Posted on May 12th, 2021
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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