Widely admired performer, arranger and innovator Ken Norman

Posted on May 12th, 2021 by Gail Langan

Widely admired performer, arranger and innovator Ken Norman, inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 2006, passed away peacefully in hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Sunday May 9 shortly after suffering a massive stroke.  Because of continued pandemic restrictions a celebration of life is delayed until an appropriate time.

Born in Racine, Wisconsin in 1943, he began arranging music for the Racine Kilties brass section in the 1960s, while he was playing French horn with the corps.  He was Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) French horn champion in 1963 and 1964.  In later years, he played mellophone with Kenosha Kingsmen and the Kilties senior corps.  The junior Kilties, founded in 1934, won three VFW national championships during his time in the 1960s: 1964, 1968 and 1969.

Frustrated with the limitations in range and flexibility of traditional military style bugles, he headed the effort to develop the G – F horn, which allowed more notation options and gave the instrument a more legitimate aspect in wider music circles.  The new instrument was a bugle keyed in G with the valve tuned in F and a rotary valve tuned in B flat, mimicking the first and second valve of a trumpet.

That innovation is now considered to be the most important development in drum and bugle corps brass instrumentation.  He helped develop the proposal that convinced the VFW to accept the new style bugles in competition, then was involved in manufacturing a set of instruments for the 1968 Kilties to showcase the new technology and expanded arrangement possibilities.  He was instrumental in the first use of the mellophone as a solo and ensemble instrument in brass voicing.  

His influence helped the drum and bugle corps community move away from the tight rules and restrictions of the national veterans organizations, toward a new era of musical excellence and recognition as an art form.  He helped develop a new judging caption first used in 1971: a music analysis sheet that was not based on the “tick” system: a concept that forms the basis for current judging systems.  

He made a major impact on drum corps activity as an arranger, creating charts for more than 100 drum and bugle corps around the word.  His classic arrangement of Auld Lang Syne is performed throughout the drum corps community.

He was inducted into the Buglers Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Drum Corps International (DCI) Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Funeral mass service April 7 for Frank Gerris whose drum corps activity began at age seven in 1947

Posted on April 5th, 2021 by Gail Langan

World Drum Corps Hall of Fame (WDCHoF) member Frank Gerris, age 79, passed away April 2 in Hawthorne, New Jersey.  He was inducted in the WDCHoF in 1992 and the New Jersey Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 2000.  His involvement in drum corps activity began at age 7 playing soprano horn with Our Lady of Good Counsel, joining Woodsiders in 1956.

Because of pandemic restrictions, visiting hours were private.  The funeral mass was scheduled for 9:30 am Wednesday, April 7 at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, 276 Diamond Bridge Avenue in Hawthorne with entombment following at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Totowa.  Cards of sympathy can be sent to 44 Hawthorne Avenue, Hawthorne, NJ 07506.  Memorial donations can be made to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, Hawthorne Caballeros PO Box 2148, Wayne, NJ 07474-2148.  Make cheques payable to Hawthorne Caballeros or Cabs Alumni, c/o Steve Raclowski, 49 Sand Hill Road, Vernon, NJ 07462.

Frank Gerris enjoyed a long association with Hawthorne Caballeros starting in 1979 as drill designer and instructor, staff coordinator from 1984 until 2001, then general manager.  He recently served as a member of the board of directors.  During his years of service, the Caballeros won five Drum Corps Associates (DCA) championships up to the year of his induction into the WDCHoF.  He was a member of the committee that was instrumental in getting the Hawthorne Caballeros inducted into the Library Hall of Congress.

Drum Corps International (DCI) accepted his proposal that field judges use tape recorders while evaluating corps on the contest field.  His proposal to allow competing corps to start their routine at any position on the field was accepted by DCA.  He served as chair of the DCA marching and maneuvring rules congress and helped re-write the DCA rulebook.

He judged many contests for marching bands, drum and bugle corps and color guards, including DCA and DCI contests.  

