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|History for The Cavaliers||Rosemont, IL|
|Active Junior Corps (World Class) founded in 1948||Did you march The Cavaliers?|
|Other names: Chicago Cavaliers; AL Kosciuszko Post #712|
The corps that became the Cavaliers was formed in 1948 as the Boy Scout Troop 111 Drum & Bugle Corps. That original scoutmaster, Don Warren, was still the president of the corps in 2004. |
Dressed in traditional khaki uniforms decorated with shoulder braids and white gloves, the corps spent its formative years concerned with sponsorships, finances, and other related circumstances.
In 1949 the corps' first outside sponsorship took the form of American Legion Post 712 in the Little Warsaw section of Chicago, a post dedicated to the memory of the Polish-American Revolutionary War hero Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Mispronounced more often than not, corps members shortened the post name to Koz-712.
Sponsorship by Koz Post 712 freed up a little money for new uniforms. The corps put together a low-budget uniform with 100%-wool Army surplus dress pants and shirts and had them dyed a dark blue, sealing the heat in with buttoned shirt cuffs and puttees. Subsequent uniforms were hand-me-downs from the drum corps at the General George Bell Post.
Although corps founder Don Warren had initially enlisted instructors from the Quinlan & Fabish Music Co., he realized after seeing the Bell Corps that instruction more directly relevant to drum corps might be better. Johnny Line and Art Gariekes began to teach Kaz-712 drill and competition; it had been a parade corps until 1950. Shows were 15 minutes long in those days and the tunes were comparatively short, so it took a lot of quickie numbers to fill up a show.
Many 1950s corps were referred to by their geographical area, like Norwood Park, or by their VFW sponsorship, like Gladstone. Some corps, however, adopted individual names. One such corps from across town was the Austin Grenadiers, a group with a classy individual name and impressive music offering. And about this time, accompanied by a flashy promotional campaign, Cavalier cigarettes emerged on the market. That name, connoting swashbuckling and drama, seemed a natural. So Kaz-712 became the Chicago Cavaliers. The cigarette company also sold a costume jewelry pin of its logo. Everyone sent in orders for pins to wear on their hats.
Corps members in the early 1950s formed a close-knit group, having grown up with each other. They wanted to perpetuate this fraternal feeling, so they created initiation rites for new members. In terms of pride and character, they tended to pattern themselves after another corps, the U.S. Marine Corps. Marines still have initiations too, called boot camp, instilling pride, character, and a spirit of belonging. The Cavaliers continued their initiation rites for nearly their entire history.
After a summer full of parades, contests, and other appearances in 1950, it was time to select new uniforms for 1951. Following the Bell Corps‘ example, comfortable open necks and loose trousers in a swashbuckling Cavalier style were selected, although the initial vote for chartreuse as dominant color was overruled by the uniform maker. This musketeer swashbuckler look has now been the Cavaliers’ for more than fifty years.
A turning point for the young corps came in 1952 with its first win, at the Iowa State Fair contest, after months of thirds and fourths. The corps took seventh at the American Legion Nationals in New York, highest among Midwest junior corps, and they won high GE as well. The experience solidified “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” not only as a theme song but also as a corps philosophy.
1953 brought the first American Legion Illinois State title and an eighth place finish at American Legion Nationals in St. Louis. In 1954 the corps gained momentum as a Midwest powerhouse by winning a second consecutive Legion Illinois State title. Many predicted the Cavaliers could take a national title if they could get the drum scores up to East Coast levels. Percussion being the Achilles heel, the Cavies placed a disappointing tenth at Legion Nationals in Washington, D.C. No one suspected that this placement would be the corps’ lowest in a national competition for the next 19 years.
In 1955 the management brought in the great rudimental drummer Frank Arsenault to work with the percussion. Frank conferred instant credibility; the corps won their first VFW State title and finished a strong fifth at American Legion Nationals in Miami. The Chicago Cavaliers were on the move.
