Canton’s secret weapon; Dean Westman; the brass-performance miracle worker—a savant ….a genius music teacher if there ever was one….

Checking scores of late (not that they matter!) we see that BC is a hair in front of BD, with Crown’s tribute to 93 Star down about a point-and-a-half. Santa Clara, Garfield and Rosemont round out the top six (w/ the recent-rise of BC/CC we see that Boston, Rockford & Crossmen are out of the top6 – this writer doesn’t see enough time left for significant place-changes, time is short on re-writing shows (but they will! Drill & music!) as it is on time to rearrange the placements much. This means that semi-local corps The Academy is likely to retain 12th and march Finals. Well-deserved! The $ you’ll earn and the possibility of making finals in 2017 will attract more-better performers. More corps = more-gooder.
Prediction, SCV in 4th with a score in low 90s. CC pegs the bronze (no love for Bartok’s ‘Medea’ – then all that’s left is a shootout for the ring between BD and BC. Music, viz and GE, they are neck and neck in all 3 categories, so let’s assume the winner will be decided by ONE CAPTION. To me, both corps are evenly matched in CG, drill, ensemble viz, battery, front ensemble and GE, where I see ‘potential difference’ is in music performance [particularly brass]. Brass…that’s BD’s caption is it not? Absolutely, lets take a look at why p0wnage of this caption leaves them vulnerable …..
To explain the vulnerability, we must travel back to 1997. The year prior, I was a rookie in the Velvet Knights. At the 2nd camp (I missed the 1st one…) then brass caption head Greg Flores sent his adjutant (Bill Varju, who’d marched SCV, Freelancers, BD and aged out at VK in 1995 as a Barry soloist, take note Varju not only marched the “west-coast cycle,” he’d marched Contra, Barry, Mellophone and Soprano – he’s equally competent on all instruments)–to audition me in some locker room at some HS in Ana-slime. He asked me to play a few scales, chromatic & major, I then layed down some Arban’s Carnival of Venice (and the triplet + 16th-note variation) which I’d committed to memory. I’d also only been using valves for about 2 months, borrowing a concert euphonium from Olinger – this had many problems for learning on the fly….the euph was “upright” (not bell-front like a bugle, so it didn’t train any of the muscles i’d need) it was in “C” (which we can equivalently call “in Bb”) the bugle I’d soon audition on was also in G, making it a)heavier and b)a minor-3rd LOWER, so if I see a “Bb” written, but I don’t hear a G in my head before the attack – I will buzz way sharp and that will lead to a frack. I knew so little music theory in 1995-6 that it took months for me to realize I had to “hear Down” AND learn Bb Treble Clef (I was told by many that drum corps don’t call out “notes” – EVERYONE MUST READ TREBLE. Especially me so im learning a new clef, valves, preparing to re-learn soon in a new key and I desperately hoped I’d make the corps. Coming from 4 years straight of honor band and 4 years straight of full scholarship to music camp, plus the heavy-hitter music pgm. I’d joined (invoking ‘schools of choice’ to ditch SCHS). The first time I heard Capo Jazz was 1992, by 1993 it was a given that going to Capo was as obvious a choice as marching a div1-caliber corps.
After I busted out some etudes for Bill, he said, “can you start on an “F” [double-transpose – know that he’s asking for a concert Eb and that on the bugle, the note coming out will be a concert low-C…]…”just go up the scale and keep going till you can’t play any higher?” “Sure” so all 100 lbs of 16-yr-old-hack-self proceeded to take it up two octaves SOLIDLY, then extending up to the doubleC. Bill was more impressed than I’d expected, apparently no one else in the low brass was good above a high C, so I had an octave 8va on all the vets. When we returned to the arc, GREG said, “Chris, you stand on the end of the arc now, you can’t be section leader because you are new, but you are now 1st chair. If there are any small or mixed-ensembles you will play the upper-lead part, if the show has any solos they default to you, cool with that? …cool? Fuck yeah. I guess my range, volume, lack-of-fracks and willingness to learn a new instrument from scratch payed off! As 1st chair, this put me solidly in the top 20 low-brass players in HS or College in North America.
