Resilience has led the Skyliners Drum and Bugle Corps through a six-year hiatus, two relocations, and now the coronavirus, leading to its 75th anniversary season.
Jeff Crawford, corps director of the Skyliners Drum and Bugle Corps from Scranton, Pennsylvania, has been immersed in the drum corps world since birth. The great-nephew of Drum Corps International (DCI) Hall of Fame inductee Truman Crawford, Jeff Crawford attended his first drum corps show at just a month old and marched in three junior corps. In 2018 he became the director of the Skyliners all-age group, which competes with Drum Corps Associates (DCA).
Founded in 1945 with members from two American Legion groups, the Skyliners has overcome its fair share of obstacles, including a hiatus lasting from 2007 to 2013 and headquarter moves from New York to New Jersey to Pennsylvania. Now, the COVID-19 health pandemic has suspended the competitive seasons for DCI and DCA. But 2020 remains a special year for Skyliners’ members—their 75th anniversary season. Crawford and the Skyliners are still planning a celebration even amidst social distancing.
Halftime: What is your musical and marching background, and what are your origins with the Skyliners?
Crawford: I was kind of born into [drum corps]. My father marched in drum corps, so I attended my first drum and bugle corps show when I was like a month old. I got involved in marching when I was in high school and marched in drum corps for a couple of years. I marched in the Empire State Express, the Watkins Glen Squires, and the 27th Lancers. [I] took a little time away from the activity, had two daughters, and kept in touch as a spectator and a fan. Then my daughters got involved and started marching.
I joined the Skyliners staff when [the corps] reformed in 2014 in Pennsylvania. I was originally on the visual staff, but in 2018 I took over as the director for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Halftime: 2020 marks the Skyliners’ 75th anniversary season. Do you have any special celebrations planned, or has the coronavirus put them on hold?
Crawford: We had a really great show planned for this summer that was going to utilize iconic Skyliners’ pieces from the past. Because we’re not going to be having any competitions, we’re going to keep that show in production and plan on doing it in 2021.
Right now, we’re hoping for everybody to practice social distancing and stay safe and healthy. We’re waiting to see when we’re going to be able to get back together. When that time comes, we’re going to start working on our show and getting a head start for next season.
We did have a couple things in mind [for the 75th anniversary]. We have an alumni corps. We had some plans to have some get-togethers with them, some dual performances. We have plans for a Skyliners Banquet, a 75th anniversary celebration, which is scheduled for Nov. 14.
I have to believe that at some point, it will be safe to get together. When that time comes, we’re going to do whatever we can—maybe working on our show for next year, maybe some local parades, whatever we can find to do. Obviously, the safety and health of our membership and staff are top priority.
Halftime: What have been some of your proudest moments with the Skyliners?
Crawford: To have the Skyliners return to the field [in 2014 after the hiatus] was really awesome for us.
When I took over the corps as director in the spring of 2018, our membership numbers were seriously in jeopardy. It was questionable whether we’d be able to continue on. In order to move forward, you have to step back and reorganize. We returned to some of the simple beliefs that we have as an organization. We concentrated on membership experience. … [As a group, we] always find a way to fight through [adversity] and keep moving forward.
One of the things the Skyliners [organization has] always been known for is being accessible to everyone, being innovators in … diversity. What the Skyliners [organization is] doing right now is utilizing scholarships and fundraising opportunities. We have created an environment where we have financial support for pretty much anybody that wants to be involved.
Halftime: What advice do you have for other marching musicians?
Crawford: Drum corps provides you with an opportunity to invest a lot of time and effort, and it’s an activity that seems like 80% of the time you’re questioning your sanity, like: “Why would I put myself through this?”
It’s tough to march around a football field all summer long in the middle of the heat. The amount of dedication it takes isn’t an immediate gratification. … But if you’re willing to put in that sacrifice and that time, the benefits and the payoff are huge.