJ, sponsored that summer by the Bushwackers. I’ll never forget the Bushwackers for giving me that opportunity to get started. Perhaps those folks who don’t like my announcing style will never FORGIVE the Bushwackers!
WA-T: You have had some interesting things happen as a result of your notoriety as a DCA announcer. Can you share a story?
FH: I’m not sure how interesting this story is, but a few years ago my wife and I were having dinner at a restaurant in St. Michaels, MD, an Eastern Shore town where Barbara grew up. The Maryland Eastern Shore is about as far removed from the drum corps scene as you can get, but during dinner, a man sitting at the next table interrupted us and said to me, “You’re the guy who used to announce the Cumberland show, right? Whatever happened to that show?”
That just about floored me! I mean, what were the odds of running into someone on the Eastern Shore who recognized my voice from one of the shows I worked?
WA-T: Don’t you do some additional announcing outside the DCA major events?
FH: On the junior corps side, I’ve announced a number of drum corps and band shows for the Youth Education in the Arts organization. I also had the privilege of working the DCI Eastern Classic for the two years the show was held in Philadelphia while the Allentown stadium was being renovated. And in 2004, I announced the DCI Central Division Championship in Kalamazoo, MI.
FH: You have announced at DCI shows. Have you ever wanted to announce at the DCI World Championship?
FH: It would be quite an honor to announce at the DCI Championship, no doubt about it. But I’m assuming that Brandt Crocker has that job for as long as he wants it, and deservedly so. He’s an excellent PA announcer, truly the “voice” of DCI.
WA-T: How do you prepare when you announce a drum corps show? Is it different when it is a world championships performance?
FH: I approach regular-season and championship shows basically the same way in terms of preparation. It’s just that there is more paperwork and more preparation time needed for the DCA Championships. Before any show I do at least a brief vocal warm-up and I use a relaxation technique I learned a number of years ago. I still can feel the adrenaline pumping before every show, but it’s more like positive energy now than nervousness.
WA-T: Okay, no more fooling around. Tell us about those wild shirts you wear at some shows?
FH: That’s actually been a fairly recent development and I need to give credit where credit is due here. Several years ago, Chris Bauer, who was then a percussion instructor with the Caballeros, would wear the wildest, tackiest Hawaiian-print shirts you can imagine. “Nothing over 10 dollars” was his basic rule!
At that time, I had a couple of wacky shirts in my collection, but Chris — and Al Katz of the Cabs, who’s been known to wear a loud shirt or two himself — basically “inspired” me to add more. I don’t wear the shirts at every show I work, but it has become sort of a trademark of mine. And unlike Chris, I have spent more than 10 bucks on a few of them.
WA-T: What do you miss since you stopped performing with a drum corps?
FH: I miss the performance itself, the “rush” I would get as a performer when the audience was cheering for my corps. I also miss the day-to-day interaction with other members of the corps. I certainly do not miss the early wake-up calls for all-day rehearsals or the long bus rides to some shows.
WA-T: If you could march with one corps, which would it be? Junior? All Age? Alumni?
FH: In all honesty, my marching days are pretty much over. I’ve always had this dream of being a drum major or assistant drum major for a corps, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Seriously, I’m happy with my limited role as a new member of the Westshoremen Alumni corps. Since the corps is close to home, rehearses only a few times and does only one or two performances a year, it’s right up my alley.
WA-T: When and where did you meet your wife, Barbara? What made her stand out?
FH: I first met Barbara in the press box at HersheyPark Stadium during the 1988 DCA Prelims. I thought, “She pretty cute!” We also had several common interests, including drum corps (she had marched with the Westshoremen) and indoor soccer, but at the time I was thinking “nice girl, but she lives in Baltimore and I’m in New Jersey. That won’t work!”
Well, to make a long story short, we didn’t see each other again until the following summer at the DCA show in Cumberland, MD. We started dating later that summer at the DCA Championship in Allentown and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. We’ve been married for 14 years.
WA-T: I hear Barbara is taking a more active role in the DCA I&E event at the 2005 DCA World Championship this season. How did this come about?
FH: After longtime DCA I&E chairperson Donna Ernst passed away in December of last year, Barbara volunteered her time to help in any way that was needed to keep the I&E show going. DCA named Dick Pronti, who first started DCA’s I&E show in the late 1980s, as the new chairman for this year and Barbara is his assistant.
WA-T: When you are traveling to a show, what do you and Barbara listen to on the car radio?
FH: With our older car, we usually try to find an oldies or classic rock station. Our new car has satellite radio; there, we’re usually tuning into one the “decades” channels — music from the 1940s through the 1990s — and one channel that has some great Latin jazz. I also like the channel that has a lot of stuff from Frank Sinatra and his contemporaries like Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, etc.
WA-T: With all the time you have spent, both in a drum corps and behind the microphone, please give us your impressions of the changes that have occurred within the drum corps scene over the years?
FH: One big change is the difference in corps rehearsal structure during the “off-season.” When I marched with the Sunrisers, we rehearsed nearly every Sunday, starting sometimes as early as October. As the competition season neared, we started adding Friday nights and then Wednesday nights to the schedule.
