All righty, so here it is - it’s likely that GCotW will drop from being a weekly feature to being a sometimes-feature, partially so I can have time to plan my wedding (!!!), and partially because I’m occasionally a forgetful silly goose. Who rollsteps.
Anyway, I am sorry. And please don’t hesitate to nominate an outstanding lady for the honor. As always, CorpsGirls welcomes your feedback and input!
This week we feature another trailblazer for women in the activity, specifically, one of the few women who can list “Director of a Division I/World Class Drum and Bugle Corps” on her resumé: Vicki Schaffer McFarlane.
Vicki Schaffer McFarlane appears to have started out as a clarinetist, eventually marching baritone with the Colts out of Dubuque, IA in 1994-5. She was a band director, a coach, a private clarinet instructor, and orchestra member at various points during her musical career. She eventually became director of the Colts’ junior corps, the Colt Cadets, and under her direction they grew from an 18-member ensemble to a full Division II corps, picking up a Div II “Most Improved” award in 2006. In 2013 she took over as director for the Colts, who moved from 17th place to land in 15th that season, and then from 15th to 13th this current season.
Aside from directing the Colts, Schaffer McFarlane also serves as a clinician and judge in the Midwest. She has had a varied and interesting career so far, and so I give you another lady whose steps forward and towards the top aid those of us who come after her: Vicki Schaffer McFarlane. We tip our hats to you!
I am so sorry, CGs, that I didn’t get this week’s CorpsGirl of the Week up on time. It’s been hectic here in my world, trying to balance the jobs, the wedding planning, Fiancé’s job interviews, every random thing that comes with being alive, and CorpsGirls too, but I PROMISE I won’t flake out this upcoming Sunday.
Hey CGs! I’m posting the CGotW a day early this week - the family is coming into town tomorrow and I won’t have time then. So here we go!
This week we feature a woman I am very excited to talk about, a woman who worked with brass (my section) and who was by all accounts an amazing instructor and judge. I am speaking of course of Sandra Opie, formal vocal instructor and DCI Hall of Famer.
Opie, a trumpet major, graduated from Wichita State and gave private brass lessons while being employed at a Kansas middle school to teach vocal music. She entered the drum corps scene in 1959 as an instructor for the Argonne Rebels out of Great Bend, KS.
From 1959-73 she led the Rebels to glory, her passion,dedication, and exacting standards pushing the corps to championships and perfect 5.0 scores in Content Analysis (and this was back in the days of the tick system). The Rebels became known as the gold standard for a drum corps brassline during her tenure there, not only sounding beautiful but playing far more complicated charts than other ensembles were willing to field. Her dedication to the members of the corps probably explains a lot; she worked tirelessly to make the Rebels great for over a decade, and she did it for free.
In 1973 Opie moved up to the judge’s box, where her exacting standards could be shared equally by all corps she came in contact with and humble more than a few. She was the first woman to be a DCI brass judge and eventually the first woman inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame who played a non-administrative role. She was also extremely fair. An oft-quoted statement on her reads, “I long to … watch her stand proud and confident in the judges’ critique and defend quite simply, but explicitly, that a tick was a tick and a 3.5 in content meant exactly that – regardless of what corps you represented, or who you thought you might be (and regardless of your reputation, real or imagined).”
I could go on and on and on about Sandra Opie, her brilliance and drive and her trailblazing for women in the activity. Others who knew her have said it better than I, though, and so I’ll leave you to peruse the sources and as always, here’s to you, Sandra Opie, our CorpsGirl of the Week and to all of us! We tip our caps to you.
I have been remiss in not including this lady, but I’m correcting it now, and I give you this week’s GCotW: Mary Pesceone, Queen of Multitasking and a behind-the-scenes powerhouse in early DCI.
Mary Pesceone was married to a man named Don Pesceone, who was the executive director of DCI from its inception in 1973 until 1994, and with whom she had three children. You have to be a certain kind of awesome to be that close to the activity in the first place, but Mary was a cut above that. When DCI formed, Don was quitting a secure 9-to-5 job to tackle a risky project with no real security should the thing implode. But Mary wasn’t just supportive of this, she jumped in with both feet and took an active role. As chief administrator for the new organization, she was in charge of basically everything that needed to be done: she was secretary, office manager, postmaster, shipping clerk, errand girl, contest coordinator, tabulator, director liaison, even ticket seller and cook, on top of caring for her family. This woman was a force to be reckoned with.
It seems, though, that she was more than just an incredible partner, but that she was a massive fan of the activity with a big heart and a love of people. She is spoken of very highly in every account I could find of her, the sort of person who could gracefully field a call from a furious director, get things worked out, and then just listen if a person needed it. An enduring organization is built on the contributions of many people, from the judges and instructors to the members and cook truck staffs and back to the people behind the scenes who nobody can see but whose work makes a huge difference. From a desk in someone’s house to the huge organization it is today, Mary Pesceone was there when DCI began, she was there as it expanded, and it is in large part thanks to her dedication, guts, grit, and straight-up competence that the organization grew so successfully. She was inducted into the Drum Corps Hall of Fame in 1990. Here’s to our CorpsGirl of the Week, Mary Pesceone - we tip our hats to you!
