Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps

Placing 9th in Drum Corps International World Championships and beating The Cavaliers in a show for the first time in more than 10 years, The Madison Scouts have made a major breakthrough in its corps history. Chris Komnick, executive director, tells us how.

Photo by Ken Martinson/

Chris Komnick, executive director of the Madison Scouts and this year’s Dr. Bernard Baggs Leadership Award winner (Director of the Year), has been working on the Scouts comeback for several years—assuming the top role in 2008 and a board position for several years prior. He was a Scouts mellophone player in 1984 and 1985 as well as in the 2006 Alumni Reunion Project. After a career in high-tech startups, Komnick devotes his full attention to this position and has agreed to an additional five-year contract.

Halftime: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What does your job title entail?

Komnick: When I performed in the Alumni Project, my love for drum corps was rekindled, and it was a good time in my life to give back to the organization that did so much for me personally.

As executive director, I am responsible for all matters in regards to the Scouts organization. This includes financial viability, brand development, programming, instructional team, membership, recruiting and vendor relationship.

Halftime: Next year is the Madison Scouts’ 75th anniversary. How did the Madison Scouts come to be a corps?

Komnick: Started in 1938 as a Boy Scouts drum corps in the Madison, Wis., area, the Scouts have evolved into one of the most recognized drum corps throughout the world and now has a membership that stretches across the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia. Because of our Boy Scouts roots, the corps remains one of two remaining all-male entities. Since the formation of Drum Corps International, the Scouts have won two World Championships and have been a DCI Finalist 37 times.

Halftime: Describe how the Madison Scouts climbed back to the top 12.

Komnick: After the 2006 season, the Scouts experienced some internal and financial challenges that resulted in a completely new management and instructional team going into 2007.

Quite honestly, we’re lucky we were even able to successfully complete the season that year. No doubt we faced some major challenges, and the competitive results reflected that as we finished the season in 15th place. We tweaked the instructional team in 2008 and found ourselves back in finals in 12th place, but 2009 continued to expose both instructional methodology issues and programmatic problems that resulted in the corps finishing in 15th place yet again.

After the 2009 season, I opted to make a major overhaul to our operations, both on the administrative side and with our instructional staff. I reached out to alumnus James Mason [Star of Indiana, “Blast!”] and convinced him to serve as the Scouts’ artistic director. With some smart programming choices, we were able to put the corps back on the right track and finished in 10th place in 2010. In 2011 and 2012, we continued to improve the capabilities of the corps while asking them to perform even more demanding and sophisticated programs. All the while, we were careful to assure that we respected and preserved the brand qualities of the Madison Scouts by delivering high-energy, entertaining and accessible shows that got fans on their feet night after night. …

Today’s drum corps activity has become a very sophisticated business, and you need to approach it as such if you want to achieve success at it.

Halftime: So did your years in the corporate world help you with the Scouts turnaround?

Komnick: My business background has been invaluable in running the Madison Scouts. Whether a non-profit or for-profit organization, the underlying principles are still the same. The Madison Scouts are a brand, and we produce a product (an on-field production) and a service (a member experience). It’s important that we are diligent to the business concerns of our organization to assure that we can stay viable and adjust to changing dynamics of the marketplace.

Halftime: Tell us about the shows from the past few years.

Komnick: 2010, Untitled—This was the first show designed by James Mason, and we decided to get back to our roots and restore our brand. The show was very much within the capabilities of the members, and it delighted fans. Mission accomplished; the corps was well-received and finished in 10th place that year.

2011, New York Morning—This show was a dedication to the people involved in the event of Sept. 11, 2001 … something that was very personal to James Mason and the members of “Blast!” The show introduced Robert W. Smith as our new brass arranger. The show demand was increased quite a bit that season, and the membership responded very well. The closing number, “Empire State of Mind,” became an incredible fan favorite and was greeted with standing ovations night after night.

2012, Reframed—This past year’s show took several more steps forward in design sophistication with an incredible job by Robert Smith layering iconic Madison moments (“Malaga,” “The Way We Were,” “Malaguena”) into “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The corps’ visual and percussion programs took major steps forward, and the brass section continued to grow in its maturity. The final minute of the show featured a full-corps rotating gate and again had the fans on their feet night after night.

Halftime: What are your thoughts on being named as this year’s Dr. Bernard Baggs Leadership Award recipient?

Komnick: I am honored to have been selected for the Director of the Year award by my fellow directors in the activity. But I have a very good team around me, and I think this award is more of a reflection of the successes of the whole organization than any one individual.

Halftime: Would you also comment on Sean Phelan receiving the Jim Jones Leadership Award as drum major of the year?

Komnick: Sean is the quintessential example of a Madison Scout. A humble leader, he represents all the characteristics we try to develop in all our members. He’s a gentleman, a scholar, a musician, a performer, a leader and a trusted friend to many. One aspect of our program at the Madison Scouts is to provide opportunities for our members to develop and hone various life skills. Sean is a great example of that work, and his selection is a wonderful acknowledgement of his success.

Halftime: What is your future plan for the Madison Scouts?

Komnick: The Scouts will continue to program and develop exciting shows for our fans, and we will continue to develop the character of the young men who participate in the corps. We’ve been doing it for 75 years, and we expect to continue that for at least another 75.

About the Author

Katie Finlon is a journalism major at Northern Illinois University (NIU). She has participated in color guard within NIU’s Huskie Marching Band and has also marched snare in its drum line. During her time at NIU, she has been awarded “Rookie of the Year” for guard and “Most Improved Member” for drum line. Katie is also a freelance entertainment writer for NIU’s newspaper, the “Northern Star.”

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