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Santa Clara Vanguard

Santa Clara Vanguard

Santa Clara Vanguard

What began as a disagreement among supporters of a drum and bugle corps has evolved into one of the finest and most entertaining corps in the history of the activity. On the evening of March 6, 1967, citing differences of opinion in the artistic direction of the Sparks Drum & Bugle Corps, parents voted to disband the group and return to being a drum and bell corps with majorettes. After the vote, three dissident adults took concerned corps members Read more on
What began as a disagreement among supporters of a drum and bugle corps has evolved into one of the finest and most entertaining corps in the history of the activity. On the evening of March 6, 1967, citing differences of opinion in the artistic direction of the Sparks Drum & Bugle Corps, parents voted to disband the group and return to being a drum and bell corps with majorettes. After the vote, three dissident adults took concerned corps members aside and asked them if they would rather continue a drum and bugle corps instead of becoming a drum and bell corps. With a resounding "yes!," a new corps was born. A new booster club was organized that very night. Gail Royer, music instructor for the Sparks, was a local elementary music teacher and an American Legion judge.

He would be the director for the new corps. The naming of the new corps had to wait until the kids met for rehearsal the next week. At that time, after discussing several possibilities, they settled on the Santa Clara Vanguard. One week later, the newly christened corps marched and won their first parade, San Francisco’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

The big trip in 1967 was to Southern California to compete in the Anaheim Kingsmen’s second annual Festival of Music. The corps placed fourth there (losing to the Diplomats by 0.15 points). Corps members had the opportunity to observe the great U.S. Air Force Academy Drum & Bugle corps for the first time that weekend, getting a taste of what was possible in the drum corps medium.

It was also the weekend that they met two young Kingsmen instructors who would play large roles in the corps’ future, Pete Emmons and Fred Sanford. Just before the corps’ final performance of that first year, Gail Royer honored the corps’ first age-outs with the original Green Feather Ceremony, a rite that has continued down the years. Several of the brass arrangements played during the corps’ first couple of years came from the pen of Truman Crawford, director of the U.S. Marine Corps Drum & Bugle Corps. Other early contributors to the brass book included Don Angelica and Keith Markey (with “fine tuning,“ also known as “watering down,“ contributed by Jack Meehan).

Gail Royer started doing some of his own arranging that first year, gradually taking over more of the repertoire until he was doing all of the brass arranging by the 1970 season; he did not relinquish this responsibility until 1980. In 1968, the corps embarked on its first tour to the Midwest in order to measure itself against more experienced corps in full contests. Gail was trying to prepare them for VFW Nationals in Philadelphia the following year. Although they did not place high at any of the competitions, the tour was a success because of the competition experience and the exposure to the national competition scene. Corps members made many friends and gained the respect of fellow performers from such elite corps as the Casper Troopers, Kilties, Cavaliers, and Blue Stars.

Many of these friendships continue to this day. On the local front, the SC Vanguard Color Guard beat the Anaheim Kingsmen in 1968 to win their first California Color Guard Circuit Championship, and the corps won its first standstill competition. The first public performance of "Procession of the Nobles" occurred afterward, with the U.S. Air Force Academy Drum & Bugle Corps in the audience. The corps also won its first field show that year, on August 3, 1968, at the Anaheim Kingsmen’s show.

Santa Clara Vanguard capped off its year by winning the first of many California State Open Championships. 1968 was also year of the first "Pacific Procession" field competition (named after "Procession of the Nobles"). The audience was limited that first year as the country was mourning the loss of Senator Robert Kennedy only a few days before. "Procession of the Nobles" presented the corps with two challenges. First, no one had ever really played an entire piece in odd time while marching, odd meters and tempos being reserved mostly for the standstill portion of the sho). Second, Gail’s arrangement of the chart included the original intro, with three measures of the opening rhythmic statement.

Pete and Joe quickly realized that this introduction meant that most of the drill would have to step off on the right foot. It took Gail about one minute to solve the problem – by eliminating one of those measures right in the middle of a drill rehearsal. 1969 marked the second year SCV traveled outside of California, and the first year the corps went all the way to the East Coast. The corps finally made it onto a sound recording (the famous old Fleetwood Records) by placing ninth at the Finals of the World Open. At VFW Nationals in Philadelphia, they missed making finals by 0.15 of a point, losing to the Argonne Rebels for 12th spot.

