The Bluecoats' Executive Director David Glasgow explains the difference between efforts and results, and what it takes to succeed in DCI.
WWBW: Congratulations on the Bluecoats having won the 2016 Drum Corps International World Championship.
DG: Thank you very much. It was exciting.
WWBW: Tell me a little about the kids. What sort of young person is interested in the Bluecoats, and what does it take to succeed with your organization?
DG: The type of young person interested in us is one who can be committed to our organization. They have to be hardworking, talented, and also willing to try something new, something outside the box of what’s typically asked of a marching music performer. And somebody who’s willing to put it all on the line. You know, their body, their mind, everything, to try something that’s pretty out there. So that’s the kind of student that I think we attract.
WWBW: What’s the process for joining the Bluecoats?
DG: We audition in Southern California, Texas and Atlanta, and then our biggest one is here in Northeast Ohio. We have a number of people from Ohio, but we have people from Japan, Taiwan and Europe pretty regularly.
WWBW: They must have to travel and reside in the area during the rehearsal schedule.
DG: They come and audition at one of the audition camps we hold all around the country. Then they’ll be asked to return to Canton for a final audition, and then we’ll see them once or twice again throughout the remaining months depending on what section they’re in. Then we move a few here to Ohio in mid-May to start what we call spring training. So, if you’re coming from a long way away, you’re traveling to the US a few times to participate.
WWBW: Can you describe the seasonal schedule? When is rehearsal? When is performance and when is it officially off-season?
DG: We start our audition process in late November. That goes until the first or second week of January depending on the year. Then, we’ll take work with the percussion section and the color guard section, as they participate indoors. There are performances with several indoor groups around the country, and then we bring the brass line back in March. We bring everybody back in April and do the spring training from mid-May to mid-June. We hit the road in mid-June and go until mid-August, and then our off-season starts in mid-August and goes until the end of November.
WWBW: Wow. Is three months enough to catch your breath after all that?
DG: It is. We have good energy every November, like it was brand new. In 2017, we’re starting an indoor program called “Bluecoats Indoor” that will be winter guard for 2018. That kicks off in late September. So, we’re going pretty much year-round at this point.
WWBW: What about the field routines themselves? The costuming, the choreography, the set dressing and all of that. What team puts that component of it together?
DG: We have a design team made up of eight people who work with us throughout the year. Their job is to develop the show. That process starts Labor Day weekend for us. It’s kind of our kick-off weekend to start processing stuff for the next year. It’s a process of throwing stuff at the wall, seeing what sticks, then continuing to evolve and make decisions about what we like and what we don’t like. This continues up until the spring training, and by then hopefully we’ll have a costume idea and a maybe a show idea, and then it really comes to life. We do it pretty much in real time. So, the show is being built with the performers all during that time of spring training.
WWBW: What is the process of the music selection?
DG: It changes every year. I wish I could say it was consistent. We’ll start by looking at all kinds of things we like, think we might like, or hope we might like, and then we’ll latch onto something and start writing. Then we’ll keep listening and we’ll latch onto something else, and then we’ll latch onto something else, and maybe we’ll throw something else out, and then we’ll latch onto something else until finally it kind of all comes together.
It changes every year. You know, some years we’ll find all the music up front. We’ll write it and then go attend to what we’re doing. Some years, last year is a good example, we went through three lyrical movements of our show. We actually wrote two, threw them both out, and then at the very end added another and it turned out to be a huge hit. So, we try not to limit ourselves to a specific process. We just know where it needs to be in the end, and we kind of let the process or the show speak for itself. In a lot of ways, it just comes up to speed. It’s an organized process, but it’s not a defined process. I’ll put it that way.
WWBW: And sitting on top of all the choreography, costuming, and everything else is a Martin Scorsese figure. I guess that’s Mr. Glasgow, yes?
DG: Actually, no. I’m not the creative force. I think that if you look at this in terms of a movie, I think my understanding of how it works is very minimal. I think I’m more of a producer.
WWBW: I get it.
