Inside the Arc – The Quest
Few are left who know much about it now, and many of them aren’t certain whether it was real or just some mythology concocted by the drum corps elders, whose own veracity might be questioned. Indeed, it’s wrapped in mystery and fading inevitably into the recesses of time. But rest assured, it is no myth, though it has achieved that level of devotion among scholars and historians of the genre.
There was a time when it was the most sought-after object in the entire activity, the drum corps equivalent of the Holy Grail, pursued and coveted by scores of Crusaders, Knights (Golden and otherwise), Princemen, Kingsmen, Musketeers, Cavaliers, Cadets, Wanderers, Squires, and other seekers and searchers much too numerous to be mentioned here.
For many years now, its whereabouts have been unknown to all but a tiny band of designated curators who have kept it safe and out of sight lest it be lost to posterity or fall into inappropriate hands. But I know where it is, and I have seen it, or more precisely “them”, as there are actually two, a perfectly matched set.
To appreciate the significance of these twin objects of desire one must understand the world from which they emerged, one in which there were not a mere few dozen drum corps, nor even hundreds, but a few thousand.
There are 55 Departments comprising the American Legion, one for each state, plus Washington DC, Puerto Rico, The Philippines, Mexico and France. Within these are hundreds of local posts, virtually all of which at one time sponsored a drum corps (or a couple of them), plus color guards and drill teams. This was community outreach, of course but also served to provide appropriate music and pageantry for the many parades, festivals and commemorative events sponsored by the post. And there were church, fire and police department, various fraternal organization corps and the like who desired to affiliate with the Legion in order to participate in the many local, state and (particularly) annual National Championship competitions it sponsored.
Of these thousands, only one could take possession of the coveted object, and then only for 12 months. But that American Legion post had powerful medicine and greatly elevated status during that time, for in a place of honor there, for all to see, would be… The Golden Drum.
This was no mere caption award. It was THE trophy that signified reaching the top of the drum corps mountain, the National Championship itself… The Stanley Cup, The World Series Trophy, the Super Bowl before there was a Super Bowl.
The American Legion National Championships, once the premier drum corps event in the world, is only just a memory, but the Golden Drum lives on. They keep it at the National Headquarters in Indianapolis, in a room not ordinarily accessible to visitors, high on a shelf with all the other “retired” trophies from years gone by.
There is irony and a kind of poetic injustice in this, for the Golden Drum sits only a short walk from both Lucas Oil Stadium and the Percussive Arts Society’s fabulous drum collection.
After his induction into the PAS Hall of Fame, I took Ralph Hardimon to see “the drum”. There are two on display, gold for the Senior Division, silver for the Junior, and each has engraved on its shell the names of the winners. We peered at year after year of these: Cavaliers, Caballeros, Boys of ’76, Reilly Raiders, Holy Name Cadets, New York Skyliners, Skokie Indians, Argonne Rebels, Sky Ryders, Crossmen…and on and on.
Ralph spotted “1970 – Santa Clara Vanguard”, the corps whose drum line he would take to even greater heights. This summer, of course, they and some of the others will be competing for another national title just a few blocks away. I asked Ralph if he thought any of them knew about the Silver Drum. “Probably not”, he said, “but the drum knows about them.”
A close look at the Golden Drum reveals blank spaces for 1967 and 1968. By rights the Connecticut Hurricanes and Long Island Sunrisers should occupy those gaps, but the drum was never engraved to reflect their achievements. It seems a bit more remains to this quest.
Frank Dorritie is one of the legends of the activity .... a performer, instructor, arranger, adjudicator, and observer over the past 5 decades. Frank has been playing the bugle and trumpet since the 1960s, and has performed with artists like Billy Cobham and Maynard Ferguson. He has instructed and/or arranged for the Blue Devils, Cadets, Santa Clara Vanguard, Cavaliers, Chesterton and Tenri High Schools, the Bushwackers, Bridgemen and a host of others. His audio production honors include 9 Grammy Nominations, 2 Grammy Awards and membership in both the World Drum Corps and Buglers Halls of Fame. He is active internationally as a clinician and adjudicator, holds the DCA Soprano/Trumpet/Tenor Individual titles for 2003, 2005 and 2006. Frank also chairs the Department of Recording Arts at Los Medanos College. His popular brass method book, “Power and Endurance”, is available from . The opinions expressed in this column are strictly those of the author.
Posted by Frank Dorritie on Tuesday, November 19th, 2019. Filed under FrontPage Feature, Inside the Arc.