This was easier to do then because we, like almost every other corps at that time, drew most of our members from within a couple hours’ driving distance of the corps’ home. Now, with members traveling from greater distances and having other commitments, the weekend camp once or twice a month is the way many corps rehearses.
I think the jury’s still out on the recent changes to the activity, especially electronics.
Personally — and I know I’ll catch some heat for this from my “traditionalist” friends — I like the concept of electronics and amplification, provided that it’s done in a professional manner. I think when done well, narration or other use of amplified vocals can add an extra layer of entertainment to a drum corps show, and I also have no problem with pit percussion instruments being amped.
However, everyone has their own line in the sand and here’s mine — the day when the drum corps powers-that-be ever allow woodwinds or string instruments on the field, then the fundamental brass-and-percussion sound that truly defines drum corps would be changed forever. That would be a very sad day, indeed.
Bottom line, though, I think the drum corps experience, at its heart, thankfully has not changed much over the years. It’s still all about corps members having a good experience with their corps, it’s still all about fans coming out to cheer those performers on and it’s still all about the relationships and friendships formed with other members and fans of the activity. That’s a very good thing.
WA-T: Give me your opinion of the current and future direction of drum corps for junior, all-age and alumni corps?
FH: On the junior side, it seems DCI has staked out a clear marketing position for itself, targeting the high school and college band audience. That’s where the junior corps members are coming from these days, so it makes perfect sense to market to those potential members and their families.
However, I think DCI does need to pay at least some attention to the so-called “legacy” fans, the ones who’ve been with DCI at one time or another since its inception in 1972. To its credit, DCI has done that to a degree with the “Classic Countdown” concept and other initiatives.
Regarding the changes of recent years — any-key instrumentation, electronics and amplification — I guess my bottom-line opinion is that time marches on and it’s up to each of us individually to decide if we want to stay in step. I do wish that some DCI followers would lose the mindset that “drum corps began in 1972” when DCI came on the scene.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ll borrow from an old saying — To see clearly where you’re going, you need to know where you came from.
The senior or all-age corps activity has been growing quickly in recent years and that’s great to see. However, all-age corps, as represented by DCA, need to keep in mind that since their corps cannot rehearse seven days a week like the juniors during the season, the all-age product necessarily must be different from what DCI corps do, both musically and visually.
I think this holds true from a marketing standpoint, too. If DCI is reaching out almost exclusively to high school and college musicians and their families, I would think DCA corps perhaps would want to focus on not only the “legacy” fans who might feel ignored by DCI, but also the “everyday” audience in towns all across the country, those people who might be looking for a unique musical entertainment experience on a summer Saturday night in their hometown.
If all-age corps insist on being “just like the junior corps” from the standpoint of show design and membership recruitment and commitment, then they’re going to be fighting a losing battle in the long run, in my opinion. This does not mean that all-age corps can’t produce a quality product. They can and many do. But they have to be mindful of not only their potential, but of their common-sense limitations as well.
My advice for alumni corps is to keep doing what they’re doing. Alumni corps are a great vehicle for bringing back memories of “days gone by” through the corps’ performances. They’re also a nice social outlet for those of us who can’t march in a competition corps, but like to get together from time to time with our longtime drum corps friends.
WA-T: If you could change one thing about drum corps, what would that be?
FH: I would change the tendency of some corps to program their shows as if they’re only trying to reach a narrow audience of music sophisticates. Even many world-class symphony orchestras these days realize that in order to survive and to keep filling concert halls, those organizations NEED to reach out to a wider audience and play music that the “average person” can enjoy.
As long as fans are required to pay admission to see a drum corps show, then the individual corps are in the entertainment business to at least some degree, whether they want to acknowledge that or not. Drum corps shows can indeed be challenging for the members AND entertaining for the audience, and there’s nothing wrong with playing “familiar” music, in my opinion.
Ask the cast of “BLAST!” if they ever got tired of getting standing ovations night after night in front of a packed house on Broadway, all the while performing an easy-to-understand show at a very high level of musicianship and professionalism.
WA-T: In all of your time involved with drum corps, which corps excited you the most?
FH: That’s a tough one to narrow down. For a one-show performance, I’d have to say the 1995 Madison Scouts, at Giants Stadium in New Jersey that year. I was working the show from field level and the Scouts that night absolutely took my breath away with the overwhelming power and energy of their performance.
Honest to God, when the corps finished its show with that incredible power push in Malaga, I stood there, microphone in hand, completely dumbfounded for several moments before I realized I needed to get back to doing my job!
WA-T: In all of your time and experience with drum corps, do you have any regrets?
FH: “Regret” is a strong word, but the closest thing I have to a regret is that I didn’t put as much time into my college studies, the first time around in the 1970s as I should have. I was a bit too wrapped up in drum corps at the time.
There IS room for both drum corps and a “real life,” but it took me awhile to realize that. I would urge anyone marching in a drum corps today that, as fulfilling and as fun as that is, you should put your family life and professional or scholastic career first.