As much as I learned on tour that year, nothing could prepare me for 1997, or what would be asked, expected of me…and how far I’d go to do it **this story is key to why/how BC could win it all next month**
I went to the 1st camp, having been the lead player in a small-ensemble of one other barry (Ryan; who was equally-talented but didn’t have my range by a sight….) and two flugel-bugle’s – my part began an abrupt shift to swing on beat 2 during our 2nd production and my part would be most audible on the recording (though not “technically a solo” I had plenty as one of three Barry’s in our Mixed Ensemble (“The Music of 1970s TV,” including ChiPs and The Love Boat; arr. Brian Belski….and yes we beat BD!!!!!) the show was also so heavily “hosed” that there were lots of runs, turns, high notes and licks where I was the only person playing. The G chromatic-triplet scale from middle to top-of-staff in one bar at 170bpm comes to mind, so does the lead line to “the right stuff” (upper-register, Ryan and I were only ones pumping that out…same for a bit of higher-reg improv writtten into the ballad, closer,”Concierto” “America o’Canada” (double F last bar–> bury entire low brass section, some of the HB AND whatever corps was posted next to us at retreat. Greg wrote lots of other fun warmups, etudes, marches and ditties for us to play BESIDES the damn show, he would give me a lead-sheet to those and clue me in on the chords so I could “improv if I wanted to ….fuck it.”
At this 97-camp, we met a new viz caption head whom you all know – Dave Weinberg, he’d arranged, designed and drilled out a whole show with a “Monty Python & the Holy Grail Theme.” I was to be now not only 1st chair but big bore section leader now and I was excited. My intention was to suggest to Dave that a “baritone solo, or solos might be a good idea.”
Never got that far though …. a week after the camp, I got a call from Glen. Who’d also marched as a rookie with me in 96. He said that the IRS audited the bingo hall (fmrly at Knott & Ball….*sniff*), found that Dir. Tom Hixon and possibly others were pilfering the funds and worst of all, we were way out of compliance for a 501c3 nonprofit youth organization. Vk owed more to the IRS than it was worth, so the gov’t seized all assets and the corps folded. Glen said he was calling because he thought I should think about where I might want to march….he said, “The other corps know you, they heard you on tour, at retreat & at I&E, they know you’re 1st chair/sxn leader. Any corps with a Barry hole is going to hit you up, some corps that are full might boot a lower-lead just to make room for you.”

I was sad. That Hixon, what a dick-bag! We never had enough food or fuel or $ on tour, we were always getting stranded, getting to shows late and when the cook mentioned “VK surprise” we knew that means he would take all remaining food, mix it into a stew and serve it, this was often cereal mixed with hot water, ramen noodles and maybe some cheap beans or rice. I was sad that the next-nearest corps was a 1000 miles away, that i’d have to be a “rook pos” all over again and that whatever corps I joined was not as likely to hand over 1st chair so easy, my chances at a solo were dwindling unless I intended to march in a lesser-corps.

The next night a woman called from The Crossmen, she identified me as “VK’s star baritone” and that if I marched, I would only have to attend camps until school was out, I would not have to work any bingo and (as it had been the yr b4) as a “ringer”the tour fee would be $0.00. I told her it sounded great, I had serious respect for the Xmen and that other than my parents hating me; marching was very doable. She wanted me to commit. I told her to wait a few weeks per Glen’s warning. She said 1st-chair was again mine if I went and that they’d hold the drill spot indefinitely.
Two nights later Glen called again. “Dude, you wanna march Vanguard?” Not particularly, but it was the closest div1 corps, all my viz techs marched there so I knew what to expect in terms of physical torture during basics block and physical warm-ups. I also liked Santa Clara, I also liked the idea of being the one Capo-hack that moves across the bay. Capo’s brass-hack MO is to march one year of VK, (or zero…) then audition, march BD and show off your ring after tour. “How do I get there for camps Glen? I have no $, my family hates drum corps, I can’t work bingo….how do we do this?”
“I just heard from their brass staff, all the orphaned VK players [that dont suck] get a free-ride [comped tour fee-again] no audition, no bingo….” “yeah but how do we get there?”
“thats the best part, SCV’s hornline is short about 20, so the corps is chartering a bus that will take us up from south-coast plaza every Friday and BACK on Sunday night!” Ok….a former Vk-now SCV hornline-member called the next night and made the offer, I’d already offended my parents by affirming that drum corps would continue despite having no drum corps nearby…so I said I would be on the bus next weekend and every weekend till post-memorial-day……
Now lets’s get into BC’s secret weapon. After the 1st camp, mgmt announced a change in brass-caption-head. His name was Dean Westman, he’d marched 1992-1993 (????) Contra at Rosemont. He had a teaching credential and lead a school in Texas where they take football so srsly that he led a fresh-soph MB, a JV MB and a Varsity MB (this along with the usual band dir. Stuff, beginning band, wind ensemble, jazz, commercial music, advanced band, orchestra, spring musical…..) he’d been teching Rosemont since aging out; our arranger Gordon Henderson was quite close to the staff there (he arranged 1995’s championship program “The Planets,” where in 95 there was 3-way tie for high-brass!)
Dean had shown himself to be adequate to be promoted from adjutant to caption head, albeit at a new corps….I won’t name cuz he’s a friend and deserves privacy, but SCV told Gordon to find a new head so they could fire the old one.
