In the heart of a tough Los Angeles neighborhood, a drum corps is born. As we hear in today's Field Pass presented by Zildjian, City Sound and founder Nate Lewis hope to rekindle the kind of community corps that is at the root of our activity's heritage.
Southern California corps gear up for busy 2009
by Jim Claytor, DCW staff
This article was originally published in the March 2009 edition of Drum Corps World (Volume 37, Number 12).
In the land of Hollywood, movie stars, Beverly Hills and beautiful beaches, Southern California roars into 2009 with a vengeance, as one of the country’s emerging regions for drum and bugle corps. With 10 drum corps within a 40-mile radius of Los Angeles, the greater LA/Orange County vicinity alone hosts six shows and countless parades and exhibitions.
One of the most recent additions to the Southern California roster is City Sound, centrally located in South Los Angeles. Under the direction of Nathanial Lewis, and in a partnership with the LA Unified School District, City Sound has jumped head-first into the inner city of LA and has created a soon-to-be powerhouse corps on the circuit.
Lewis, a drum corps veteran and an alumni snare drummer for the Anaheim Kingsmen, has put together a phenomenally experienced staff and advisory board that has previously marched with the likes of the Santa Clara Vanguard, The Cavaliers and Anaheim Kingsmen, just to name a few.
Lewis states that his completely unconventional approach is not just a January through August activity like a lot of corps, but a year-round student program creating a future highly competitive corps from the heart of the West Coast’s largest city. City Sound includes a program to involve kids who would not normally have the opportunity to participate in an actual competitive drum and bugle corps, because, according to Lewis, “The way the fees have been structured lately, it has become an activity that middle or low income kids in some neighborhoods can’t afford, so we’re building drum corps in the inner city, one kid at a time.”
Dues are low, dedication and involvement from the kids and the community is extremely high. Most of their members have only had the opportunity to see a drum corps from whatever is shown on television or the Internet, so this undertaking will be a fantastic example and learning program for other low income communities around the country to incorporate the arts back into the community and schools.
Starting 12 years ago as a drum line, City Sound emerges this spring in their first performance as a open class drum and bugle corps with over 70 members and music from the 1970s Grammy-winning group, The 5th Dimension. For information, visit: www.city-sound.org.
Emmy Nominated artist/producer visits City Sound camp
by Jim Claytor, DCW Journalist
Peter Michael Escovedo spoke at a City Sound camp recently under a flurry of excitement. He has produced numerous television shows, written music for films, theme songs for television, composed, arranged and produced music for various artists and is currently releasing a new E. Family CD featuring Joss Stone, Prince, Earth Wind & Fire, Gloria Estefan, Raphael Saadiq and Israel Houghton.
His credits also include working with Justin Timberlake, Whitney Huston, Mariah Carey, Elton John and the hottest female drummer of all time, his sister, Sheila E. City Sound in 2011 is really pushing the boundaries for this one-year-old drum corps in Los Angeles. While starting out last year with less than 20 horns, this year Director Nate Lewis is proud to be pushing 40 to 50 members in the horn line per rehearsal and literally more than doubling 2010.
With the new horn instructor, Professor Greg Flores, at the helm, this year’s music will be hot, in your face and, as most of the kids in the corps would say, “Dude, it’s so LA!”
While interviewing Lewis at their last camp, he gave me some really interesting history on the short existence of the corps. City Sound is actually an extension of the once-famous Bedford-Stuyvesant Carter Cadets from Brooklyn, NY. Started in 1950 by the late Pastor Fitz and Miriam Carter, Nathaniel Lewis Sr. from Brooklyn and Nathaniel Lewis III, current director of City Sound, are to this day active members on the board of the Carter Cadets Alumni.
With royal blue uniform tops, a white sash and shakos with white plumes, you can see how last month’s article in DCW, titled “Traditional yet cool,” shows how uniforms reminiscent of the 1960s Carter Cadets still have a “traditional yet cool” influence in today’s City Sound.Tradition is still extended in City Sound’s t-shirt that simply says, “Doing drum corps the way God intended it to be.”
The Carter Cadets 60 Years Later
By Jim Claytor DCW Staff
Its pretty amazing how much we think things change over the years when in all actuality, a lot of our “change” is nothing more than a recreation of our previous experiences, I’ll explain that analogy later on in the story. But right now lets go back about sixty years ago during the 1950’s, when we had such issues as, “Brown verses the board of Education (1954), The slaying of 14year old Emmett Till (1955), or when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat at the front of the "colored section" of a bus to a white passenger (1955). These were all issues relevant to an era of racial despair, which sadly divided the people of the United States for decades to come. About a week ago I had the chance to interview an African American man present to that era, who explained to me his personal trials and tribulations of being part of an American Drum and Bugle Corps, except all members were African American.
