by Joel Leson
There is only one way to travel to a drum and bugle corps event and that’s by bus! That’s how members of the Archer-Epler Musketeers Drum and Bugle Corps and the Audubon Bon Bons Alumni Chorus chose to go the 470 miles from Audubon, NJ, and Upper Darby, PA, to the 2004 Great Alliance Seniors reunion held in Hamilton, ONT, April 30-May 2.
Packing the bus with drums, bugles, suitcases, snack food and liquid libation, the Musketeers and Bon Bons allowed this Yankee Rebel to join them for what was a very memorable weekend.
Upon arriving in Hamilton on the evening of April 29, our American contingent was greeted by Ted Brazier, the 2004 G.A.S. reunion chairperson, and director of the Hamilton Firefighters Drum Corps. Along with Ted and members of his corps, were members of the Simcoe United Alumni Senior Drum and Bugle Corps and the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Veterans Bugle Band, co-hosts of what has become an annual high point for so many of us who are involved in the alumni drum corps movement.
To start off the weekend festivities, the Hamiliton Firefighters opened their banquet and rehearsal hall to all of the reunion’s “early birds.” The food and drink were great, but the Canadian G.A.S. Ensemble were absolutely “outta-sight.”
Led by Hamilton’s brass instructor and arranger, Rick Dixon, the corps, composed of members from each of the host units, had a fantastic sound. Their “World War Two” salute (Damn Busters and The Longest Day) warmed the heart of this ol’ veteran.
The GAS Ensemble literally “set the right tone” for the remainder of the reunion’s fun and frivolity . . . and what a great time it was.
As is the custom, Friday was reserved for some official business (G.A.S. Executive Board Meeting); some “monkey business” (the Friday night beer bash); and some serious and entertaining business, the opening ceremonies.
The beer bash was a hoot! Singing the old repertoires (Give My Regards to Broadway, You’re A Grand Old Flag, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, etc.) were a grand old bunch of drum corps fanatics led, of course, by the indomitable Tom “Bucky” Swan. The remainder of the suds drinking singers included Bob Neuhof of the Skyliners, Mark Fulcomer and Chuck Smith of Archie, Ralph and Dot Silverbrand, Mike and Carol DelVecchio, John Mehrtens and George Hayek (Hawthorne), and a supporting cast of not-so-good singers and wise-acre kibitzers.
When it came to the more serious singing, the Bon Bons Chorus, directed by Bill “Rip” Bernert, and the Drum Corps Associates of Toronto (DCAT) Chorus, under the baton of Ted Key, sang the Canadian and American national anthems with a zest and patriotism that was very moving and particularly meaningful.
True-to-form, the opening ceremonies were impressive and brought hundreds of drum corps people together in a way shared only by those of us in the “old style” drum corps activity.
Saturday brought almost six hours of non-stop drum and bugle corps performances and shenanigans. There were brass soloists, “ancient” rudimental rope drummers, some singing and dancing, and some magnificent drill work. Full musical presentations were made by the Toronto Signals Trumpet Band, Simcoe United Alumni Drum and Bugle Corps, Kawartha Kavaliers Drum Corps, Hamilton Firefighters Drum Corps, Preston Scout House Alumni Band, Toronto Optimists Alumni Drum Corps, Archer-Epler Mini-Corps and the Canadian G.A.S. Ensemble.
For those of us who recall the late 1950s and the decade of the 1960s, seeing the Toronto Optimists and the Preston Scout House units brought back some very fond memories. I saw Scout House at last year’s DCA “Alumni Spectacular” in Scranton, PA. They have grown and improved their organization since then. In speaking with Drum Major Gary Tones, I have the feeling the Preston contingent will bring the house down at this year’s DCA alumni show. If you have never seen their drill team, you’re missing a real treat!
The banquet is one of the highlights of this 20-year-old reunion event. With the singing of the National Anthems, posting of the colors, outstanding presentations by the Bon Bons, DCAT and Skyliners choruses, and the colorful parade of alumni uniforms, the evening and reunion were jus t about complete.
To close the evening, tributes were paid to those G.A.S. members who passed away during the previous year. This year’s reunion was dedicated to “those illustrious drum corps personalities that were lost to us in the past year, or so.”
From the United States: Colonel Truman Crawford, U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps; James Costell , Hawthorne Caballeros; Michael Petrone, Drum Corps Associates; Vince Bruni, World Drum Corps Hall of Fame; Hugo Evarelli, Hawthorne Caballeros.
From Canada: Ronald Falla, Sr., Founding Brass Instuctor and James Inrig, founding percussion instructor, Hamilton Firefighters Drum Corps.
With the passing of the G.A.S. banner to “Rip” Bernert of the Bon Bons and Mark Fulcomer of Archer-Epler, next year’s reunion host, the 20th Anniversary of the G.A.S. reunion was history. All of us who belong to the G.A.S. hope to see as many of you as possible in Valley Forge PA, for the 21st reunion.