Following VFW, they traveled to Washington, D.C., where they played a standstill on the steps of the Capitol building, and to New York City for four days of "cultural enrichment" before making the long trip home. On that long home reach, two station wagons broke down outside Aurora, Nebraska. Consequently exhibitions in North Platte, Nenraska, and Elko, Nevada, were without two soprano soloists, a third soprano, two lead baritones, and the entire French horn section. It was also on the way east that summer, at the height of the Vietnam War, that the guys in the corps learned what their draft lottery numbers were. 1969 also marked the birth of "The Chicken.“ This duty was originally the responsibility of Dan Pritchard.

In later seasons Charlie Anderson made the famous Starting Line Call. Santa Clara Vanguard became a legitimate national contender in 1970. The corps not only won their first American Legion State Championship, but they did it with their first ever wins over both the Anaheim Kingsmen and the Velvet Knights. (Gail Royer had ordered the corps to "Let 'er rip!" behind the stands.) Six nights later in Racine, Wisconsin, they set the world of drum corps on its ear! 1970 was the first year SCV played Royer’s arrangements of their trademark music from "Fiddler on a Roof.” From the reaction of one of drum corps’ traditionally toughest crowds to the stadium announcer shouting "Wonderful Show! Wonderful Show!", it was clear that SCV had moved into the elite. With the announcement of the scores leaving SCV just two points behind the legendary Casper Troopers, and well in front of other corps that they had only dreamed of beating, Gail told the corps' small staff on the sidelines, "We’ve finally made it!" By the end of the following weekend, Santa Clara had beaten everyone in the country (on July 11, 1970, at the North American Drum & Bugles Corps Championship in Marquette Stadium).

To leave the field after such giants as the Troopers, Cavaliers, Blue Stars, Garfield Cadets, Madison Scouts, and Kilties was a defining moment in the history of the corps. Due to limited finances, the corps was unable to travel to Miami to compete for the VFW National Championship that August. Instead, they carpooled to Portland, Oregon, where they defeated their old California rivals, the Kingsmen and Velvet Knights, to win both the American Legion National Color Guard and Drum & Bugle Corps Championships. By 1971, things were really taking off. That year there were 45 horns, 19 drums, 24 flags, 8 rifles, and an American flag party. 1971 marked the year of the Midwest/West “Combine” and the East Coast Alliance.

The corps traveled all the way to the East Coast once again. But this time they faced a series of tough losses, known in SCV history as "The Boston Massacre." VFW Nationals were held in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, the biggest contest in the nation. Capping a 54-day, 17-state tour that included the World Open, CYO, and the Danny Thomas Invitational, the Vanguard won VFW Nationals with a score of 89.95, and without coming in first in a single caption. Rob Carson, a 14-year-old snare drummer, won his first individual contest, by 11 points. Drum Corps International (DCI) was born in 1972.

Its charter members were the corps in the previous season’s Combine and Alliance, which included SCV. The corps was favored to win this first DCI Championship in Whitewater, Wisconsin. Despite this being the best year the corps had experienced thus far, however, SCV ended up third, behind the Kingsmen and the Blue Stars. On the (very) bright side, however, they began an unbroken and unprecedented string of DCI finalist placements that continues to this day. The 1972 SCV show was the last one in which the corps would be required to do a colors presentation ("Now Thank We All Our God," which reflected the corps director’s background as an organist).

The first performance of Fred Sanford’s drum solo "The Clock" took place in 1972, and Santa Clara and Madison joined forces to play "You'll Never Walk Alone” for the first time. SCV took on an entirely new look on the field in 1972 with completely new uniforms: red tunics, dark green pants/skirts, dark green Aussie hats with curled white feathers. 1973 was a season of intense competition. The only corps to beat Santa Clara that year was the Troopers, and that only once. Finally, at DCI in Whitewater, after two days of Prelims, came the final, telling performance. The 14,000 fans in Warhawk Stadium sat in tense silence waiting for the second-place score.

"And now in second place, with a score of 86.15 ... the Troopers." The stands erupted into such a deafening roar, the announcer's voice came through only as a tiny voice in the multitude: "and in first place, with a score of 88.65, the new DCI champions, the Santa Clara Vanguard!" The corps had won 27 contests that year, including the big one. The drumline also went undefeated, and was to remain so for two consecutive years. In 1974 the corps distinguished itself with the first incorporation of dance by a drum corps, the legendary "Bottle Dance" from “Fiddler on the Roof.” DCI was held that year at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The top contenders for first place were Madison Scouts, Anaheim Kingsmen, and the Vanguard.

Since the Vanguard had placed first in 1973, they had the option of performing last in 1974. They decided to go on first in order for the show to receive the full appreciation of the fans and judges. That proved to be a wise decision: the crowd ate the show up. The finale brought the awe-struck crowd to its feet.