WA-T: Besides drum corps, what other activities and hobbies do you enjoy?
FH: I enjoy watching sports on television and in person when I get the chance, especially golf. One of these days I’m going to clean up my golf clubs, which have been gathering dust for a while now, and get back on the course. Barbara and I like to go and see a concert or show from time to time. We’re already pumped up about having tickets for Paul McCartney in concert this fall in Washington, D.C.
I’m also a member of a local Toastmasters public-speaking club.
WA-T: I was told to ask you something about a “Skunk”!
FH: Ahh yes, the skunk. To make a long story shorter, during the awards ceremony at DCA Finals in 2001, a skunk found its way into the stadium in Syracuse and started running around near the souvenir marketplace area, causing a bit of a stir, to say the least.
I made a comment along the lines of, “Okay, no one from my family’s missing. They’re all home in New Jersey!”
Well, some of my New Jersey friends thought I was making fun of the people of that great state, the state where I lived most of my life. I actually was trying to make a rather lame joke about my family, whether they lived in New Jersey or not, but the punch line somehow got lost in the translation!
Anyhow, the next year my friends Nanci Dunham, Ron Allard and Jeff Winans, bless their hearts, purchased a stuffed skunk and presented it to me at DCA Prelims in Scranton. “The Skunk” now makes an occasional appearance at a show with me.
WA-T: What is the one thing you want people to remember about Fran Haring?
FH: That I took my work and responsibilities seriously, but never took myself too seriously!
WA-T: Anything else you would like to add?
FH: I just hope that 20 years from now, we’ll still be talking about drum corps being alive and well! And I hope that all corps — junior, senior/all-age and alumni –remember that people are paying to see them.
I think the corps should program their shows accordingly, with entertaining the audience a top priority. If the corps members aren’t having any fun and the audience isn’t enjoying the show, then it ain’t worth doing, in my opinion.
Here are a few memories some of the drum corps community would like to add:
Donna White: About Fran, all kidding aside (and he did not pay us as yet), but there is no way to tell you about the true, blue Fran. A person who is always there when you need someone, who you can always count on, who always has your back in good times and bad times, someone when you say I need help, he is right there, no questions asked, no delay in his promptness and never-ending friendship. We spent a lot of years with Fran in the Sunrisers, we would have to say that Fran was the ultimate example of what we always believed was the Sunrisers Family.
Robbie Ellis: This is more a screw up on my part, but at the 2005 “Dixie Stinger,” Fran was doing the emceeing. I stopped him in the hall and asked that he announce that my husband, Bob, was celebrating his 50th birthday that night. I asked if he would call Bob out when the Yankee Rebels took the stage so I and the corps could embarrass my husband.
When the Rebels took the stage, BEHIND THE CURTAIN, sure enough, Fran announces Bob’s 50th birthday and would he stand up. Bob is ALSO in the Yankee Rebels, a minor point that I neglected to mention to Fran. So, when Bob doesn’t acknowledge this announcement, Fran announces it again.
I am behind the curtain yelling “NO, NO, wait until the curtain opens!”
To top everything off, Bob never heard Fran since he was behind the curtain and was not expecting the surprise.
Mighty Joe Hamm: We were marching the show in Clifton. We’d been treated like visiting royalty by the Cabs. I roll my pit equipment on to the field and the announcers’ table is practically IN the pit box. Low and behold, right there in front of me, HOLY SMOKES! It’s the voice — the man — right there. I could have touched him.
The most famous voice in senior corps . . . “CorpsVets, you may take the field in competition!” Just like the big boys! Here sat a guy, not three feet away from me, who’s probably seen more drum and bugle corps than I can even imagine.
I started to play with as much enthusiasm as I’ve ever had for a performance. I’m jumping around behind my equipment like a striped-butt-ape, having the time of my life, selling my little part of the show like I never had before.
About midway through the second song, I sneak a peak at “The Man” to see how impressed he must be by the show I’ve been putting on just for him.
What was Fran’s reaction to my in-your-face performance? I don’t think he looked at me once. He had his nose buried in a copy of Drum Corps World. I will always consider Fran Haring’s reaction to my performance as license to heckle him every chance I get.
Frank: I’d been asking — no begging — Fran for four years to introduce the Stealthmen being on at prelims when there was a break in the action. FINALLY, 2003 prelims, we’re (Kilties) coming onto the field in the monsoon. Fran’s voice comes over the speakers . . .
“Let’s have another round of applause for the Stealthmen! That was for you Frank!” From that, he segued right into introducing the Kilties without missing a beat. That is extreme professionalism.
Eddie Griffin: What can you say about Fran? Well, a lot of the excitement that surrounds a show is having Fran as an announcer. He is a class act and a lot of fun. His niece is getting married to an old buddy of mine . . . all Fran keeps saying is that Jack is a great guy, but he is crazy!
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This interview originally appeared in the September 2005 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 34, Number12), mailed to subscribers on September 15, 2005. You can subscribe to DCW by going to the front page of this Web site and clicking on “Subscriptions” to get to our secure “Store.”