In addition to his long association with the Caballeros, he served with other notable drum and bugle corps.  He was drill designer and instructor for the Woodsiders and Hawthorne Muchachos.  He was drum major of Ballantine Brewers drum and bugle corps of Newark, NJ.  He was both brass instructor and director of St. Michael’s of Jersey City, NJ.

He is survived by Bonita “Bonnie” (nee Costello) Gerris, sons Frank Gerris of East Windsor and Charles Gerris of Brick.  His third son Michael Gerris passed away in 2006.  He is also survived by his brother-in-law James Costello, sister-in-law Sheila Costello, and his nieces Shealyn and Mackenzie Costello. He is also survived by his former wife Dianna (nee Hrunka).

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Philadelphia newspaper feature story gives inquiring minds loads of information about Bill Ives drum corps museum project

Posted on March 28th, 2021 by Gail Langan

A feature story in the Sunday March 28 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper gives readers tons of information about World Drum Corps Hall of Fame member Bill Ives and his ongoing campaign to collect items for a proposed Marching Pageantry Arts Museum.

The extensive story and photos were also featured in The Upside section of the Inquirer’s online site on March 23, available at https://www.inquirer.com/life/upper-darby-drum-corps-proposed-museum-20210323.html

Since 1990, he has collected more than 24,000 items, which are stored and available for viewing by appointment only at the Archer-Epler VFW Post 979 in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. He has been a key figure in the movement to preserve the history of drum and bugle corps activity, amassing a staggering 24,000 items: memorabilia, souvenirs, programs, newspaper and magazine articles, corps buttons and badges and more than 350 vintage uniforms.  

For the past 20 years he has displayed many of these items regularly at drum corps events in the United States and Canada. He has also created a detailed computerized listing of drum corps in the USA and Canada.

He was inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame as an associate member in 2018. He is also a member of the Pennsylvania Drum Corps Hall of Fame.

He has served in various committee and management positions with groups including Jersey Surf and Archer-Epler Musketeers. He was named Musketeer of the year in 1982; received the Spirit of the Musketeer award in 1996 and was named Drum Corps International (DCI) volunteer of the year in 2011.

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Jazz pianist Chick Corea was inducted into World Drum Corps Hall of Fame in recognition of his many distinguished achievements

Posted on February 13th, 2021 by Gail Langan

World famous jazz pianist Chick Corea, inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 2018 for distinguished professional achievement, died February 9 at age 79 from a rare form of recently discovered cancer.  He had been inducted into the International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers Hall of Fame a year earlier.  He was named a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.  

He is also a DownBeat magazine Hall of Fame member.

In his youth, he played lead soprano on a single-valve bugle as a member of the St. Rose Scarlet Lancers of Chelsea, Massachusetts.  He credited his early drum corps experiences with providing the impetus for his highly successful career.

He is the winner of 23 Grammy awards.  With 63 nominations, he is the fourth most nominated artist in the history of the Grammys.  He has also won three Latin Grammy Awards, the most of any artist in the Best Instrumental Album category.  For this year’s March 14 Grammy awards show, he is nominated posthumously for best improvised jazz solo for All Blues and best jazz instrumental album for Trilogy 2.

His compositions, including Spain, My Spanish Heart, La Fiesta and dozens more have been covered by more than 50 competing drum and bugle corps since the early 1970s.  

He left a message to his many fans on his Facebook page: “I want to thank all of those along my journey who have helped keep the music fires burning bright. It is my hope that those who have an inkling to play, write, perform or otherwise, do so.  If not for yourself then for the rest of us. It’s not only that the world needs more artists, it’s also just a lot of fun.”