SCV finished number one again with a score of 89.5, the highest score thus far recorded in DCI's existence. In addition, they took High M&M, High Drums, and tied Madison for High GE. Probably the greatest memory of this season comes in the form of what Gail considered to be a "simple but effective" closer. That lyrical tune has gone on to become the song that spans the generations of SCV, "Send in the Clowns.” An inspired 1975 finals performance won the corps a perfect 30 in GE and a High Percussion score of 19.4, but still left Santa Clara in second place, 1.5 points behind the Madison Scouts. Innovative drill in the form of a forward moving, revolving circle marked 1976. This new move was another first for the Vanguard.

DCI also made its mark this year by officially approving two-valve horns, although they went on record as being "permanently opposed to any three-valve horns in the future." In 1977, the Vanguard and most major corps converted to two-valve horns, a move expected to add approximately five years to the life of the horns. The booster club continued to put the corps on the field in style. "Miss Amana" debuted during the 1977 season and was the envy of all. For a corps that in its first few years had eaten a lot of its meals in fast-food restaurants and breakfasted on cornflakes from Dixie cups, this complete kitchen on wheels was a real luxury. In 1978, fielding 10 snares, the corps performed selections from Khachaturian's "Gayne Ballet." The 34 girls in the color guard that year used a maypole and hoops instead of rifles, and performed the popular "Bottle Dance" once again.

Although the corps took second or third most of the year, they peaked in time to win their third DCI championship in August. They pulled a 4.9 out of a possible 5.0 in Marching & Maneuvering, and achieved a score of 29.8 out of a possible 30 in General Effect. In 1979, despite rumors of how poorly the corps was doing, over 300 potential members came out for auditions. Since they were defending champions, the corps had few openings to offer the new hopefuls. Their real strength lay in the 13-snare drumline that had only three openings.

They performed the same solo, "Hopak," as in their championship performance the previous year. The corps took High Percussion at Finals. By 1980, most corps were executing field drills of circles, triangles, diamonds, arcs, X's and serpentine files. Only occasionally, cautiously, were asymmetrical patterns beginning to appear. Santa Clara's entire drill that year was filled with asymmetrical forms.

This "extremely innovative” drill allowed SCV once again to point the direction the activity would take. But perhaps the drill was too creative, or perhaps the judges weren't ready for asymmetry. The corps placed seventh that year, the first time in their DCI history that they finished below third place. In 1980 DCI released its first state-of-the-art album, professionally recorded in concert at the Concord Pavilion show on July 1, featuring the Santa Clara Vanguard and the Blue Devils. 1981 was the first year that Velco® was used for the tear-off fronts for the horn line, and the year that the timpani were moved into the pit. 1981 was to be another championship year, and there were homecoming refreshments for the corps when they returned to Santa Clara. In 1982 the corps garnered fans wherever they went and were even mentioned in an article in American Airlines' in-flight magazine.

Early in the season in Denver, neighbors of the school where the corps stayed put on a barbecue for them. Also that year they won DCI Canada and DCI North, back-to-back championships in one weekend. The Santa Clara Vanguard has consistently maintained their high quality over the years, winning DCI Championships again in 1989 and 1999, and offering drum corps classics such as “Young Person’s Guide to Drum Corps” and the disappearing drum corps. In the 1990s the corps turned to repertoire from Broadway (“Phantom of the Opera,” “Miss Saigon”) and classics from Tchaikovsky to Philip Glass. The 1999 Santa Clara Vanguard won their sixth DCI World Championship with an innovative music derived from three of America's unique twentieth century composers, Philip Glass, Frank Ticheli, and the legendary Samuel Barber. The eclectic nature and progressive quality of these accomplished composers allowed the Vanguard to programmatically push the boundaries of the modern, abstract and often passionate nature inherent within these contemporary musical and visual components. Vanguard's 2003 finish was fifth in finals, with a driving abstract program exploring variations on a theme of 'Pathways.' A composite corps formed of Vanguard members, Cadets and alumni, more 275 strong, brought drum corps to the nation on January 1, 2004, in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade.

Santa Clara was only the fourth drum corps ever to be showcased in this legendary parade. The 2004 competitive season featured a return to a traditional, more accessible program as the Vanguard offered the legend of Scheherazade. That crowd pleaser brought the corps the high percussion score on Finals night and a third-place finish, their best in four years, continuing a string of nine years in the top five drum corps on Saturday night. Objectively ranked first or second of all corps in scoring over the last 35 years, and considered by many as the most important corps in DCI's history, the Santa Clara Vanguard is the only drum corps to place in the top twelve of every single DCI Championship, They are a phenomenon, maintaining their impressive strength and pushing the envelope in music and drill into their thirty-seventh year of existence. Read more on User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..

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