DG: So, we have an Artistic Director. His name is Jon Vanderkoff and he’s been with us since 2013. And we have a Program Coordinator who helps kind of drive the conversation along and his name is Dean Westman. But really, Jon Vanderkoff deserves the credit for anything we do artistically. My job is to make it happen.
WWBW: So back to the big win. Wow! You know, when a home run hitter can act just like a second before everyone else knows and he knows it’s out of the park, did you know that you hit everything that you wanted to the moment that your performance this year was done?
DG: I don’t think you ever feel as though you hit a home run. When you’re part of the process of putting it all together, you also know where the flaws are and you know the things that need to be better, and so the rest of the season is spent working on those things. I don’t think you can ever look at it and say, “We did it.” Because it goes through so many revisions and so many changes and alterations that maybe by the time you get to the end of that process, you’re closer to the point of saying okay, this might be it.
WWBW: There are a lot of subdivisions relative to the overall award; there’s a drum corps winner, a brass performance winner...
DG: You always have to focus on what you’re doing yourself because you just can’t control what the competition’s doing. That’s another reason you could come out of the gate, think it’s the best thing you ever had, and then realize somebody else thought of something better. But you’re right, it is a combination of a multitude of things, and you have to hope you get all of them right. And that’s not even mentioning all the behind the scenes aspects of it. Because we tour 15,000 miles and promote health and safety among the group and feed them and house them and get great rehearsal facilities, have great equipment, all that goes into it as well. That’s all part of developing an elite atmosphere. It’s as important as the show.
WWBW: And obviously in order for that to occur, there has to be great community support on it.
DG: Great community support. A lot of fundraising behind the scenes goes on. We’re completely self-funded and that takes a lot.
WWBW: Before we get off the topic of the win, what can you tell me about “the wink?”
DG: The wink was completely spontaneous. It was something that Shane O’Brien, who’s just a great guy and a great performer from Ireland, just decided in the moment to do.
WWBW: Well, I’m a trumpet player. So, I admire his sound and everything else. But that wink…
DG: Yeah. It was something that he just decided to do on his own. I think that very moment he saw a camera right in front of him and that’s what he decided to do, and it turned out to be a big hit. And it was something too that we, as a staff, we said well that’s never going to happen again. That was so spontaneous that’s going to be really hard to recreate.
WWBW: Oh, sure.
DG: So when he did that on Thursday night at Championships Week, we kind of told him hey, don’t do it again because you’ll never be able to recreate that.
WWBW: You don’t go to the well twice if it works great the first time.
DG: Right. So, he didn’t do it on Friday but then everybody was waiting for it on Saturday and then he did it and it worked. It was one of those moments that nobody could have possibly planned.
WWBW: Well, here’s a softball question for you, David. Do you think the kind of responsibility for your part in a larger whole that your members learn from their association with the Bluecoats has relevance in later life?
DG: Oh, absolutely. No question about it. They learn to work together as a team. They learn how to deal with an organizational environment with all types of different people and different personalities and they learn how to work within that structure. They learn how to live on their own. A lot of them have never done laundry before. They don’t have their mom or their dad telling them where they need to be and when they need to be there. They’re expected to look at the schedule and know what they need to do and where to be when, so there’s no question that it teaches a young person how to live in the real world. Those are things that they can carry with them later in life for sure.
WWBW: The alumni get-togethers must be a trip.
DG: Yeah, they’re fun. We do quite a few of them and we’ve got a really interested alumni base that is active in number of ways. So, they have fun. Kind of reconnecting and remembering the experience of when they were kids.
WWBW: Care to talk about gear for a little while?
WWBW: Who are the vendors that you particularly count on?
DG: We use Yamaha for all of our instruments and our pro audio equipment. So, they’re primarily our instrument manufacturer. We also use Innovative Percussion Sticks and Mallets and we use Evans Drumheads and Zildjian Cymbals. Those are the big ones.
WWBW: You mentioned professional sound reinforcement. That’s got to be difficult. My area is pro audio, and properly miking to get a good live mix on an entire football field is no mean feat.
