An Interview with Paul Rowe
by Scooter Pirtle
Originally published October 10, 1992
Paul Rowe is one of the two mellophone players for Future Corps, a professional drum and bugle corps of Walt Disney World's EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida. Paul and his counterpart Pierre Beelendorf (an original member of the 14 member, ten year old ensemble) can rightfully claim to be professional mellophone bugle players.
A native Floridian, Paul started his brass career as a trumpet player at Lakeview Middle School in Sanford. He played trumpet through high school and was convinced by one of his marching band instructors to audition for the Florida-based Suncoast Sound in 1982. He marched soprano bugle with the corps for the next two years. In '83 Paul graduated high school and began studies at nearby Seminole Community College. Paul studied instrumental music under Dr. Bill Hinkle for two years, completing an Associate Arts degree.
After a one-year absence, he returned to Suncoast Sound in 1985, meeting his future wife, Roxanne (then a member of the colorguard). Paul skipped his "age out" season in '86, accepting instead a music scholarship to attend the University of Florida's School of Music. He studied trumpet under Gary Langford.
Paul had been aware of Future Corps for years through friends in the corps who marched with him in junior corps, but he became even more familiar with the corps one summer when he sold merchandise at EPCOT, within earshot of the corps' daily performances. Paul won a audition for a mellophone spot in Future Corps that same year and has been with them ever since.
Paul and Roxanne currently live near Orlando. The couple just celebrated their first year wedding anniversary.
I interviewed Paul by telephone on September 16, 1992.
Scooter Pirtle: So what was the audition like for Future Corps? Was it kind of a casual thing based on your experience, or was it a pretty strict audition?
PR: It was kind of casual for the most part…I was doing my senior internship in February of 1989 and I was right in the middle of my middle school internship. I would have later gone on and completed my high school band and then I would have received my Bachelor of Arts degree. So, this Future Corps audition comes up in February of that semester, six weeks into my internship, and that's when I auditioned. I left school early, eight weeks before completing my Bachelor's degree in Music Education, to do Future Corps. So, it was a really big decision…I was fighting back and forth with certain things, and Future Corps won…The people who came to the audition ranged from mellophone players, to trumpet players, to French horn players. Some were even old drum corps guys and the age varied up to fifty years old for the audition. [The auditioners] wanted to hear basics on the horn, how you get around on it - range, flexibility, articulations, and any prepared piece you had. Then it ended up being a "sight reading" audition. One was reading a couple of pieces just with certain select people from Future Corps. After they cut the group down to the few people they wanted to hear (which were pretty close to what they were looking for), they brought you back in and you performed with the group on specific pieces to see how you sounded within the group.
PR: The unique thing about the mellophone book I play is it's kind of like a "double soprano" spot. The mellophone player has to have some range, but he also has to be able to improvise within "chord changes". The first tune I sight read with the group was Las Hermanos, and it had "E7" changes going to "c sharp" going to "c" going to "B", back to "F sharp", back to "E" and they wanted to hear you play the changes. So that was kind of unique. The guys I auditioned for also knew my marching background. They also questioned the other people auditioning on their individualistic marching background.
SP: That sounds pretty tough. So, what's a typical day like for Future Corps?
PR: A typical day. Whew! We do seven performances a day. Usually we do shows at 10:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., 1:00 p.m. on the hour. Then lunch, and the next show starts at 2:40 p.m., 3:40 p.m., and 4:40 p.m. We all start heading out and getting ready for a "set" at about a quarter till whenever the set begins. Usually, before the first set at 10:00 a.m. it's just about a ten minute warm-up, then you're out doing the first set, unless you elect to get there earlier. The strange location we're at, which is behind the Canadian- Pavilion, requires us to pick up our costumes on one side of EPCOT and ride the bus all the way around World Showcase to the Canada Musician's Trailer. The buses can be running on time, or they can take up to a half hour before the set or even show up late to the set if they are running slow. So that let's you know what you're warm-up time is " going to be.
Future Corps performing at Walt Disney World
SP: Your counterpart, Pierre Beelendorf, was with the Blue Stars way back, so I guess there is a combination of styles between you two. He being from the 'old' school and you from the 'new' school. Is there much conflict or competition between you guys?
PR: No, there's not much competition between us. We are both from the same school, to tell you the truth. It's just that his drum corps stories start with "Well, back when I first did it, not when you kids did it!..." We get a lot of those funny comments from him and John Ulekowski, who is also an original member of Future Corps who marched with the Racine Kilties.
SP: Oh no!
PR: Yes. He always says "Back when you guys were two years old and I was marching my first drum corps show! ..." and those kind of things.
SP: Well, drum corps is still drum corps. You can add a valve or two to the horns, but it's still going to be a painful sport. In your opinion, how are "present day" mid-voice sections of junior corps different than those of the eighties, back when you marched?
PR: As far as altos or the mid-voice section is concerned, I think Garfield has standardized most of the types of sounds we hear. Robert Smith, brass arranger at Suncoast said that a good alto player is usually characterized by a well-rounded technical ability. That's pretty evident from the 1983 Garfield Cadets where you hear the alto's melodic line running up and down in the music.
Here's a link to a Paul Rowe solo with FutureCorps:
SP: You've spent a lot of time playing the mellophone bugle. Is there something that you've discovered now that you wish you would have known ten years ago?
