Colts Drum and Bugle Corps

With almost 15 combined years as a participant and administrator, Jeff MacFarlane takes over the reigns as executive director in this 50th anniversary year of the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps.

Photo by Jef Quesnell

From Colt Cadet and Colt to corps dad, administrator and now his first year as executive director, Jeff MacFarlane has seen the development of the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps organization since the early 1970’s. Headquartered in Dubuque, Iowa, the Colts organization celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with new uniforms, a release of a documentary titled “No Boundaries” and a commemorative show. Here, MacFarlane shares what this milestone means to him and the corps.

Halftime: What does this anniversary mean to you?

MacFarlane: When I marched in the early-mid 70’s, there were 10 or 12 drum corps in the state of Iowa, and now it’s just the Colts and the Colt Cadets. To withstand the test of time is really a testament to our community support and the multiple generations who have now marched through our program.

The Colts have been a huge part of the city and its community for 50 years now, and as any drum corps can tell you, without the support of the donors and community, you just can’t make a go of it today.

[We created the] Colts Summer Band program for students in grades 4 to 8. This was created because the Dubuque community school district was no longer providing instrumental music lessons during the summer for late elementary and middle school students. The summer band is actually starting to feed students into the Colt Cadets now, and [many of them end up in the Colts].

Halftime: What kind of celebration will the corps have for the anniversary?

MacFarlane: On July 13, the day after the Colts’ home show, we’re having a reunion with the alumni, alumni parents and staff in downtown Dubuque. We’re hoping to start off the evening with a performance and continue with a short ceremony to honor some individuals from the year, commemorate some Colts who are no longer with us and early leaders of the organization. We’re hoping to have 250 to 300 attendees.

Halftime: You’ve been in the Colts organization in various facets over the years. Tell us about your involvement, starting in 1973 marching with the Colt Cadets and then 1975 through 1977 with the Colts. How did you come back to the organization later in life?

MacFarlane: My last year of marching drum corps was 1977 at the tender age of 16. After this, I followed the activity and the Colts as a fan. My son Max decided he wanted to participate in the Colt Cadets in 2004, and that is when I became more directly involved in drum corps again. [Since 2005, MacFarlane has served various business and design roles including as the group’s controller, program coordinator for the Colt Cadets and now executive director.]

Halftime: What keeps you coming back year after year?

MacFarlane: I think what keeps anyone coming back to the drum corps community are the students and the growth you see within them in the short amount of time you have them. In the Colts, we see [growth primarily] in the maturity of leadership and character, more so than their music and marching abilities, because they come to us so skilled. Their character development and how [they come together] as participants in a unified effort show how the World-Class experience is so unique.

On the Colt Cadets side, young people come to us who have never played an instrument. They have just seen the activity and decided it looks like something they want to do. We are open to taking these students from the very beginning to where they end up in August. From a performer standpoint, what happens in this program in one summer is really incredible.

Halftime: How has your background as an award-winning advertising executive helped you with your current position as executive director?

MacFarlane: Juggling simultaneous responsibilities and responding under the pressure of a deadline are a couple of characteristics necessary to run a successful agency. But I must say that nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of the past two months. In addition to all of the key staff members being in the first year of their new positions, we are about to embark on a stretch of hosting three World-Class drum corps shows in a sixday period. Oh, and it happens to be our 50th anniversary as well. But, seriously, we had a very high standard at the agency for delivering creative solutions that were on target and providing a customer service experience that led to more of a partnership than a typical client-vendor relationship. I’m hoping to build those same qualities within the Colts organization as we move into the next 50 years.

Halftime: Looking back in your time with the Colts, what is one of the biggest milestones for the corps you have witnessed?

MacFarlane: Twenty years ago, the corps made one of the biggest leaps in [Drum Corps International] history, going from 20th in 1992 to making a finalist position in 1993 for the first time. Even in that season, they were running behind the bat and made a big turn at the end for the 12th spot. It was a wonderful time in the corps history.

Halftime: How do you think this year’s program, “Field of Dreams,” showcases the corps’ last 50 years?

MacFarlane: The design of this show was made to embody the anniversary. When we hired Marc Sylvester as our program coordinator, and we talked about different ideas, one thing he didn’t want to do was a “happy birthday” show where we would go back through our history and grab a number of different pieces and put them together just because we’ve played them in the past.

Instead, we wanted to create a program that would, in his words, “only make sense for the Colts to do.” He set out to create a program that focused on [the Colts] history in time and place. The time is the late 50’s early 60’s, so the corps begins by singing “Can’t Help Falling In Love” by Elvis Presley … and then it goes through to a medley of songs that truly give you the period of time we really wanted to capture.

In the ballad he wanted to capture the place—Iowa. The design staff felt that there is no piece of music that embodies the heartland of Iowa more than the ballad from the “Field of Dreams” movie with the song “The Place Where Dreams Come True.” The “Field of Dreams” is just 30 miles outside of Dubuque, and the corps visited the site as they entered their spring training. They played through the ballad while standing on the baseball field, and they played the corps song. It was a wonderful afternoon.

Halftime: What do you hope the next 50 years bring for the Colts?

MacFarlane: I would like to see us continue to promote our mission “to use music and excellence to teach each other about success in life.” Whether or not using a vehicle called drum and bugle corps or any other vehicle, I hope the Colts will continue to be able to serve that mission by using music to teach leadership skills and to teach students how to push beyond what they ever thought was possible for themselves.

No matter what happens with drum corps, I still think we continue to use music, the pursuit of excellence and characteristics of determination and perseverance to teach students to be great human beings and to become wonderful leaders in our society. That’s really what it’s about.

About the Author

Lydia Ness graduated from Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., with a B.A. in journalism and integrated media and a minor in biblical studies. She performed in the Glassmen, the Bluecoats and The Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps as well as the Riverside Community College indoor percussion ensemble. Lydia works for Venture Expeditions, a not-for-profit that uses intense physical challenges such as biking across the country to raise awareness and funds for good causes. She plans to attend law school this fall at Chicago-Kent School of Law to focus on international human rights.

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