CorpsGirl of the Week: SSgt Alexandra Perkins, USMC
Happy Sunday, CGs! Today’s post will, sadly, be kind of short, but the shortness of the post is in no way indicative of this particular CGotW’s awesomeness. This week I give you a woman who was a member of three different corps: Staff Sergeant Alexandra Perkins, USMC.
SSgt Perkins’ first corps was the Glassmen out of Toledo, OH. She marched contra on their brassline eventually moved on to her second corps - namely, the United States Marine Corps. Her third corps the Commandant’s Own, USMC’s own drum corps, where she became the first female contra player to ever march with that ensemble. She attained the rank of staff sergeant, which is usually achieved after 7-10 years of service, by the way.
But while these are certainly impressive achievements, they are not why she is a CGotW. No, SSgt Perkins, about whom I have been able to find depressingly little information, is honored by this humble website because she, in 2008, became the first woman to lead the Commandant’s Own as its drum major.
The reason this was important (and still is) is because, while things are changing, the military and much of American culture in general tends to be something of a man’s world. For hundreds of years, it would have been unthinkable for a female to even be a member of the armed forces or a leader therein. Some walls are smashed open with bulldozers and wrecking balls, but some walls are broken down one brick at a time. Perhaps SSgt Perkins doesn’t think that being the first female drum major of the Commandant’s Own was a big deal, but if girls are going to hold the position, then some girl has to be the first. In this case, it was her.
And so this week’s honor, small as it is, goes to a woman who broke through an invisible barrier and became a leader in a high-profile marching organization with a long tradition of excellence. Those of us who can salute you, SSgt Alexandra Perkins, and the rest of us tip our hats.
Happy Sunday and welcome to the second installment of CGotW! Today’s featured lady is someone whose area of expertise is not my own - namely, color guard. Marching bands and drum corps wouldn’t be what they are without color guard, though, and so outside of my comfort zone I go, and let’s talk about one Shirlee Whitcomb.
Shirlee Whitcomb’s greatest influence probably stems from her role as one of the founding members of Winter Guard International. In 1977, she and five other folks got together and created an organization with the hope of, "[providing] a venue for young people to achieve the extraordinary through performance and competition.“ WGI has grown an amazing amount since then and is currently responsible for organization and criteria, competitions, and educational resources in the United States, Canada, Belgium, Holland, Germany, England, Ireland, Korea, Japan, and Africa - so by those numbers alone, Whitcomb has certainly influenced a great many people. On top of that, she has been a visual judge since 1964 and, along with training a great many other judges, is currently still active in adjudication.
Whitcomb’s career in color guard began at the age of 12 and finished when she aged out at 21. She both designed and taught drill from 1964 until 1979, with at least one BOA champion design under her belt. She currently still oversees (and occasionally herself pens) written resources sent out to both color guard instructors and judges (some of which can be found in the "Sources” links below). Her career has been long and influential thus far, and so hats off to you, Shirlee Whitcomb, CorpsGirl of the Week.
Happy Sunday, all! Now that the drum corps season is definitely underway, my phone is dinging every night with scores and I am introducing a new feature that I hope will be a weekly one: the CorpsGirl of the Week. In this feature, I hope to highlight (however briefly) a woman or girl who has been influential or important or of interest to marching music and its fans in some way. Sort of like Badass of the Week, but with more marching and less profanity.
Without further ado, I present to you our very first CorpsGirl of the Week: Rita Macey Bernert, percussionist.
Bernert was inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame just last season (2013), but long before the plaque and the applause she was marching snare with the Audubon All Girls Drum and Bugle Corps, more popularly known as the Bon Bons, from 1952 to 1958. From ‘56 to '58, she not only marched but was the assistant percussion instructor with one Mr. William Reamer (a brief search on whom returns a torrent of information on old-school rudimentary drumming; this guy was apparently a legend), and on top of that, was the arranger and instructor for two other corps (St.Nicholas All Girls and Bracken Cadets).
In 1957, Bernert was on the Bon Bons’ drum line as they earned top percussion score at the American Legion National Championships competing against all-boys’ ensembles. She herself won the national individual snare drum competition sponsored by the VFW that same year. What is more impressive, however, is not only the level at which Bernert competed but her extremely high success rate - competing with the Bon Bons’ quartet, she won several contests, but in individual competitions, she took home first place nine out of ten times that she entered.
In a time when girls were referred to as “the weaker sex” and sexism was just how things kind of worked, this girl was competing against boys and not only holding her own but winning. Right along with this, she was simultaneously a member and an instructor of a corps that has been recognized as a gold standard for women in marching. We salute you, Rita Macey Bernert.
If anyone has any corrections, additions, or comments to make about this article or the contents thereof, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Until next time, CGs!