1956 brought another VFW State title and a number one ranking in the Midwest, but even after a season of 16 wins out of 20 contests, the Cavies returned home with only a third place finish at VFW Nationals.
The corps traded victories with both the Madison Scouts and the Belleville Black Knights throughout the 1957 season, though they managed to win both Legion and VFW State titles for the first time. The highly competitive summer seems to have been the preparation the corps needed to win their first VFW Nationals in Miami, the first time that a Midwest corps had broken the stranglehold of the East. Many nearsighted East Coast drum corps people passed the victory off as a fluke.
Despite repeating as national champions in 1959, daunting challenges faced Don Warren, corps treasurer Martin McDonald, and the Cavaliers organization. Show titles held for years by the Cavies were slipping away, American Legion and VFW sponsors were struggling to sustain the corps financially, and the turnover after 1959 was 30 percent, including long-time corps leaders who aged out.
The 1960 season signaled the end of the "neighborhood corps" era of the Cavaliers and began the era of the "suburban corps" phenomenon. This was the first in a series of profound changes in drum corps. The Cavaliers would be one of only a handful of drum corps that would survive and thrive in a new era.
Times being tough, the Cavalier members themselves took fund-raising into their own hands with a Family Fun Night in 1960. Clowns, games and a sumptuous repast at "The Cavalier Cafe" netted $1,000 on a $39 investment. The big moneymaking activity of the night was the chance to hit Don Warren in the face with a whipped-cream pie for a dollar, and there was a long line.
Efforts to recruit experienced corps members were arduous, particularly in light of the corps’ national championship-level commitments. The 1960 season with all its ordeals developed into a successful one, with the corps earning a 17-4 record and recapturing most of the show titles lost in 1959. While not winning a Nationals title in 1960, the corps had maintained its championship standing.
Cavalier Hall, the first such facility in drum corps, received a major facelift in 1960 with new soundproofed practice rooms, new windows, and lighting. 1960 also solidified a special bond between the Cavies and the Garfield Cadets, as Cadet corpsmen housed with Cavalier families during their Midwest tour.
The 1961 corps was staffed by a large group of men with a wealth of championship experience. Rick “Monk” Wawrzniak joined John Cabanski as assistant quartermaster under corps Vice President Jim Jones; Monk would serve the corps for almost 20 years. Art Peters was named drum major with the retirement of Bruce Teitgen. The Park Ridge VFW Post 3579 became a new sponsor, taking over from Chicago's Own Post.
After a scary win by only 0.025 at State Fair, the corps went into VFW Nationals in Miami undefeated for the inevitable confrontation with Blessed Sacrament, St. Kevin’s, and the Garfield Cadets. There the 1961 Cavaliers dispelled any suspicion that they were a mere flash in the pan by sweeping all competitors by a wide margin. The Cavies finished 1961 with a national championship and a 25-in-a-row win streak carrying over from the 1960 season.
Major program changes and a large turnover of experienced personnel in 1962 foreshadowed a strenuous effort by the corps to sustain its championship position. By 1962, only 15 men remained from the 1959 Cavaliers roster. In 1962 Larry McCormick joined the corps as drum instructor, ensuring a championship drum line throughout the decade and beyond.
By June 1962, the Cavaliers had not lost a contest in 23 months. Another undefeated season was not to be, however, and the win streak was broken in Spring Valley, Illinois, at 29 with the help of “an accordion instructor masquerading as a bugle judge.” The season was a smashing success, however, and the corps finished with a 22-4 record and another national title at the Minneapolis VFW show.
Easygoing drum major Al Brinker took over in 1962 for a four-year stint. The corps also gained a new sponsor, the First National Bank of Chicago American Legion.
The sixties' Cavaliers had energized local competition by their consistent dominance. Local corps had to stay in top form for any hope of being competitive. This translated into an increasingly competitive environment that catapulted the Midwest to the top of the drum corps world. During the sixties, at least half of the top ten corps at Nationals on average came out of the Midwest. This also meant that the Cavaliers could not ease up without being buried by the constantly improving local corps.
