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Grand Island High School rolls out welcome mat for weary musicians

Updated: 07/30/08 6:33 AM

Members of the Academy Drum and Bugle Corps of Tempe, Ariz., rehearse at Grand Island High School, where they found a place to stay Tuesday en route to performances elsewhere.

Not many places can accommodate a 150-member drum and bugle corps on short notice, but Grand Island High School proved up to the task.

Jack Gaylord Jr., who is organizing Drums Along the Waterfront, got a call Sunday from the Academy Drum and Bugle Corps of Tempe, Ariz., which was traveling from Charleston,

W. Va., to a show in Rome, N. Y. The group’s housing arrangements in Pittsburgh fell through, and the bus drivers could not legally make the entire trip to Rome in one day. So Chris Kotterman, the tour director, called Gaylord, who contacted Grand Island School Superintendent Robert W. Christmann on Monday.

“They’re just special. They really are polite and dedicated,” Christmann said. “When we got the call, in less than 24 hours’ notice, we worked it out for them, absolutely.”

A thankful corps — with four buses, two tractor-trailers and a recreational vehicle — pulled into Grand Island at about 7 a. m. Tuesday.

“Without the ability to stay here, we would have been up the proverbial creek,” Kotterman said.

Corps members had left Charleston at about 11 p. m. Monday. They slept on the bus, and then got about three hours to sleep in their sleeping bags on blow-up mattresses in the Grand Island gym before they had breakfast and headed to the athletic fields to rehearse.

“Three hours of floor time,” said Clayton Nelson, a three-year corps member. “That was awesome!”

Grabbing sleep on buses and gym floors between rehearsing and performing is “an acquired taste,” said the 20-year-old from Scottsdale, Ariz.

While exhausting, drum corps life instills discipline, concentration and musical knowledge.

“The discipline it teaches you is incredible,” said Nelson, who plays the tuba. “I don’t have anything to compare it with, but it’s not far off the military.”

The corps will play today in Rome; Thursday in Lawrence, Mass.; and Friday in Allentown, Pa. Saturday, the group will return to Grand Island to rehearse for Drums Along the Waterfront at 6:30 p. m. Sunday in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park. Monday, it will move on to Toledo, Ohio.

Around the community, other schools — including Gowanda, Medina, Eden, Lancaster, Forestville, North Collins, Niagara Wheatfield and Erie Community College — will accommodate drum and bugle corps groups this weekend.

Christmann recommends the Sunday show.

“It’s certainly worthwhile. It’s exciting,” he said. “Once you see it, it’s hard to forget it.”