You have to understand that SCV lost it’s compass in 1992 with the death its longtime dir. & founder, Gail Royer. “Dr. Len Kyryzeki (sp?” took over in 1993….94, 95 & 96 were not banner years 7th, 5th, 5th then 6th place ….longtime friends, fans, family and alumni feared the worst, that we’d continue to slide and go the way of other corps that slipped out of Finals, never to be heard from again. Unlike BD, SCV didn’t have the luxury of holding auditions and selecting the best 66 out of 1000s…in fact, when I joined, we still had about 5 or 6 more holes, we patched them using the div 2 corps b4 leaving Calli, you need to understand that the average age in the hornline was 17 ½!!! The battery and front ensemble were filled with the absurdly-talented from day one,, not so the bugles; we’d have to learn. Think of Dean’s job as being to bring a bunch of high-school kids (with an average of just over 1 year of division 1 drum corps) up to a professional level. Dean introduced some neat listening exercises and etudes, but as much as the viz staff beat us to shit (not as bad as wanna-be VK viz guys…) Dean was always smiling, always nice, always happy to be there, never angry, rare to chew anyone out…and he ran horn-arc as BD would, lax….few viz standards enforced, much to the chagrin of vets and staff…..I could see what he was getting at. HE was explaining the technical aspects on the one hand…and he was priming us for “professional level” live performance on the other. If your show is 100 percent clean, you will get an 89/100 in brass performance; to break 90…and to crack 95, or 96….it takes something far more important than perfection; but lets not worry ourselves wit that yet. Rosemont came out to NorCal that year; at the first show we got p0wned by them and BD was over 10 points ahead of us.
Dean drilled & drilled and drilled us, rewriting the book 100+ times, hosing the players who couldn’t nail the hard stuff (or the easy stuff) and the viz staff did there thing so we could jazz run at 180 bpm and pass-thru Contra’s at “one” (yes one…) intervals whilst keeping the feet out of the sound. Three hornlines set out from CA, all completely full, one had just tied with PR for the win in 96, the other, a solid winner the year prior, a males-only corps full of “men”…like BD at close glance there were two hornlines full of men and one mostly kids….US. DCP even scouted us out of the top6, perhaps dropping to its lowest finish ever….how could we possibly compete with these two powerhouses that attracted the cream of the crop, internationally? Well, for one thing we had a cool show design (music, cg & drill), we had the most devoted drill-writer and viz caption head in all space-time; Myron Rosander….and…though he’d marched div 1 the same year as our super-vet (7-yr), we had perhaps the universe’s best music teacher, not a day over 25. We’d never been taught to or allowed to consider the score as a gauge for “how good we were doing,” but we did know that we could not continue to slide in placement, we are after all, the only corps to make Finals every year, not even BD can say that! Since 1989, we’d not defeated either corps. Gail’s last year was a massive crowd-pleaser with “Fiddler” but even the loaded hornline and baby-chucking fans, the adjudication community saw it as another re-hash and they panned it, sending Santa Clara from 1st to 8th in three years. 1990’s “Carmen” was also panned, as many of the members who’s just won came back for another ring….not only did they not win they did not medal; coming in 5th; 1991 continued Gail’s love of the theatre with a strikingly artistic rendition of “Miss Saigon,” still, the judges only “allowed” the corps to recover to 4th.
Could the corps survive many more years without its heart & soul? No one knew. In 97 it wasn’t looking good.
Then we changed back to the xmas-tree uniform.
Then Dean came up with an idea for the flattest part of our show…an up-tempo d-a-c-ray pattern from Bernstein’s Age of Anxiety. BEFORE DRUMS ALONG THE ROCKIES THIS PRODUCTION WAS TECHNICALLY PERFECT. NO phasing, no fracks, no bad intervals or bad drill. It was a machine firing on all pistons, we’d added tons of visuals and re-written it, hosed the weaker players off chromatics/melodies/licks and other ‘hard’ stuff. WE moved and played together, the ensemble blend was nice, great dynamic contrast…… The DoD was all-Vanguard….so why did the audience sit on their hands during&after? They didn’t during the intro, they stood up plenty of times during “On The Waterfront.” If we didn’t run out of O2 in that thin mtn air…we’d get a standing O as we trooped the line off the field, but ….I was already thinking that if we could make the 4th production pop…. we’d at least be close to Rosemont, within 7.5 of BD and DCP would maybe at least put us back in the top6……..
The hell if I knew how, but Dean did; I believe he knew the whole time….he’d already begun to explain that reading music perfectly the 1st time was a given for professional players. It’s an expert that can accomplish that. A “pro” makes the audience feel something REAL. As all art should, when I look at Picasso’s “Guernica” I feel the pain and strife, I FEEL the beauty Van Gogh saw when he painted “Starry Night.” Our opener had a soft, lilting, pretty, easy-going, early-morning-feel. On-the-Waterfront had tension, power and mayhem/dissonance built in, like rush-hour on the 680.The ballad was all love, so was the closer and the “park” sequence had a playful feel built into it…but what was this weird-dissonant-chord-repeated-at-high-speed supposed to mean? What should the fans feel? How do we project a feeling if I we dont know wtf its supposed to be?