1963 proved to be another outstanding year for the Cavaliers as they won 19 of 24 shows and another national title, the fifth in seven years. 1963 also witnessed the completion of the transition from a neighborhood corps to the modern corps with an ever-widening outreach for personnel, welcoming out-of-towners from as far away as Rockford and Milwaukee.
The 1963 season took the corps to distant parts. It began with an offering of international good will at the Optimists show in Toronto (they promoted their show by proclaiming, "The Cavaliers are Coming!!"). Through the hard work of staff and boosters, the 1963 Cavies were treated to a 6000-mile train trip to the VFW Nationals in Seattle. VFW officials greeted the corps like dignitaries there, including providing folding chairs to rest on as the corps awaited their Finals performance.
The 1964 corps was the vehicle for another new innovative program, featuring newly acquired mellophones and contrabasses. With a record of 22-6 the corps was at the top for most of the season, hanging on during the wild scoring ride. At the close of the 1964 season the Cavaliers had finished the first five seasons of the decade with a combined total of 101-20 record with three national titles and the longest undefeated streak in modern drum corps history.
The 1966 program featured the outstanding drum line of that period. The corps come within 0.4 of winning both titles, but ultimately came away with only the American Legion title. One observer credits the 1966 Cavies with introducing the concept of turning bass drums sideways and tuning them to the corps' pitch for enhanced musicality.
Another change in 1967 was the first show not featuring “Rainbow” after 18 seasons. Cavalier Hall also departed in 1967. On a warm July evening, the first drum corps hall ever, at 2507 North Kedzie, passed into history in a "Viking funeral." The hall burned to the ground with all its trophies, its uniforms, its memories, all but its traditions and competitive spirit. The Cavaliers lived on.
Even without the hall, 1967 marked a return to the pinnacle for the Cavaliers. Making up for 1966, the corps won both VFW and American Legion National titles and finished with a record of 24-2. For the third year in a row the drum line won its caption at Nationals. Later, renowned drum instructor and respected judge Bob Curry called the 1965-67 drum line one of the best drum lines ever.
Despite the championship drum line, the 1968 season was one of frustration and a constant grinding struggle to stay on top. The VFW Nationals show will be remembered as one of the closest ever, with less than two points separating the first six corps, four of which were from the Midwest.
If 1968 was a valley, then 1969 was truly a return to the summit. An 18-7 record and another American Legion National title put the Cavaliers back on top. In 1968 Paul Litteau had joined Lenny Piekarski's M&M team as an assistant after a successful run as color guard instructor. This move continued a tradition of alumni Cavaliers returning to support the corps with their volunteer efforts, a practice including such men as Warren Alm, Don Heitzman, Dan Horst, Adolph De Grauwe, Jim Zientara, Lou Miller, Jim Kropid, Art Mix, Larry McCormick, Bob Hoehn, Bill Dragland, Bill "Doc" Glass, and many others. It is through this process that not only the Cavaliers corps but also the Cavalier traditions are passed on to later generations. In the tumultuous seventies, it would be these alumni joined by "the miracle worker" alumnus Frank Speciale who would play key roles in sustaining the Cavaliers both financially and competitively.
The decade began with a miraculous finish, when the corps moved from 11th in Prelims to third in Finals of the VFW Nationals in Miami. But 1971's controversial circus-themed show was another story. This ill-conceived progrm dropped the Cavies to eighth place at year‘s end, as the Eastern corps began to wreak revenge for years of defeats. Deciding that the 1971 themed show concept was a mistake, the corps went back five years in show design, but the results were even worse. They survived on solid execution until the first DCI Nationals in Whitewater where they finished ninth.
The corps was seriously troubled by 1973. No one wanted to join the boring old Cavaliers, the staff seemed to have run out of good ideas and couldn't keep up with a rapidly changing activity, and members admitted to being unable to execute worth a damn. There was financial trouble, too. Only later did members find out that Don Warren actually considered shutting down the corps in 1973. But the unity and determination of the members themselves helped sustain management through the tough times. The corps finished the season 15th.