His father, a jazz trumpeter and Dixieland bandleader in Boston in the 1930s and 1940s, introduced him to the piano at age four.  At eight he took up drums, which later influenced his use of the piano as a percussion instrument.  His first major professional gig was with Cab Calloway, followed by early performances in Latin bands led by Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo.  In 1968, he joined Miles Davis’ band, appearing on several groundbreaking recordings pointing the way to a new direction in jazz.  He was part of the electrified Davis ensemble that appeared in front of 600,000 people at the Isle of Wight Festival in England in 1970.  In the early 1970s, he took a sharp turn from avant-garde to a crossover jazz/fusion style with the album Return to Forever, incorporating Latin jazz.  His band of the same name relied on both acoustic and electronic instrumentation and drew upon Latin American styles more than rock music.

He is survived by his wife, Gayle Moran, and son Thaddeus.  He became a member of the Church of Scientology in 1968.  He had lived in Clearwater, Florida since 2001.

Chick Corea Induction Tribute Video and Acceptance Message

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Scholarship donations will honor memory of Don Friesing

Posted on January 23rd, 2021 by Gail Langan

Those wishing to honor the memory of World Drum Corps Hall of Fame member Don Friesing, who passed away recently, may make a donation to the Hall of Fame’s scholarship fund in his name.  Donations can be sent to World Drum Corps Hall of Fame, PO Box 357, Pine Brook, NJ 07058.

Don Friesing, inducted in 2001, was one of the pioneers of the modern drum corps movement.  He played drums with the Joseph B. Garity American Legion Post 562 in Ridgewood, New York, from 1939 to 1942.  By 1943 he was teaching others to drum, and over the following 50 years produced many of the most accomplished percussion players in the drum corps community. 

He marched with the Phoebe Hearst Post drum and bugle corps before serving in the United States Navy in 1945 and 1946.  He then spent the following eight years marching with New York Skyliners.

Over the following years, he arranged for and instructed many top-rated junior and senior corps in the Greater New York City region including Our Lady of Loretto and St Joseph’s Patron Cadets in Brooklyn, Connecticut Hurricanes, Ballantine Brewers of Newark, Rae Post, Babylon Islanders, Washington Carver, St. Rocco’s of Newark, St. Ignatius All Girls of Hicksville, Kingston Criterions. 

During those years, he worked with several horn instructors who also became World Drum Corps Hall of Fame members, including Jim Donnelly, Bill Hayes, Hy Dreitzer and Joe Genero.

He was one of the founding members of Drum Corps Associates (DCA), representing Connecticut Hurricanes at the organizational meeting at Archer Epler Post in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania in November 1963.

He was a percussion judge with several associations, including Northeastern Circuit, Long Island Circuit, Greater New York Circuit, Eastern States and DCA.

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Hall of Fame’s Frank Ferraro passes, leaving a remarkable record of success

Posted on December 22nd, 2020 by Gail Langan

World Drum Corps Hall of Fame member Frank Ferraro, who produced a steady stream of state and national championships with the Buccaneers of Reading, Pennsylvania, passed away Sunday December 20 at age 88.  He had recently been hospitalized before moving to hospice care at ManorCare Health Services in Laureldale, Pennsylvania.

A mass of Christian burial arranged by Edward J. Kuhn Funeral Home will be celebrated privately.  Donations in lieu of flowers may be directed to the Reading Musical Foundation (RMF), 201 Washington Street, Reading, PA 19601.  Established more than 80 years ago, RMF is a public charity providing financial support for music presenters in Berks County, music scholarships by audition and in response to financial need and extensive music outreach, including programs in most Berks County’s schools.  Donations may also be made through the RMF website at readingmusicalfoundation.org  

During a13 year period beginning in the late 1950s the Buccaneers ran up a remarkable record of success at state and national levels.  While he served as director of music, arranger and drum major, the corps won two Drum Corps Associates (DCA) world championships, three Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) national championships, eight American Legion (AL) state championships and eight VFW state titles.  Before leading the Buccaneers, he established a similar winning record during eight years as arranger and director of West Reading Corps, winner of seven AL state championships and four VFW state championships during that time.