DG: Our audio system designer, his name is Aaron Beck, fills the same role for us that he does for Cirque de Soleil in Vegas. He’s the guy that builds and runs the systems for those shows. So, with his expertise, the sky’s the limit for us and we’re really fortunate to have him on board. We invest pretty heavily in sound reinforcement equipment and we are usually pretty out there in terms of our ideas so we’re not afraid to take a risk when it comes to how to use electronics and sound reinforcement in shows. We’re probably the leader in that area right now.
WWBW: That kind of boldness absolutely is visible within 10 seconds of watching what you do. So, how do you go about becoming the next Blue Devils? That being the next dominant team, the next one to beat.
DG: Well, I think we just continue to do what we’re doing. We’ve been working for a long time to build organizational excellence. Just in terms of how we operate, how we do things. I don’t think you’re ever there, but we continue to do that and we continue to take chances. We have wonderful people, and that allows us to be do everything we do and so really it’s just to continue to do what we’re doing and let the chips fall where they may.
We care about competition. It’s certainly a big part of what we do, but I can’t say that our goal is to win four championships in a row or anything like that. Our goal is to keep trying to push the envelope of what our art form is, and to be as entertaining and attractive to fans as we can, and if that all ends in great competitive success, then great. But I can tell you after winning last year, the thrill wasn’t necessarily in winning; it was walking off that field after that championship show because the crowd just went crazy. It didn’t matter if we won or not at that point.
WWBW: I do a lot of these cover stories and naturally a lot of the people I interview are intensely successful and they all say the same thing: that they’re in the effort business, not in the results business. If you go 100% on effort, then you already won, and if anybody else notices, that’s gravy.
DG: It sounds kind of cliché but it really is true, and again, the adulation we got from the fans was more exciting for the members than the actual victory. The victory was great and kind of cherry on top but I say this all the time, that night we felt like The Beatles walking off the stage. It was pretty cool.
WWBW: How’d you get there? What’s your musical background? What were you doing when you were the age of your average Bluecoat?
DG: I was in the Corps. I was a euphonium player and then I was drum major for two years. At that end of that, they said we’d like to develop you to be Executive Director at some point. We hadn’t had a full-time person in that job before. It was done between three or four different part-time people. They thought we needed to develop a full-time staff, and I was the first person to be part of that. I came to be Director when I was 23. I finished my first season when I was 24 and have been in this job ever since. So, I can’t say that I’m a musician. I was in high school band. I was in Drum Corps. I’ve played an instrument. I was Drum Major, but I can’t say that I’m a musician. Technically, I’m more on the administrative side of things.
WWBW: The Bluecoats have had some ups and downs over the decades. It became insolvent a couple of times along the way.
DG: Yeah, ’79, I’m going to screw these dates up. ’83 were two seasons that we did not, that we were in existence but did not hit the road. Our organization was way different then. It was a much smaller and more locally based sort of organization than it even is now. But we were still touring and I don’t think a lot of people know that. At a couple points, we decided to take years off. A lot of Corps will do that and they’ll never come back.
WWBW: Well, I think it kind of implies a certain pugnaciousness that characterizes your organization.
DG: I would agree with that.
WWBW: And you were nibbling around the edges before you actually took the gold home, right?
DG: We’ve medaled three times before. I think any time you’re in the top three, you’re splitting hairs. So, we’ve been in that group three times before, and before that we were hanging out in the four or five range, six range so it’s kind of been a slow process. But we finally got there.
WWBW: Any last word to kids who might be interested in the Bluecoats?
DG: Well, they should definitely go to our website. All the information about what we do is there. Check out our social media channels, Facebook, You-Tube, Instagram, Twitter. We’re on all social media platforms. Check us out there. But if you’re a high school student, then first thing you need to do is take private lessons. If you’re looking to prepare, find somebody’s who’s marched Drum Corps or has a good understanding of that type of process, take private lessons and get ready.
WWBW: Okay. Well, send warmest congratulations to every one of your kids from everyone here. Thanks for your time today.