While the Santa Clara Vanguard celebrates its 50th anniversary, Executive Director Charles Frost looks to the organization’s future.
In 2016, Charles Frost took over as executive director of the Santa Clara (California) Vanguard (SCV) as the organization was planning for its 50th anniversary celebration in 2017. Frost has restructured and expanded the group while keeping the next 50 years in mind.
Halftime: What is your history with SCV?
Frost: I marched as a [trumpet player] in 2001 and 2003. I was tour admin in 2006 to 2007 [and] on brass staff in 2008. [I] got a call in 2013 to come be the tour director. I [then became] the corps manager [and corps director] and became full-time executive director in 2016.
I was in the print industry a long time, so I have a pretty decent sense of marketing, communication, [and] graphic design, which lent itself to being a good executive director.
Halftime: Since taking over as executive director, what have you done differently?
Frost: Myself, the staff, and the board actually revised the mission statement for the entire organization. I think in 2008, the mission statement said something to the effect of: “To be the marching leader within the Silicon Valley.”
The new mission statement is a lot broader: “To inspire communities and enrich lives by increasing opportunities for participation, education, and excellence in the performing arts.”
The drum corps activity is definitely our flagship, but why not have a jazz band, why not have an education program for local music students? Those are two big things I helped get off the ground since 2013.
As part of our reinvention, we changed our legal name [to] Vanguard Music and Performing Arts. The drum and bugle corps will always be the Santa Clara Vanguard.
Halftime: SCV recently performed in the Rose Parade. What was that like for you?
Frost: That was a huge milestone for us—the second time we’ve been in the Rose Parade. [We had] a mix of members from 2013 to 2016. We were the featured performer in the opening ceremony and the closing ceremony. On the route, we had a float break down in front of us. It just so happened that the drum corps stopped in front of the stands that most of the staff had tickets for. The drum corps turned 90 degrees and played a little concert tune to the stands.
Halftime: What are other ways you have celebrated SCV’s 50th anniversary?
Frost: In March, we had our birthday brunch. In the middle of opening weekend on June 24 was our 50th anniversary gala. We had a cool historic display at the gala, and it will be at DCI finals as well. We’ll have some photos, some of the original uniforms of the band, some “Phantom of the Opera” memorabilia, some “Les Mis” memorabilia.
The other huge thing is the 2017 alumni corps. There are performers from every decade, some founding members in there, some of the original staff members teaching. They just announced the name of the show: “Send in the Memories.” It is a best of Vanguard hits. They performed at DCI West at Stanford opening weekend and [will perform again] Friday night at DCI [championships].
Halftime: How has SCV survived while some other corps have folded?
Frost: You need to engage volunteers. We have some alumni that have consistently volunteered [for] decades. We have parents whose kids aged out in the ’90s, and they still volunteer. We have a lot of Vanguard alumni, friends, [and] parents who are still donors. When any of those people get within 10 feet of us, they see the passion that we have, and that hooks people in.
The parents started Bingo in the early ’70s. Bingo’s not as popular [anymore], but we keep people engaged. We’ll roll a marimba into the Bingo hall, and we’ll perform, or we’ll bring brass in, and they’ll play Christmas carols for the Bingoers.
Halftime: What are your future goals?
Frost: Right now, we’re running a capital campaign. Half of it is [for] renovations to the Vanguard facility in Santa Clara. We’re redoing the music room, so we can do more dance and music classes. The other part of the fundraising is to build a new food truck. One of the long-term goals is [to] partner with Second Harvest Food Bank and do some outreach to homeless people in the area, so they can come get hot meals.
Some of the goals we have are to reconnect with Santa Clara County and the San Francisco Bay Area [and] our alumni [and to create] strong bonds to the parents and volunteers. The goal is to create the best experience—you have the best educators, the best equipment, the best food, the best logistics, the best administration. Winning a gold medal becomes a byproduct.
Halftime: What advice do you have for other directors and musicians?
Frost: Surround yourself with people better than you. If you have a set of parents who are great at what they do, engage them. If you’re the administrator or executive director, [and] you’re running the brass line, stop doing that. Hire a brass teacher who’s better than you.
To the future performers of the Vanguard: Continue to perform at every opportunity. If you can be in a percussion ensemble at your high school, do it. If you can be in a dance company at your church, do it. If you can play Christmas carols with the local YMCA, go do it. Take every opportunity you can to perform. That’s how you build experience.