The corps in those years was riven by factions, splits that were damaging their ability to perform cooperatively. There were the Old Cavaliers who clung to the past glories, the Wild Bunch who felt anything was okay as long as they made it onto the field, and a new species, the Corpies, the guys who jumped from corps to corps in search of the elusive DCI Champion's ring.
An incident in which a few corps members nearly died from drugs on a corps bus forced management to face the drug problem among the Cavaliers. The incident polarized the corps family, heightening tensions between groups. Management let members, parents, and boosters contribute their feelings and opinions before settling the painful issue by suspending seven corps members for the remainder of the season. Two members eventually rejoined the corps.
Competitively, the Cavaliers remained in DCI’s second six from 1972 through the mid eighties, even sitting out finals in 1973 and 1978. They did, however, win the VFW Championships in 1972, '74, '76, and 1980.
Shows during this period featured show tunes and light opera, with some pop music. The long-time theme song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” vanished in 1980, never to return. But a classical trend was creeping into the corps’ repertoire, a wave that solidified into contemporary classical shows by the mid eighties.
In the early 1980s, judges seemed to be looking for more cutting edge performances than the Cavaliers were providing, but those performances began to appear with the rise of the Cavalier winter guard. Under the creative guidance of Steve Brubaker, the Cavaliers would win the Winter Guard International Championship in 1981, 1982, and 1983. Steve became the Cavaliers' head drill writer in 1982 and ultimately established himself, along with George Zingali, as one of the two great visual designers of the decade. The success of the Cavalier winter guards gradually motivated a change in attitude in the early 1980s. The Cavies asked themselves, "If we can win WGI titles every April, why can’t we win bigger titles in August?"
The 1984 program was an evolutionary step in the right direction. With “Don Juan” as an opener and “The Pines of Rome” as the closer, the show offered a vast improvement over previous program designs. Although the guard was strong and the corps was marching decently, however, the horns and drums were still not playing well enough to compete with the big boys.
Off the field, starting in 1982, the corps began receiving support from the Village of Rosemont, right next door to O’Hare Airport, and its mayor, Donald E. Stephens. Several busses, a few trucks, many uniforms, and a few staff paychecks later, the generosity of Rosemont to their marching ambassadors is obvious, appreciated, and cannot be overestimated. The Cavaliers also revamped their initiations process, becoming a "kinder, gentler" drum corps to new members.
The pivotal year of the decade for the Cavaliers, and perhaps the most important year of the DCI era, was 1985. This would be the year that the Cavaliers would put together a staff who developed a show design built around “The Planets” that still stands as one of their best ever; the Cavies returned to the top five for the first time in nine years.
In 1986, the corps, conditioned by Tim Ochran's unique winter regimen of standing on one leg and countless sit-ups and push-ups, gave the drum corps world the great “Variations on a Korean Folk Song.” Along with opener “Canzona” and closer “Mars,” the corps took 19 consecutive victories and its first DCM title in DeKalb. At DCI, however, the corps finished third, just ahead of the Garfield Cadets. But this was a moral victory. They had not finished lower than third place at any show all season: shades of the championship sixties. Although the Cavaliers won no national championships in the 1980s, they left the decade much stronger than they began it.
The 1990s brought three-valve bugles, strange and troublesome to some performers. In 1991 Adolph De Grauwe passed the torch of corps directorship to Jeff Fiedler who left the corps in 2008. Adolph De Grauwe returned as director in Fall 2009.
The pit had a great year in 1991. Before every run-through they would pound through their ensemble piece, written by Dave Samuals, so often that even horn players could whistle it. Practice in this case did make perfect, as the pit received a perfect 100 in competition and was featured in a percussion magazine that year.