As a member of the West Reading Police Cadets drum and bugle corps in 1951, he won the VFW national soprano individual championship at the New York City convention.

He served as music director or arranger with such other corps as West Reading, Schuylkill Haven, York White Roses, Milton Keystoners and the Westshoremen.

He was inducted into the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 1991.  He is also a member of the Reading Buccaneer Hall of Fame and the Cavalcade of Bands Hall of Fame.  He was an original key member and creator of the Cavalcade, a non-profit organization including more than 100 member schools competing at the interscholastic level. The group’s motto is “Education Through Musical Involvement”.

He was a judge with the Mid Atlantic, All American, DCA and CBA judges associations, adjudicating for such major events as the Festival of States, Cherry Festival, Miss America parade and more.

A 1950 graduate of Reading High School, he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Music from West Chester University and a Master of Arts Degree in Music from Columbia University, then worked as a music educator in Pennsylvania public schools for 40 years.  He was Supervisor of Music in the Wilson School District for twenty-nine years before retiring in 1993.  Under his direction, the Boyertown Area Junior High School Band won the AAA National Band Championships in Washington D.C.

He is survived by his wife Linda, daughter Veronica Mascaro and son Frank J. Ferraro Jr, two brothers and three grandchildren.

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Hall of Fame Scholarship winner also volunteers with Special Olympics

Posted on December 8th, 2020 by Gail Langan

Anna Gentile, of Fallston, Maryland is the winner of this year’s $500 World Drum Corps Hall of Fame scholarship, awarded from funds supported by the annual pledges of more than 200 Hall of Fame associate members.

Scholarships are available to members of the families of Hall of Fame members.  She is the granddaughter of Phil Gentile.

She is a senior majoring in Child Psychology at James Madison University where she has maintained an above 3.0 grade point average each semester.  She expects to find work in the child psychology field after graduation.  

She has worked since at an Early Childhood Learning Center for the past five summers, beginning at age 16.  She has also volunteered with the Special Olympics program.  At the learning center, she works five days a week with children from six weeks of age to fifth graders, and all ages in between. She eagerly seeks more opportunities to work with kids outside the learning centre, including babysitting one of her 11 young cousins every chance she gets.

James Madison University (JMU), founded more than a century ago in 1908, is a public university located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. JMU has earned high regard in post-secondary education because students enjoy unusually engaged relationships with world-class faculty.

Philip Gentile has been a member of the Hall of Fame since 1993.  His drum corps career includes many years of service in various roles with Yankee Rebels of Baltimore, including drum major, soprano horn player, drill and horn instructor, program coordinator, assistant director.  He became corps director following the retirement of long time director George Bull in 1992.

Regular World Drum Corps Hall of Fame members are honoured for their dedication, contributions and achievements over a long period of time in categories including administration, arranging, adjudication, instruction, innovation and design.  Associate members have dedicated at least five consecutive years of service to any drum and bugle corps as a performer or in a support role.  Special membership categories include inductees honoured for Distinguished Professional Achievement, International Achievement and individuals receiving the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Current membership has grown from six charter members in 1976 to 532 men and women from the United States, Canada, Europe and Japan, including 310 regular members and 213 associates.

The World Drum Corps Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization honoring those individuals who have contributed significantly over many years to the development and continuing excellence of drum and bugle corps activity around the world.  For more information, visit the website at wdchof.org

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Doug Reynolds was outstanding in many fields at the same time: drumming, instruction, administration and judging.

Posted on October 30th, 2020 by Gail Langan

World Drum Corps Hall of Fame member Doug Reynolds of Niagara Falls, Ontario, who passed away October 21 at age 80, earned a reputation as an outstanding snare drummer, percussion instructor, administrator and judge, carrying out all of these functions at the same time from 1953 to 1980.  He became a member of the Hall of Fame in 2002.

According to his wishes, cremation has already taken place.  Donations to the Heart and Stroke Foundation would be appreciated by his family.

