Drum Corps Associates has a new—yet familiar—man in charge. As assistant president for the past six years, Allen Buell was the obvious person to take over when former president Gil Silva retired last year. After six months at the helm, Buell is continuing many of Silva’s initiatives as well as paving a new path for the all-age organization.
For the past six months, Allen Buell has held the position of Drum Corps Associates (DCA) president. With many years as vice president under his belt, Buell has kept himself busy in continuing the work started by former president Gil Silva during his 12+ years of leadership.
Halftime: What are your educational and musical backgrounds?
Buell: I was educated at Holley (New York) High. I then took courses afterwards at [the University of] Rochester as well as at [the State University of New York] at Brockport and have been employed for 33 years at the George Eastman Museum in Rochester.
I was extremely involved in WGI with the Holley color guard. Then in the mid ’80s, I discovered drum corps … and marched with the [Rochester] Crusaders from the late ’80s through early ’90s.
I then marched with the Empire Statesmen for many years. Under Vince Bruni, [I got] involved in the administrative duties for them. I was with Vince when he brought the Statesmen to Rochester in 1996. Very sadly after he passed in 2003, I took over the drum corps with his son, David. I ran the Statesmen with him from 2003 ’till 2011.
In those late 2000s, I was really pursued by the DCA administrative team. It was a hard decision to make, but it felt like the obvious next step for me as a leader. I was elected as vice president and worked under Gil Silva for six years.
Halftime: What are DCA’s key benefits?
Buell: What we offer, in terms of being different, is that it’s something you can do with your family on the field together; it’s an all-age activity that never ends. Or you have someone in [his] 50s who might be a lawyer … [who] just wants to do this on the weekends. What I also love is that we can be sort of a steppingstone that helps young kids. We are totally fine with being a preparation point for them to learn about drum corps, and then when they feel ready, they fulfill their dream and join a [junior] corps [and] then they age out, but then they have the memory of DCA giving them their start, and they come back!
When you age out in DCI [Drum Corps International], it’s always a sad moment when you’re at that final, and you think, “Gosh, this is my last show.”
It doesn’t have to be your last show; it can just be the last of a specific career, and you can continue to perform and play again with DCA.
Halftime: What improvements in DCA have you made these past six months?
Buell: We want to continue what Gil opened the doors for. He opened a lot of friendly relationships with DCI and WGI, and I am moving full speed ahead with what he started. Dan Acheson and I are working together on issues that both our organizations face. It’s a new world out there with music rights. We are working hard to make sure we do things correctly. We both have the same issues, like funding and travel through the season or how will the income source be steady.
Same with WGI; they’re their own monster, they’re huge, but we still work closely with them, and we want to keep that going.
Other than that, we’re strengthening our calendar because a lot of shows just unfortunately haven’t happened over the last few years. I’m really working with certain sponsors to make that happen.
Halftime: What are your long-term goals?
Buell: I think one of my biggest challenges is really just keeping the activity alive. Attendance has been a struggle for everyone. WGI is booming lately, and DCI has had a bit of struggle as well though they are picking up. Mainly we are just reaching out to different cities and trying to get new fans.
I’m also doing sales blitzes with our team on the Canadian border. Our championship is in Rochester and that leaves Canada an hour down the road. There are a lot of people there who remember [corps], and we want to bring them back. There are fantastic corps in Canada, and not only do they have their history, but we also want to get them more involved and allow them to get a more competitive edge back to their field as well.
There’s nothing concrete at the moment, but my big vision would be to have a sort of bands across the country type of show, a night that showcases DCI and DCA together that hopefully could be annual. It would be awesome to get the top five bands from each circuit in the middle of July and just have a big fun evening together, like a junior/senior showdown. That’s just a dream I’d like to get off the ground and running.
Halftime: How do you deal with the same corps winning consecutively?
Buell: That’s something that comes up frequently. For example, the Reading Buccaneers are a powerhouse. Their group is a very well-oiled machine; they have a system that works, and you know, God bless ’em. If people get annoyed, I just tell them to look at that as a positive for our organization as a whole. Why would you want to see something successful be shot down?
If anything, make the goal for your corps to beat them. Encouraging competition is what I want.
Halftime: Advice for directors?
Buell: When you’re the leader, sometimes you just have to be the leader and put your foot down, take control, and give the corps direction. Yes, you always want to have fun, but you can’t always be the friend; sometimes you have to be the leader. There’s a time for each. You have to understand your direction as well as understand your position.
Halftime: Advice for students?
Buell: Enjoy the ride. Drum and bugle corps is the most unique thing in the world. You never know where it’s going to take you.