A note from new Hurcs director Greg Sember...
I am extremely humbled to be named the Executive Director of the Connecticut Hurricanes, our prestigious and historic drum corps, proud to call the Naugatuck Valley our home. This, for me, is a dream come true, and the moment is finally here. I look forward to working with my friends and colleagues in launching our organization into the future and in carrying on our traditions that have existed since 1932. Since our beginnings as the John H. Collins American Legion Post Fife Drum & Bugle Corps, our organization has seen many people come and go, and each carried with them their own unique stories. It is with this perspective in mind that I would like to share with you my story, in the hopes that you can better understand why this position means the world to me.
My story starts in 2005, with a show aptly titled “The Year it All Began.”
Tom Gabbianelli, then Director of the CT Hurricanes, walked into the band room at Ansonia High School, pulled me aside, and put a soprano in my hand. He asked me to play a few notes and I obliged.
“Do you think you can see yourself playing this with us?” he asked.
After that moment, my life would never be the same.
I never marched before. I didn’t even know where to begin. Maria Tangredi, my band director at the time (and now my peer and colleague with the Lyman Hall H.S. Marching Band), set up this opportunity to meet with Gabby, guided me in the right direction and since then, I’ve never looked back.
One of my first memories is John “Cupcakes” Curran pulling me off the field at my first rehearsal and teaching me how to march. I’m guessing they noticed quickly I had no clue what I was doing. When I look back on that year, I distinctly remember the way Cakes had to put the drill charts right up to his face so he can read them clearly. What a character among a myriad of characters that I’ve been lucky to meet since then. At the time, I felt like I was surrounded by a phenomenal group of people, both great and flawed. I felt like I was surrounded by a huge, dysfunctional, and unique family.
That year, for the first time in my life I felt truly accepted. I felt like I had a place. Danny Staffieri took me under his wing, just like he did with so many others, and showed me the ropes. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I met my lifelong friends that year. I will always look on 2005 as the beginning of my journey through the marching arts.
I left the Hurricanes in 2006, and took the lessons I learned with me to UConn. My very first experience of college was a trumpet sectional underneath the “Trumpet Tree” next to Mirror Lake. For the next four years, I had some of the best memories of my life in the UCMB and the Pep Band. I must say to my UConn family, especially to the Brothers of Kappa Kappa Psi, and to David Mills and Marvin McNeill, who provided me all the opportunities to become a leader: thank you from the bottom of my heart. You all saw me at my best and at my worst. Even when I hit rock bottom, living unemployed at “The House,” there were still some (you all know who you are) who supported me and helped me get back up on my feet and discover who I truly am. I do not see any of you as much as I would like, and I wish you all the best with your own journeys.
I returned to the Hurricanes in 2009. I remember that year very well, especially when we fell from second to fourth at DCA Finals. That will hands-down be the most challenging show I will ever march. That year taught me perseverance. That year taught me the Hurricanes never surrender. That the Hurricanes will always be underdogs. That we always seem to have to fight harder to gain respect. I was lucky to share the field that year with Paul Beaumont, Matt Steppe, and many others who are now spread across the DCA and DCI circuits. That moment when our score was announced at Finals Retreat will forever drive me to make the Hurricanes the best damn corps it can possibly be. I still want redemption to this day. But more importantly, I want to use the lessons we learned that year to teach all present and future Hurricanes what it means to have a “Walk Proud” mentality so they can persevere through any challenge life throws at them. To me, this is the true purpose of why we march drum corps, especially the Hurricanes: to learn what it feels like to struggle and to overcome and then to pass on those lessons to the next generation.
I remember 2013, when it seemed half our membership left. We struggled to fill holes all throughout the season and dropped from fourth to ninth in one year. However, 2013 was also the year that Maria Tangredi yet again guided me in the right direction and introduced me to Dean Dellavecchia, Band Director at Lyman Hall H.S. Dean then did something I will always be grateful for; he took a risk hiring me as Visual Caption Head.
I never taught how to march before. I didn’t even know where to begin.
One of my first memories is Dean interrupting me during a rehearsal when I was making a speech to the band members. I was loudly proclaiming to them, “We are here to win!” Dean then exclaimed, “NO!” and stopped me before I continued on. He then told the band, “Winning doesn’t matter. We are here to be excellent.” That small statement had a profound effect on me. My entire philosophy and perspective on everything began to change.
It all began to make sense. When I started my teaching career at Manchester H.S. in 2014, I realized I wasn’t just teaching Chemistry. I was also teaching the skills of being an adult. I was teaching how to be a good person with integrity and respect. I was teaching how to struggle and to overcome.
My Autumns with the Lyman Hall H.S. Marching Band I don’t think I can ever trade for anything else in the entire world. I am lucky to work with an amazing group of people that have impacted my adult life for years to come. I can never repay the opportunity that Dean and Maria gave to me. Together, we’ve built a band culture that centers around excellence, and it is exhilarating to witness how much the band continues to grow. Through the years with Lyman Hall, I began to realize that the words I choose to say have the most powerful impact on others’ lives. That simple statements or declarations can build a culture. It is truly a beautiful thing to overhear one of your students teaching the same lessons you once taught them.
The best moment so far with Lyman Hall H.S. was in 2017 when we watched the band perform a run-through a few days before New England Championships in the dark of night, in the ever-too-small Lyman Hall parking lot. At the end of the run, Dean said to the band, “I don’t care what happens at Championships anymore. That run-through you just did was our goal. You just performed for yourselves, and that’s all that truly matters.”
We ended up winning our class, but it didn’t even matter. We already achieved our goal on a Thursday night in a pitch-black parking lot.
The years since 2013 were a challenge for the Hurricanes. We seemed to slowly sink into obscurity. Our identity was challenged and we seemed to lose our way. We struggled through 2014 and 2015 but overcame and scraped by into finals. But then 2016 happened.
I remember 2016 as the backfield drum major, missing Finals for the first time in decades. It was easily the worst experience I ever had with the Hurricanes. Racked with debt, low membership, low morale, crumbling equipment, we truly did not know how we were going to survive going into 2017.
Then in 2017, we missed Finals yet again and placed dead last. That saturday night felt like the end. The struggle finally seemed to get the best of us.
But then something happened at the end of 2017 that I don’t believe anyone expected.
Our story starts on a Sunday morning in a hotel parking-lot in Rochester, NY. The front ensemble unloads the truck and assembles in a circle. The hornline, drumline, and guard array ourselves behind the pit in random formation. Smiles are on our faces. We’re ready to perform with reckless abandon. Drum Major Matt Piros stands up on a stepstool and overlooks the corps.
“Hurricanes... let’s rock!” he says.
After that moment, our corps would never be the same.