He began marching with the Niagara Falls Memorial Militaires at age 15.  In the following years, he drummed with Hamburg Kingsmen and Rochester Crusaders.  He taught drumming to four junior and five senior corps on both sides of the border in the 1960s while he was also corps director of the Militaries, then the board chair of the Kingsmen.

He was undefeated Canadian senior individual snare champion; the first Canadian to win the United States individual title, taking top spot twice in the early 1960s; winner of five New York state titles and three Eastern States titles.  He took private drumming lessons with the late John S. “Jack” Pratt, the Hall of Fame member who introduced rudimental bass drums to the drum corps community and wrote hundreds of drum solos and percussion books.

Doug Reynolds judged percussion for every major association: Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion (AL), Drum Corps International (DCI), Drum Corps Associates (DCA), Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), Canadian nationals and New York, Illinois and California state championships. 

He is survived by Sally, his wife of 61 years who he met at school in grade 3, two sons, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  He spent most of his working career in the pharmaceutical industry.

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No mistake: Buddy Rich club concert created a lifetime memory

Posted on October 19th, 2020 by Gail Langan

By Joe Marrella

(World Drum Corps Hall of Fame member inducted 1989)

Even if I wasn’t a drummer, I would try to see Buddy Rich and his Big Band as often as I could. He was an awesome player and his band’s music was as driving, pulsating and emotional as he was behind those drums!

I saw him several times in Philly with John Dowlan and Eddie Gibbons, as well as in New Hope, Pa., Valley Forge, Pa. and even in Boston, Ma. 

In fact when I was in Boston for the World Open with a few drum corps, I saw an ad that said Buddy Rich was going to perform in concert at a hotel in Boston. I called and made a reservation for the tickets to his show.

When I got to the hotel desk and asked for my tickets, the young girl asked for my name.

Marrella, I replied.

Again, she asked for my name…M a r r e l l a, I spelled slowly.

As she kept looking, I stared at signs on the walls and banners welcoming all the drum corps to the World Open.

She finally said “I have a Merlino”… I said No! 

My name is MARRELLA!!!

By now the manager heard this discussion and came over to try and help. I told him I made a reservation for the Buddy Rich concert and my name was Joe Marrella.

He paused and asked, ” Are you Joe Marrella the drummer?”

Now before I answered, I remembered all the drum corps signs plastered on the walls and thought he meant Joe Marrella, the drum corps drummer.

So, I answered tentatively… “Yes.”

Now came the killer question, “Does Buddy know you are in town?”

I stammered smiling as my voice began to rise in pitch, “I don’t think so.”

At any rate, he got me my tickets and I was on my way before he could ask me any more questions about Buddy.

A few nights later, we arrived at the show and sat through a strong first half performance. As I headed to the concession stand during intermission, I was literarily grabbed by the arm.

“Thank goodness I found you… Buddy told me to bring you back to see him or I was in Big Trouble.”

Oh boy, now what Mr. Marrella?

My name has gotten me noticed before, but never by Buddy Rich. Often times when they announce my name as a judge, especially at the Meadowlands Stadium, now Giants Stadium, it sounds like Morello.

(At another time the real Joe Morello called and asked to meet me… the other Joe Marrella.)

This is a different story for another time.

Back to the frazzled Boston hotel manager…I honestly don’t remember what reason I gave him, but I begged off going to Buddy’s dressing room at that moment. I knew that had I walked into Buddy’s dressing room as Joe Morello, Buddy would have thrown a stick at me!

Let’s fast forward to a Mets baseball game and a private box next to the Mets dugout. I was with a customer from Manny’s Music and his guest, Stanley Kay. Stanley was Buddy Rich’s manager. 

Well, it was a great time for me to tell Stanley about my Boston experience and the misunderstanding regarding my like-sounding name. I always hoped that Stanley would eventually tell it to Buddy.

