Books

Glory days: 'Marking Time' tells story of Cedar Rapids' drum and bugle corps

Sporting new uniforms, horn players with the Grenadiers warm up before a 1969 drum and bugle corps show. (Courtesy of Ro
Sporting new uniforms, horn players with the Grenadiers warm up before a 1969 drum and bugle corps show. (Courtesy of Robert Dean)
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Cindy Hadish performs a public service — an entertaining one, at that — by preserving rapidly disappearing history in her new book, “Marking Time: A History of Drum & Bugle Corps in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.”

Hadish, a freelance writer who lives in Cedar Rapids, was the ideal writer to tackle the enormous job of untangling and chronicling the past century of the dozen-plus drum and bugle corps that played their way into many a heart in the city.

Hadish spent a decade in her youth marching with the Emerald Knights, one of those corps. When it folded, she joined a corps in Rockford, Ill. When she “aged” out at 21, she began coaching color guards for drum corps and bands, including metro-area high schools and the University of Iowa Hawkeye Marching Band.

So, she “gets” the activity that once occupied thousands of youths — and their families — in the city, state and nation.

Hadish also has a degree in journalism and is a former Gazette reporter. She knows how to put sentences together, and she double-checks facts before typing those sentences.

Idea for book

Hadish said the idea for the book grew out of a reunion of drum and bugle corps alumni during the 2015 Tournament of Drums competition in Cedar Rapids. Alumni brought pictures and their memories — stories that, Hadish decided, needed to be preserved.

She interviewed more than 50 corps alumni and former directors — some now in their 90s — and dug through suitcases and scrapbooks stuffed with old programs and photos. She organized the memories and the story into 22 chapters, choosing and preserving almost 150 wonderful, historic pictures for “Marking Time.”

She also created a helpful timeline that clarifies the history of the corps, which had more breakups and reinventions than a Hollywood actor. The names would sometimes reflect the organization sponsoring the corps, as in the Moose Girls, my personal favorite. The Moose Girls, known for their snappy uniforms and crisp marching, were sponsored by the Moose Lodge in Cedar Rapids. They brought home two national titles in the 1940s.

‘This bigger family’

Overall, the book helps those of us who live here and who kind of know drums and bugle corps — or, “marching bands on steroids” — were once a big deal in the city. Now we can learn the why, where, who and how.

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The corps alumni quoted in the book remember their corps years as the “best time” of their lives, days and nights that were as much fun as they were demanding. The activity, they recall, gave kids “something to do,” taught them discipline and “thrilling music” — lessons they carried forward in life.

They practiced after school, often year-round, and competed in the summer. They slept on buses — and sometimes on tables — when touring. If you were in a drum and bugle corps, it’s likely your brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, mother and father had been, too.

The corps parents — just like today’s band, show choir and softball parents — ran concession stands and raised money to supplement the on-again, off-again sponsorships from businesses, veterans groups and fraternal organizations. They drove the young musicians to competitions and did their laundry on the road. They found the missing shoes. They cheered.

Some of the corps members went on to careers in music. Jim Mason won a Tony and a Grammy for his Broadway show “Blast.” Jim Miller is a trombonist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“We are part of this bigger family,” Hadish said in an interview. “We understand each other, what it’s like to be pushed to your physical limits to perform in a show when it’s raining or the field is muddy.

“We really relate to each other. I marched with some of my closest friends, and we’re still friends today.”

Evolution, decline

In this book, we learn a Frenchman, Jack Fromm, started the first junior drum and bugle corps in Cedar Rapids in 1928. Like the drum and bugle corps started by soldiers after they came home from World War I, the junior corps had military-style uniforms and formations.

Over time, more types of horns and drums were added, as were color guards and flag squads. The shows and uniforms/costumes became more elaborate. The performances evolved from parades and store openings to competitions around the nation.

What was the appeal?

“From the beginning, drum and bugle corps in Cedar Rapids helped young people find a purpose and work toward a common cause,” Mitch Beahm, president of the Iowa Music & Arts Association, writes in the foreword to “Marking Time.”

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Why has that appeal waned? Iowa, for example, once has dozens of drum and bugle corps. Today, only two remain, both in Dubuque — the Colts and the Colt Cadets.

Hadish thinks the decline in interest is partially due to the costs associated with putting on sophisticated shows and touring. The corps also have become a venue for elite performers, she said.

“At one time, you would recruit kids off the street and teach them how to play a horn or a drum or carry a flag,” Hadish said. “Now, it’s mostly music or dance majors.”

And, yes, you’ll be glad to know, “Marking Time” contains a chapter on Slayton Thompson and his inimitable Grant Wood All-City Drum Corps, the corps of youngsters who captured headlines when they marched in the inaugural parades for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in Washington, D.C.

“Even people who are not music lovers can learn something about Cedar Rapids history,” Hadish said of the book. “You’ll find people you know.”

The book

What: “Marking Time: A History of Drum & Bugle Corps in Cedar Rapids, Iowa”

Cost: $35

For sale: At National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids; West Music, 1398 Twixt Town Rd., Marion; or order online at https://iowamusicandarts.org

Comments; mary.sharp@thegazette.com

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