Nat W. Lewis, in 1958 was the American Legion individual snare drum champion for the state of New York. By 1965 he had become the director of one of the first all African-American drum corps, The Carter Cadets drum and bugle corps from the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn New York. Previously founded in1950 by the late Pastor Fitz and Miriam Carter, The Carter Cadets had competed throughout their early formative years winning numerous contests and parades, including several appearances in standstill competitions and the famous Brooklyn Day Parade. Once they had incorporated a field show, The Carter Cadets took top honors and won the 1963 Kings County VFW Liberty Championships, giving them a huge boost as a corps and much more notoriety within their community.
This win was a huge accomplishment at the time, especially while establishing themselves outside of the political and racial boundaries that were still ingrained within both races, mostly due to conflicts of the previous decades that still had a slight lingering effect. Starting in 1964 when Mr. Lewis became corps director, he made sure the corps was incorporated, and by 1965, they had over 40 horns, 20 drums, and 26 in the color guard. Their repertoire included great songs like, “I left my heart in San Francisco”, “To Sir with love”, “Show me” from my fair lady, “Crown Victoria” and many more well known classics. While speaking with Mr. Lewis I asked him how did the corps survive financially back then, and what were their dues. Lewis stated “they paid very little dues, collecting was hard enough, and just getting the parents to let the kids come to the corps was even harder at that time the parents would say, what? Do what? March?” He also mentioned that in order for any kid to say in the corps “we made it a prerequisite the kids had to maintain their school work also”. Throughout the year the corps would hold several fundraisers and receive numerous donations that significantly helped in keeping the organization on a positive financial note. After placing 10th in the VFW National Championships against corps like the Troopers, our Lady of Perpetual Help drum and bugle corps, and many others, The Carter Cadets continued their success by appearing in a feature film titled: “The Education of Sonny Carter”, which is still available on Amazon.
During the interview, Mr. Lewis said something to me that was really unexpected; I asked him what issues during that time period was a hindrance to the progression of the corps, both psychologically, and from a competitive standpoint. He said, “in drum corps we were all equal, that’s the one place where we all felt at home”. He continued to say that even within that era of establishing racial equality, “there were never any issues when it came to drum corps people, in drum corps we were all brothers and sisters no matter what the color of your skin was”. The Carter Cadets were known as one of the most prominent in all African American drum corps in the United States. The final year of competition for the Carter Cadets was 1969, and eventually folding in 1972.Though the corps itself has been gone for 38 years, the Carter Cadets Inc is still functioning mainly as a facilitator, raising funds to purchase instruments and donating them to various musical organizations. I’ve noticed there has been something rather ironic about the Carter Cadets. The Director of City Sound drum and bugle corps out of Los Angeles, Nathaniel Lewis happens to be the son of Nat W. Lewis from Brooklyn, New York. Uniforms for The Carter Cadets were blue and white as well as the uniforms for City Sound who thrives on “traditional yet cool”. So even though they are three thousand miles apart, change” is nothing more than a recreation of our previous experiences.
City Sound Takes the Field for Competition (June 2010)
By Jim Claytor
In June of this year, South Los Angeles will field it’s first ever drum and bugle corps, under the direction of corps founder, Nathaniel Lewis. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do but the timing had to be just right for me and the kids” says Lewis. Taking the field for the first time this year in Open Class, City Sound drum and bugle corps shows huge dedication not only from it’s members, but staff as well, and immense promise for this first time drum corps. This year’s repertoire is from the ever popular rock group the “Who” featuring the album “Tommy”. Musical selections consist of Overture, Underture, It’s a Boy, Sparks, and a brilliantly constructed reprise to end the show.
Last weekend I was walking around rehearsal with Nataniel visiting different sections of the corps, I thought it would be good for the readers of Drum Corps World to actually hear from the members themselves, and get a up close and personal view of how the kids feel about their new DCI class drum corps. Sanjuana Rodriguez, a second year member and marimba player who has an infectious smile, from Tujunga California says “I cant wait until our first show, our pit instructor CJ (Charlan Jackson) works us hard but always gives us positive feedback, and that makes us want it that much more”.
After a great interview with Sanjuana, I had the opportunity to speak with Griselda Galindo, an 18 year old 1st year member, Timpani player for City Sound, and high school student, from Commerce California. Just like Sanjuana, Griselda’s interview was really uplifting because she, as others have done, totally spoke from the heart. When asked what she thought about the difference between High School marching band and drum corps, she said this “In high school we took a month to learn one song, were as in drum corps it took only two days to have it basically down, and that’s impressive. Their always pushing you in drum corps, but in high school band they don’t push you and you’re only doing it for the grade, but in drum corps your doing it because you want to be here. It’s more intense, more interesting, more hours but more knowledge. You do get better, now they’re saying I have better ears and I’m adjusting more to playing with the hornline, and it’s good because I’m getting better feedback”.