A few months after the Mets game, Buddy Rich was making another appearance in a club in center city Philly. As usual, I was going to be there. I was with my best friend and outstanding drummer, Eddie Gibbons.

Eddie and I had seen Buddy many, many times together. We always left the show shaking our head about his incredible ability to drive a band and to play things so fast and so precisely.

He was Super Human!

We sat at the bar on the left side of the stage. As was our custom, we arrived early to get a good view. This night was something really special…Buddy walked in and stopped by the bar. 

He was in a friendly mood and anyone who knew him or anything about him knew this was truly Unusual!

Well, here was my chance to tell him face-to-face about the Joe Morello/JoeMarrella story from Boston. When I did…he actually smiled…minor miracle.

When his performance was over, everyone was yelling “Can you play an encore”? In typical Buddy fashion, he answered, “I could… but I won’t.”

Yet, he turned to his left, pointed at me and actually asked what would I like to hear…???

Stunned, I yelled back “Channel One Suite.”

As Eddie and I walked out of the club, I turned to Eddie and proclaimed, “We will never see him again.”

In that brief moment, I had reflected on the events of the evening. I suddenly realized that because I chatted with Buddy, told him my Boston story, and got asked for an encore suggestion that the Buddy Rich/Joe Marrella circle was now complete!

Buddy passed away two months after that meeting.

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A Tribute to Ralph Randall Pace

Posted on October 6th, 2020 by Gail Langan

By Joe Marrella

We remember vividly those in our beloved drum corps activity who share their unique talent, dedication, creativity, and life philosophy, toward catapulting the activity and its performers to greater heights. Their greatness stands out in the manner with which they leave their mark and influence on each person who crossed their path. Ralph Pace is one such giant. 

Ralph Pace’s drum corps experience began as a member of the famed Vasella Musketeers junior drum and bugle corps of South Philadelphia, followed by the Archer-Epler Musketeers senior corps of Upper Darby.  He went on to create and instruct the most innovative visual designs of the activity during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, all the while influencing future designers who would further advance the activity. 

Pace helped top corps achieve their goals, including Blue Rock, 27th Lancers, Cavaliers, Crossmen, Phantom Regiment, Spirit of Atlanta, Madison Scouts, and Reading Buccaneers. His visual designs and instruction helped Blue Rock, 27th Lancers and Reading Buccaneers defeat all competitors at least once during his tenure—a particularly impressive feat for the 27th Lancers, since they finished 20th at the DCI Championships the year before. Such quantum achievement comes not only from design and execution, but from the positive spirit that Ralph Pace molded in each of his students.

The critical period of Pace’s influence is that in which the activity took control of its own destiny to become a world renowned performing arts organization. The mold that needed to be broken was that which characterized drum corps as quasi-military. Marching and maneuvering had been bound by the rubrics of the US Army Field Manual 22-5 for Drill and Ceremonies. Movement had to be in military squads, executed with precise pivots, interval, body position, and cadence. Equipment carriage—flags, sabers, rifles, bugles, and drums—would also be judged accordingly. Drill was mostly linear and symmetric.

By the mid-1960s the activity was screaming to break free of these constraints, as it evolved from excellence in executing military compulsories to presenting a total show with maximum affect, exhibiting outstanding performing arts standards. Toward such disruption, Ralph Pace imagined, designed, and brought to life the earliest asymmetry that would characterized the post-military era of drill. He introduced non-traditional, non-military body movement that enhanced performance and fostered greater audience appeal. His designs and influence are seen clearly in this “Danny Boy” mashup by the 27th Lancers:  https://youtu.be/_wDBJ7v_gcY. As one fan reacted, “Stunning, gorgeous, impossibly difficult. I loved every second of it.”