PR: A lot of the things I play on the mellophone bugle, I relate to the way I play trumpet. I think for the trumpet players out there who play mellophone, a trumpet is more of a "legit" instrument. If I can do things on the trumpet great, that's just going to carry over to the mellophone. In fact, it makes the mellophone easier. That's probably the same for the French horn players. If they work on their basics and they can do certain flexibilities, articulations, and finger dexterities on their "legit" French horn, then it should be somewhat the same on bugle, too.
SP: There are more ways to play type of instrument. Obviously for you, the mellophone is more of a "trumpet-styled" instrument.
PR: Yes, also with a "fluegel" emphasis too, but the better my range on trumpet, the better it'll be on mellophone. On the Future Corps disc, there are some upper mellophone things that I'm sure some soprano lines couldn't play. The mellophone can do a little bit more than just be that "mid voice," It can go "upstairs", it can get a different timbre when necessary.
SP: I'm glad you guys were able to perform at finals, do you think this is going to become a tradition? Are we going to see you again next year?
PR: I wouldn't mind, I really liked it. Some of those logistics will have to be worked out with Disney. This year we were kind of "pulling teeth" to get some of those aspects and details worked out. You know, most of the guys in the group would love to do it, . we all had a great time. Though, I'd like us to play more for the drum corps kids. If there were some place where we could have set up and performed, not necessarily just for drum corps fans, but for the kids doing the work all summer. The Whitewater Championship night that we performed for was probably the best crowd response we received that whole week, since there were so many drum corps that were out front that actually got to hear us. It was a neat experience, plus with all the fireworks it made a good climax to the end of the show.
SP: Are the arrangements you play done by people in the group?
PR: Sometimes. There is also a guy who we've been using a lot lately, Chris Sharp. He's written quite a few selections. In fact, on the CD he arranged songs like The Jetson's Theme and Blues in the Night.
SP: Did he arrange the drum corps medley piece we heard at finals?
PR: No. In fact that was written by some of the guys in the group. John Castleman, David Smith, and John Campese wrote the medley that represented the original founding drum corps of DCI. DCI gave us a list of the 13 founding members and two selections from each, and we picked which music we wanted to do. So we had to go back in the archives of all the "old" drum corps music that each guy had in the group to find these albums, put them on tape and then write out the music.
SP: The talent level of drum corps brass players has greatly increased over the last two decades. Do you think the players are starting to "outplay" the instruments they're being given now?
PR: I think the players are getting better and that they do need some better equipment. The better players will be playing on "legit" instruments costing a thousand dollars or more and when they transfer over to the bugles, they're constantly comparing the two. Our soprano players are always saying "you know, if this thing played more like my Schilke or Yamaha, it would be easier for me to play this!"
SP: Cost constraints are the biggest problem voiced by the manufacturers I've talked to. They have all said that they could manufacture bugles that would rival any legitimate instrument that's being produced today, but they know that they have to keep the cost of the sopranos under $500, and the mellophones under $700, etc. or the drum corps won't be able to buy them. The manufacturers have taken the instruments 'light years' ahead of where they were ten years ago, but I'd like to see them go ahead and design them better. It's sad to see the brass portion of the activity being held back by their equipment. Are there any new Future Corps CDs on the horizon?
PR: The group is looking at a second CD as soon as we get several new selections out These selections could possibly be on the next CD: Strawberry Soup, Bird/and, Aquarius…
SP: Is that like the Robert Smith arrangement?
PR: It's more like the big band arrangement of it, but it does start out with the original chorale. Johnny Quest is a possibility, that is a lot of fun, also Bohemian Rhapsody. Chris Sharp has done all of these arrangements I'm telling you about. We've already started learning the Aquarius drill and within the next month we should also have Bohemian Rhapsody out performing at EPCOT Center.
SP: That must be a tough piece.
PR: Yes it is. It's even in a different key than Madison played, so some of the solos are different Instead of hearing the soprano player like we're all used to hearing it in Bohemian Rhapsody, the solo is actually a mellophone…You know, you mentioned the ego thing earlier, it's kind of tough. Out on set, a soprano can playa "high G" or a "high C" and "kiss it off" and the crowd goes crazy. Whereas a mellophone player does the same notes in the same register, "kisses it off" and there's only polite applause, it's not a soprano reaction.
SP: They say that high sopranos and drum solos are the things that generate the loud reactions. It must be some kind of "tribal instinct" or something, but I think mid-voice players have to be much more talented in order to be noticed. They have to be perfectionists or "technical animals" to get some kind of crowd response.
PR: Yes. It's funny, when I'm watching the crowd out there during the show and I play one of my licks that takes me up high, people will point and say "What's that?" Then the person next to them will tell them "Oh, it's just a French horn!" Then I look at Pierre and I say "We're just French horns?" That's when I'd like to put a "high G" lip trill all over them and get some of the respect we deserve.
SP: Oh yeah! How long do you see yourself in Future Corps?
PR: I don't see myself going anywhere else anytime soon. I like what I'm doing and I have fun every morning (in the one hundred degree heat)! I just really like the group.
Where are they now?
Paul Rowe and his wife Roxanne currently reside in North Carolina where Paul serves as the band director for the Apex High School Band. Paul also performs with local ensembles that include the Carolina Gold Drum and Bugle Corps.