We all know that every corps has at least that one comedic member that always makes you laugh, but this corps has two. and they both are hilarious. Chantal Browne a first year member, and Anthony Silva, in his second year, both colorguard captains of one of the biggest colorguards in Southern California. I asked Chantal what she thought of her first year of drum corps, and here’s what she said: “ It’s definitely been more than worth the time. Like, I’m not skinny at all, but in drum corps it doesn’t even matter, but I would rather be here than like anywhere else. Being home and doing nothing is so boring, I go home during the week and I’m like, why cant I be at practice right now. I feel like I have an awesome team to spin with and a great staff. So it’s been definitely a great experience for my first year”.
Next I asked Anthony what he thought of being in City Sound, and he said “its fun and a lot of hard work, but once you get to the end you see it’s all worth it. And marching with the people you love is great but that last show and that last rifle toss is like ……wow. One more thing, Nate, our corps director, he’s a really nice guy and treats us good and feeds us really good too…lol I just wanted to put that out there”
Andrew Simon, center snare and 5-year member, started as a bass drum player for City Sound in 2005 when it was a categorized as a drum line only. Now that the corps has acquired DCI status, Andrew over the past 5 years, has advanced to Center snare, primarily because of his deep dedication and love for drumming. After speaking with Andrew you know immediately that he is an extremely dedicated member, and thanks corps director Nathaniel Lewis for introducing him to the sport that he says is all about consistency. Here’s a little of what Andrew had to say about his corps. “City Sound is a great place to start. We’ve always had great instructors that know on a technical level how everything works, and being a technical guy, it’s absolutely perfect. About me, as long as I have a pair of drumsticks in my hand I’m happy again. I love drum corps and I plan on doing this for a long time”.
Last but not least we have firs year Drum Major, Waldemar Quijano, music education major from California State University Northridge. “Waldemar said he joined so he could learn all he could, and bring that technique back to his school and cultivate a more advanced music department than most Universities. “One of the reasons I joined drum corps, was so I could have that hands on learning experience of what it feels like to march a more high tech show with more visuals and professional expertiece. My personal goal is to work at a high school as a band director and really give it 100 percent, and just be committed to the kids. Cause you hear about how they cut the arts in schools here in California and how there’s so very little funding. Personally I believe the arts are part of having a well-rounded education. I’m such and advocate of pushing the arts, because I agree with our director Nathaniel Lewis, that to get kids to play music, just put a instrument in their hand in their hand and you can potentially take them away from some the horrible stuff that happens around here in the city. I’m here, I practice music instead of being out somewhere doing god knows what, and now I’m channeling my creativity into something I will do in the future you know, and really spend my time wisely. I’m surrounded by people who have done this for years and I want to be one of them. So, say YES to drum corps!”
City Sound is working diligently every weekend to impress the audience and themselves as well. After spending several weekends watching the progression of this corps, I personally would like to wish them the best on their road to victory for many years to come.
Drum Corps University: *City Sound Drum and Bugle Corps and California State University Dominguez Hills, adds a drum and bugle corps class to their University curriculum.
(Carson, CA September, 2012)-- Executive Director of Los Angeles Youth Arts Organization Nathaniel Lewis, in a collaborative relationship with California State University Dominguez Hills, has recently completed negotiations offering students college credit, for completing one season of marching with City Sound Drum and Bugle Corps (Drum Corps International “DCI” Member and a division of Los Angeles Youth Arts Organization)
This first of its kind of program here in the City of Angels, has been made possible through the hard fought efforts of Executive Director Nathaniel Lewis and Dr. Richard Kravchak, Professor and Chair, Music Department, California State University Dominguez Hills and President, College Music Society Pacific Southwest Chapter. This undertaking is one of the most innovative student music programs to hit Los Angeles in many years. Being a state with the unavailable financial means to have the Arts in every school, this class is targeted at providing a completely new musical opportunity for all students, who enroll at California State University Dominguez Hills, and sign up for the Drum and Bugle Corps class. And with CSUDH’s “Open University” policy this opportunity is extended into the community for all ages of students to take a part of. It has recently been said to be “one of the best new student music programs in the city of Los Angeles for years”.
"With the addition of City Sound, through MUS 195 we'll now have a year round marching program to offer our students and the community," says Dr. Richard Kravchak.
For those who have always wanted to march in a DCI Drum and Bugle Corps, or engulf themselves in the creation of instrumental music and dance, this is the perfect opportunity to thoroughly explore the incredible possibilities, and the long term knowledge of music and marching, all while enhancing every student’s musical abilities and indoctrinating a sense of self-discipline during the corps summer tour and continuing through the fall pursuing their own professional career goals at the university.
Beginning October 2012, the two organizations will work together to provide a high quality musical education for all students enrolled in the class provided by California State University Dominguez Hills. April Radics (City Sounds Member Relations Manager) stated,“The work ethic we have in City Sound combined with the skills that will be learned at CSUDH, will go a long way toward preparing students for life in corporate America.”
*Those interested in auditioning for the City Sound 2013 season and/or learning more about the credited Drum and Bugle Corps Classes at California State University Dominguez Hills, pleasesend an email to CitySound@City-Sound.org or call 323-288-7231