Noteworthy in the extant comments and discussions throughout drum corps literature, folklore, and social media is Ralph Pace’s influence on and relationship with his students. There was an almost magical connection that would inspire them to reach beyond their grasp and achieve greatness. According to the Crossmen Hall of Fame induction:

“Ralph Pace was one of the most instrumental creative forces…helping [Crossmen] achieve their goals of fielding a DCI Finalist drum corps in 1977.  His drills were innovative and helped push the creative boundaries … his influence can still be seen today…”

“He brought what seemed to be ‘mythical powers’ to rehearsals, and commanded the respect of the members.  His motto for the corps was “Every Day in Every Way.”  He challenged the members to rise to great heights, he had faith in them, and helped guide them there as an inspirational figure for an entire generation of Crossmen alumni.”

What is it that makes people stand up and take notice, to induct a great drum corps personality into the Crossmen Hall of Fame, the Massachusetts Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Drum Corps Hall of Fame, the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame, Drum Corps International Hall of Fame, Reading Buccaneers Hall of Fame, Cavalcade Of Bands Hall of Fame, and National Judges Association Hall of Fame? It is the dimensions of greatness:  creativity, Innovation, accomplishments, championships, influence, eternal design concepts  and ddmirers, to name just a few.  

 “Ralph’s arrival to the Cavaliers mid-summer of 1979 was a ‘watershed’ moment for the organization. His high expectations, confidence and creativity made us begin to think differently about drill design and about the activity in general. While his stay may have been short, his shadow maintained a creative influence on the corps for decades.” – Jeff Fiedler, The Cavaliers

“Forty-seven years later, Ralph Pace’s influence on my character is still evident, for which I am grateful beyond words.”  – Willie Black, Reading Buccaneers.

If you measure greatness by innovation:

“Ralph’s creation of Crown Imperial to the Iconic wheel in Danny Boy, paved our path in Drum Corps history and beyond. This 27th family is forever honored and grateful for the courage and creative genius of our Ralph Randall Pace.” – Patte Bonfiglio, 27TH Lancers 

If you measure greatness by a sustained high level of accomplishments: 

“Ralph was brilliantly creative at a time when creativity was stifled by the ‘rules’.” Larry Kerchner, composer, DCI Hall of Fame  

“Ralph’s body of work with his history of teaching remains high, creative, talented, and passionate about what he does and how he works with people. I will refer to his role in the rebirth of the 27th Lancers after a difficult time in their history. His programs in the middle ‘70s broke ground. He helped many a corps and instructors. Many of us owe a great deal to Ralph as an instructor because he helped bring an expanded creative range to pageantry.” – George Olivierio, DCI Hall of Fame

If you measure greatness by championships:

“Ralph created productions for VFW National All Girl Champion Royaleers, CYO and US Open Champions, Blue Rock, Senior DCA World Champions, Reading Buccaneers”

If you measure greatness by the incredible influence they had on others that they mentored, consider Ralph Pace’s influence on George Zingali and others on 27th Lancer’s staff, and how it impacted many other organizations throughout the years through the works of Marc Sylvester, Jeff Sacktig and Steve Brubaker.

If you measure greatness by the innovative, lasting concepts he developed:

“He has the rare capacity to listen intensely to musical compositions and instantaneously ‘see’ drastically different, extraordinarily innovative visual structures.” – Michael Kumer, Bands of America Hall of Fame

If you measure greatness by the number of people who admire and respect their achievements: 

“Ralph was a unique instructor who often thought outside the box and to this day he is a tree that continues to bear fruit.” – Thomas Brown, Reading Buccaneers

“Multitudes of us ‘Forever Drum Corps Spirits’ have an overwhelming regard and affection for Ralph Pace. Raising the bar, exceeding our limits, and reaching for the stars. Second best just would not be acceptable”. – Maureen McCloone, Royaleers All Girl Champions

How many among us have won guard, junior corps, and senior (aka “all age”) corps championships, while being a world class instructor and consultant in demand by all classes of drum corps and marching bands?

His resume reads like a “who’s who” of drum corps. It includes the champion corps Blue Rock, Cavaliers, Phantom Regiment, 27th Lancers, Reading Buccaneers, Spirit of Atlanta, Crossmen and all girl Royaleers. 