“Ok so bring it in….everyone…” 120 “kids” surrounded Dean and he described the problem above. He’d been racking his brain to explain the feelings to emote in our flat-production.
“Did any of you see “Sleeping with the Enemy?” [nope]”ok well, in the movie, Julia Roberts is abused by her husband…I thought of it because the chords we repeat over and over are the same ones the evil husband plays on his record player, …every day, when he gets home from work, he puts on the d-a-c-ray, then he slowly tromps upstairs to beat his wife….when we reset, I want you to BE that character; especially if you play the repeated theme. Don’t feel her fear of getting beat, feel HIS RAGE, HIS ANGER, HIS FURY….consider that if you were out of uniform, off the field, you’d be about to beat the shit out someone you cared about. GET ANGRY, how pissed does this character have to get to do something so evil? So lets set up at the top, everybody’s in-full out!…and send all that evil rage up to the BOX!”
I’d seen the movie. I remembered that the music I was about to play was the same as Kevin Kline’s evil record player, meant to foreshadow despicable acts of terror. When I set; I pictured myself in his black raincoat and turtleneck, I could see stairs off behind the track where I’d go to “beat my wife” afterward. I furrowed my brow, for the 1st time I got into character. I always thought the music speaks for itself but no! You have to BE a character to express a particular emotion, even if it’s a continent away from being politically correct*
….In addition to support staff there were about 30 fans milling about. We ran the prod thru, top to bottom, we tore, I spread tone a few times, some of the sets and horn visuals didnt snap as you’d expect them to in July, but at the end of this production, the staff, fans and ourselves sat in a state of shock as we dressed-center; then the millers & staff erupted into cheers, applause, jumping up and down….and I felt it. This was a NEW PRODUCTION! I simply couldn’t wait to do it at a show (it had previously been my least fav production)…I knew we could get two more standing o’s…maybe more?
All Dean did was place a thought in our heads, that’s it! Then….magic. There are so many more examples but this post is long enough so let’s leave it at this. That night we got a standing O at the first impact-point in that production, also a loooong one at the end of it (shit we hadn’t even done the closer yet!) That put us at somewhere around 10 times the fans would rise & lose their shit. So did the judges take note of that? You decide.
At the second regional “Drums” at Mile High, we beat Rosemont and did not lose to them again till their three-peat in early 2000s. We had a ceremony in Colorado where we gave back “the noose” which had been at the corps hall since 1990. Cavs and SCV are rivals so the noose is what you get if you lose so “go hang yourself with it!” We NEVER lost to Rockford or Madison, we beat Garfield and at q’s we tied BD….we dropped to 3rd at semi’s but on the night of the live PBS broadcast, we were the “reliable Rondo”-pick to win it all.
We didn’t win-win, but in Vanguard terms we won. We peaked at Finals. Sans minor side 1 to side 2 phasing for a bar that locks back in before the 1st impact in the opener, show = tech perfection.
Emotionally, we took 50k denizens of east-Florida on a ride through human feelings, ours, theirs, their fears, their wants, their hates, their anger, their tension, their joy mainly …. their nostalgia; that warm place you go before tears of joy leak out.
Point-Dean did that in one year, three yrs after teching for his alma mater they win. 98 SCV get silver, 99-gold. Then he drops out to be w/ fam, work his other job and pick up a lil extra w/ the on-broadway production of Blast! Then he drops off-radar. Now we find him 4 years in leading Canton’s ensemble music. They are a c— hair behind BD ….so here it is the tap-prediction as of august 1 folks;
1. BC >97.0
2. BD >95.5
3. CC >95.0
4. SCV >93.0
5. Gar >92.5
6. Cavs >91.0
….12th = TA w/ > 81.0
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*note – The SoCal Pic in no way shape or form supports violence against women. What we DO support is invoking the psyche of a fictional character in order to express such emotions as anger, cruelty and madness. It is the ability to transcend technique and project ANY & ALL emotions that separates expert artists from professionals. This writer credits Dean Westman and Myron Rosander primarily for teaching me the difference AND how to ACTUALLY DO IT IN FRONT OF A LIVE AUDIENCE! Sadly, no one will benefit (directly) from Rosander at DCI this year [Rest in peace, ol’ buddy….] but the COATS, the COPS have DW and his leadership will make the diff under those Saturday Night Lights. SEE YOU SEEING ME THERE, IN THE FLESH, -T August, 2016.

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