The  Optimists  Alumni  Drum  &  Bugle  Corps

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

. . . March On!

Up From The Basement (Volume 1)

Submitted by: Ted Wilson

More comments from Ted after the Sunday, November 24, 2002, alumni corps rehearsal

It was June of 1968 and I was about to realize a dream come true. Over the public address system came the words I used to love to hear at every drum corps show I went to watch "On the starting line from Toronto, THE OPTIMISTS." This time it was different though because I was standing on the line and I was in the Optimists playing first soprano and it was The Shrine show. I finally made to the big time and I was marching with the Optimists. I marched in 1968 and 1969 and the memories I have of those two years remain vividly entrenched in my mind.

This is my first attempt at being a correspondent for the Optimists Drum and Bugle Corps. I had no idea that hooking up with all the guys to form this alumni thing would lead to this but when I sent Vern an email about my family's participation in helping me to enjoy the chance to relive my youth, I would also have a chance to share my experiences. So if you don't like this, it's Vern's fault, if you do, credit goes to me.

Here, by the way, is the email I submitted:

"Morning Vern. I just wanted you to know how absolutely delighted my wife and two dogs were to see me arrive home with my new contra bass. Their excitement was further enhanced when I went to the basement the next night and began to practice my warm-ups. Chris, my wife was overjoyed to hear my somewhat fluttering high C overpower and drown out the mundane voices of her favourite TV show. The constant howling of my two English Springer Spaniels, Spencer and Heidi encouraged me to play on as I interpreted it to be howls of approval and encouragement from them. I am a little concerned about Himphrey the cat, however, as we have not seen him since I sounded my first note

It is truly amazing how this alumni reunion thing not only brings back memories but how it also has a powerful effect on family life as well."

At the second rehearsal I made the decision to switch from playing soprano to attempting to master the contra bass.

My decision to make the switch was based on two factors. One, it has always been a warped dream of mine to play the contra bass. The second reason was Joe Gianna.

When I went to the first rehearsal in October full of excitement and anticipation, I showed up, took possession of a soprano and went over and sat in my rightful place with all of the other lead players. Knowing full well it had been many years since I had sat with some of these guys, who I either knew or had heard stories about, I didn't anticipate any problems.

That afternoon, two things happened to help me make the decision to change. One, I finally got to see the music from some of my favourite songs that the corps played before I joined such as Old Devil Moon and I saw the range at which these songs were played, coupled with all the eighth notes and triplets, I thought to myself "Houston, we have a problem". The second was when this dapper Italian gentleman (Note: Any Italian who marched with The Optimists was always dapper) started to play and I heard the tone and the power he had, I quickly realized I was not in the same league and no matter how many hours I wanted to practice I never would be in his league. He is without a doubt one of the best I have ever heard and he hasn't played in over 40 years! If there is such a thing as a 'natural', Joe Gianna is it.

So now I am a contra bass player and I have entered a whole new world of drum corps. I have to keep a supply of elastic bands to hold the spit valve shut on my new, slightly used instrument. I have, after one practice, also been introduced to a whole new way of hyperventilating. Just having Barry Bell tell you that you should be able to play at least three bars of whole notes interspersed with eighth notes before breathing will do the trick

Next practice I think I will also wear a plastic apron as my trousers were soaking wet from my own saliva.

I also must remember to bring bandages to put on the cut on my head which resulted from Barry Bell saying "horns up" and silly me trying to snap my new horn up to my shoulder and not realizing the total dimension of this beast. Anyhow, tonight I must retreat to my basement to work on my warm-ups and try to reach that high A in The Party's Over. I worry there might be a contra bass Joe Gianna lurking out there somewhere and I don't want to let him down if he shows up next rehearsal.

By the way if there is anyone out there reading this and who has not yet made a commitment to come out and seize the opportunity to revisit a part of your life that meant so much, you are truly missing a wonderful opportunity.

The chance to talk with old friends or to sit beside some of the legendary characters you heard about is great. We are a very long way from being good or sounding good but some things never change. We are still the same people who rose to every challenge put in front of us back then and we will do it again one more time.



Next rehearsal Sun Dec. 15
Legion 1395 Lakeshore Blvd west (The former Shrine)