1992 started off with a fire on the equipment truck. Perhaps all years should begin so disastrously if they can end so triumphantly. With a program entitled “Revolution and Triumph,” 20 years into the DCI era the Cavaliers won their first Nationals, beating their two closest competitors by less than one point. The Green Machine had finally reached the summit, an achievement, one corps member said, that would not have been possible without the groundwork laid by hardworking corps members over the previous 15 years.
1993 was a difficult year for several reasons. After the summer of 1992 the corps lost Steve Brubaker, a pioneering drill writer and one of the Cavaliers’ greatest men. Everything done that summer was overshadowed by the previous year’s championship. The show was 'Heroes: A Symphonic Trilogy.' Before the show, on the videotape, the drum major Dan Hough announced that the show was dedicated to their own Cavalier hero. The corps had its greatest success in California this year, winning all the shows and leaving the state undefeated.
A wet finals night in Jackson, Mississippi, on slippery grass was not as successful. Some people ended the season on their butts, and the corps ended up in fifth place.
In 1994 the show was different, but the corps had always been on the cutting edge. There were more props and equipment than ever before. Although all corps members had a lot more movement to perform than just straight marching, the color guard was the focus of this show. In controversial uniforms that showed bare chest, the guard manipulated large pieces of lumber. Warren Rickert climbed to the top of the longest pole and stretched his head and right arm high toward heaven as the corps reached the climactic moment of "Ivan the Terrible.” The innovative design earned the Cavies a fourth place in Finals.
The Cavaliers won their second world championship in three years in 1995, with a powerful program of Holst’s “The Planets.“ The stars were not entirely in alignment, however, when the field lights went out as the corps came out for a victory performance, so they did a standstill in the dark. Then the lights came back on and they did their whole victory performance all over again.
Before the summer of 1996 the corps had the opportunity to travel to Japan, a trip sponsored by His Ten Boost theme park in Nagasaki.
The Cavaliers slipped to seventh place in 1997 with a program of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” but rounded out the century in triumph, co-winning the national championship in 2000 and taking the title outright in 2001 with a starkly angular show entitled 'Four Corners,' and in 2002 with the similarly designed 'Frameworks.'
Over 2002-03, the Cavaliers strung together a DCI-record 64 straight contest first-place finishes before finally being edged by the Blue Devils on July 26, 2003. 'Spin Cycle,' the stunning 2003 offering designed by Michael Gaines with original music by Richard Saucedo, Bret Kuhn, and Erik Johnson, scored a 97.25 in Finals for a second-place finals finish.
The Cavies boast several drum corps firsts in their history: the first corps hall, first large equipment truck, and the first corps camp, all now standard in the activity. Other design and musical “firsts,” innovations adopted by the activity as a whole, are more difficult to quantify but exist nonetheless. For 15 years the corps never placed lower than third in any competition, and in 2004 they had won six national championships in 13 years, a distinction exceeded in DCI history only by the Blue Devils. The 2002 championship score of 99.15 was the highest winning score in DCI's 30-year history. According to director Jeff Fiedler, "Status quo is moving backward."
In 2004, the Cavies hosted a unique reunion for percussion only. Green Machine drummers from as far back as the original 1948 drum line were in attendance, including the complete snare lines from 1961 through 1973. More than 50 drummers, centered in a wide arc of 35 snares, worked through the traditional Cavalier rudimental exercises and tunes, inspired by DCI Hall of Famer Larry McCormick. At the end of the reunion, Don Warren and Jeff Fiedler presented each drum alumnus with a special green gear to mark the day.
At 2004 DCI Finals, the men from Rosemont presented a cool, stylish show based on music from James Bond films. The Cavies took full advantage of the prop potential of their hats, razor sharp brass blows, and even unisonal whistling to sell 007. Very popular with the crowd, the program captured high GE on Finals night, and the Cavies edged the Blue Devils by 0.075 point to take their fourth championship in five years, and sixth overall.
One of only two all-male corps remaining, the Cavaliers of Rosemont, Illinois, qualify among the top ten drum corps in the last 100 years.
A more detailed and personalized history of the Cavaliers may be found at:
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