by Bob Tarsitano
Richard Tarsitano, the first bugle instructor and officer for the nationally known Royal Airs, a state, regional and national championship drum and bugle corps, died October 10 after a long illness from complications of diabetes. He was 67.
Having learned bugle with the Austin Grenadiers, a state championship drum and bugle corps in the early 1950s, Tarsitano got attached to the bugle while playing for them as well as for family, friends and neighbors. He also marched with the national champion Skokie Indians in the late 1950s. Tarsitano and Sie Lurye, a close friend, came up with the idea of helping neighborhood kids. Both men saw a real need for city youth to make something of themselves. Seeing the neighborhood filled with wandering kids in the ’50s, they decided to organize the Chicago Avenue Our Lady of Angles Parish drum and bugle group, which ultimately became the Royal Airs Drum and Bugle Corps, founded by Lurye.
Tarsitano believed “any kid could play a bugle, if given the instrument with proper guidance and encouragement.” He found instruments for his kids and with Lurye’s help got the drums and bugles in the hands of roaming city kids instead of sticks and stones. They got sponsorship, ultimately, from the Cicero American Legion Post No. 96. With financial backing, the Royal Airs got its austere beginning. It was 1958.
During the next 10 years, the Royal Airs accumulated state and national championship honors. In August of 1962 under Tarsitano’s leadership, the Royal Airs won the Illinois American Legion’s state championship competition. They competed with some 24 corps at Lane Technical High School.
Having taught thousands of young men, Tarsitano’s driving motivational bugle leadership found expression with other drum corps in Illinois that sought his experience. He led buglers and color guards and received numerous honors for his work with the Ottawa Crusaders, the Morton Grove Cougars, Spartan Drum and Bugle Corps and St. Michaels’ Chi-Angles corps. (The Cougars and Chi-Angles merged to form the Spartans.) Tarsitano was also the bugle instructor for the Chicago Police Department Drum and Bugle Corps for about a year. This corps did not compete, but it appeared at many city of Chicago functions such as the Columbus Day parade and the Fourth of July parade.
This past July, the Royal Airs, now men and women in their 50s and 60s, reunited at Des Plaines Maine West High School. They played a musical tribute to Tarsitano, the corps’ first bugle instructor, playing medleys of Berlin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Chopin’s Etude, Frankie Avalon’s Venus and Tarsitano’s original composition Quo Vadis.
Much of the performance highlighted the musical arrangements of Col. Truman Crawford, a retired U.S. Marine who led the Royal Airs from 1963-1968, winning three national championships. They played Crawford’s arrangements of Sinatra’s My Kind of Town and It was a Very Good Year, as well as other famous tunes including Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Ballyhoo March, Watermelon Man and John Brown’s Body/Battle Hymn of the Republic.
In mid-October, the Royal Airs were featured in Harry Porterfield’s “Someone You Should Know” segment on Channel 7. He highlighted the early years of the4 Royal Airs, the 2002 reunion corps and their appearance at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI, where the drum corps community inducted Lurye into the Drum Corps Hall of Fame.
Many of Tarsitano’s students saw him as more than the corps’ first bugle instructor and officer, but as a close friend and personal mentor. Amatore Menle, a long time friend and confidant, said, “Rich Tarsitano’s musical influence, prodding and pushing, nurtured the early years of the Royal Airs, which, ultimately, launched the corps into becoming national champions.”
Preceding Tarsitano in death was his wife of many years, Rosemary. He is survived by his sister, Lu, and his five children, Ricky, Tom, Cathy, Ria and LeeAnn, along with many grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Funeral services were held October 14 at Saint Walter Catholic Church in Roselle, IL.