Ralph Pace is one of the only designers/instructors ever to have had two corps in DCI’s top ten simultaneously, once with 27th Lancers and Crossmen and once with Cavaliers and Phantom Regiment.

“He is a legend among legends in drum corps and bands and has treated thousands and thousands of people to thrills and chills with his designs.” 

– Bob Yarnall, Crossmen 

Most importantly, he succeeded wherever he went and to whomever he instructed. Such is a true testament to greatness.

“He was innovative, had incredible attention to detail, a wonderful sense of color, certainly persistent, always wants ‘It’ to be ‘Right.’  He was willing to learn, won’t take NOT possible as an answer.”  – Gene Monterastelli, DCI Hall of Fame

Ralph Pace’s  on-the-field products led to a quantum leap in the quality and entertainment value of the activity; drum corps “drill” was never the same thereafter.

The torch was ultimately passed to a new generation of creative innovators influenced by Ralph Pace.

“Ralph Pace was a pioneer in visual design. Many of the present day designers can connect ourselves back to Ralph through George Zingali, Marc Sylvester, and Steve Brubaker all of which were taught by Ralph. Thank you Ralph for your creative vision and passion for our activity.”  – Jeff Sacktig, Cadets and Carolina Crown visual designer

I was in every production meeting with the corps that Ralph and I taught together. Just like George Zingali, Marc Sylvester, Jeff Sacktig and Steve Brubaker, I learned from Ralph Pace so many concepts and how to implement them in a production—especially the importance of getting and keeping an audience’s attention while making them feel each moment.

“People engaged in conversations during production meetings often seem to be listening.  In essence, they are really just hearing, but Ralph actually truly  listens. I always felt his listening was part of his genuine concern for those he was engaging with so he could learn about their thoughts and ideas. The result was innovative and exciting shows time and time again.” – Harry Jenkins, Blue Rock.

While drum corps is about competition—fierce competition—it is a tribute to Ralph Pace that there is genuine respect and reverence for him from many who taught competitors.

“In the 1970’s Ralph Pace ushered in the transformation from ‘Old School’ non-coordinated show design to modern form integration of all the elements. Ralph’s designs had a profound impact on what would become the ‘East Coast School of Drill Design.’ Pace’s work can be found in the DNA of modern show design today. He is a true iconoclast and a high renaissance genesis of our activity.” 

– Jim Elvord, Madison Scouts, DCI Hall of Fame

Ralph made additional contributions to the activity by being an adjudicator for ten years and providing guidance to the next generation of designers.

“Ralph was a disruptive presence, able to take rough ideas and formulate them real-time with a live corps. He was a bridge between what drum corps was pre-DCI to what it would become. He released the demons from confinement, and showed the way to obstreperous design and innovation, which were carried on by his disciples.” – Gary Dickelman, brass arranger, staff writer for DCW.

When watching one of Ralph’s drill designs for the Reading Buccaneers, George Zingali saw a moment and form that intrigued him. George complimented Ralph and wondered if he could borrow it for the Cadets.  Of course, Ralph agreed. Ironically, it turned out to be a big moment in the climax of the Cadets show. It was referred to as the ‘Z’ pull, shown here: https://youtu.be/VnbyIMMm9PM?t=177

It should not be any surprise to anyone that Ralph’s accomplishments earned him a place in those many Halls of Fame cited earlier. When you consider Ralph’s accomplishments, championships, the respect and gratitude of his peers and students, and the designers he mentored who took the activity to the next levels, I humbly suggest that when they create a Mount Rushmore of visual designers, we should see the face of Ralph Randall Pace.

This tribute to influential visual designer Ralph Pace was prepared by Joe Marrella for publication in the September 2020 issue of Drum Corps World.  Both are World Drum Corps Hall of Fame members: Ralph Pace inducted in 2005; Joe Marrella inducted in 1989.)

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