In the early 1960’s a young music teacher ventured away from the cornfields of Iowa, making his way to the west coast and his new home in the sunny state of California. This young Iowa teacher had already accumulated a vast background judging VFW and AL Drum Corps shows throughout the nation, and had taught brass to a small drum corps back in a nearby town - the Gowrie Gauchos drum and bugle corps. As he arrived in California he longed to get back to teaching music, and introducing drum corps music to young kids. In 1965 he started working with a small drum corps called the Sunnyvale Sparks Drum and Bugle corps, teaching brass and arranging the corps music. Many of the kids were from the local middle schools where he taught music. The drum corps was small, with only 18 horns, and geared mainly as a parade corps that participated throughout Northern California. There were even times he would dress up and be the Drum Major for the corps at parades since they needed each member playing an instrument or drum.
Over time the corps grew and improved in quality as they started pulling in better skilled musicians from the college level, mainly from the local San Jose State Marching Band program. As the corps blossomed so too did this young music teacher from Iowa. The potential of this small corps continued to grow and now he wanted his young kids to see higher caliber drum corps from other regions so the kids could see what better class drum corps were all about.
At that time, the Sparks organization was comprised of a drum and bugle corps, a majorette group, and a drum and bell corps. As the caliber of the drum and bugle corps element of the Sparks continued to blossom and grow, the Sparks management was content to continue hosting their organization, but their focus remained on the majorette group and drum and bell corps. Continuing disagreement over the direction of the various elements of the Sparks organization eventually led to the drum and bugle corps portion breaking away. On March 6, 1967, a new drum and bugle corps was born. The first order of business at the first meeting of the members was selecting a name for this new drum corps. As members and parents started putting names up on a chalk board, that young school teacher whittled away at the list, finally narrowing it down to three names – The Cardinals, The Spartans, and The Vanguard. The group voted and in the end the name Vanguard was selected. The teacher didn’t want the name confused with any other drum corps named Vanguard, so he insisted the city be a part of the official name – The Santa Clara Vanguard.
That young music teacher from Iowa was Gail “GR” Royer. Gail, of course, became the corps’ first Director, and the driving force behind the development of a legendary organization benefitting the young people he so loved. Under his tenure Santa Clara Vanguard went on to win an American Legion National Championship (1970), a VFW National Championship (1971), and five DCI Championships (1973, 1974, 1978, 1981, and 1989).
Gail Royer's legacy in drum corps is second to none and his contribution are ever lasting even long after his passing away. Today in drum corps you say the name Gail Royer and faces light up and then a stories comes out about a fond memory of a very special person. Everything from “I owe him so much for introducing me to drum corps” to “Gail Royer rubbed my belly for good luck when I was pregnant”. Gail was a special man who dedicated his life to drum corps and helped establish what drum corps is today. Gail started in drum corps as a simple VFW/AL horn judge and branched out as the horn instructor for the Gouchos of Gowrie, Iowa and later moved to Sunnyvale California where he started working with a small drum and bugle corps called the Sparks. The Sparks Drum & Bugle Corps later went on to become the Santa Clara Vanguard with Gail Royer as its first director. As the director and horn instructor/music arranger of the Santa Clara Vanguard, Gail Royer took an unknown drum corps from California and went on to become AL National Champions (1970), VFW National Champions (1971) as well as DCI Champions (1973, 1974, 1978, 1981, 1989). Gail along with other notable directors went on to create to what is today Drum Corps International. From his humble beginning as a horn judge to being one of the drum corps best ambassadors, Gail Royer always kept his focused on his kids and how best to improve the sport of drum corps.
In March of 1967, Gail Royer, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based elementary school music teacher, was named director of a new drum corps that spun off from the Sunnyvale Sparks, another local drum corps. One week later that corps, named the Santa Clara Vanguard, would win its first parade (San Francisco Saint. Patricks Day Parade), and that corps would evolve into the single-most influential drum corps of the 1970s.
Royer was one of the charter members of the DCI board of directors, which formed in 1972, and went on to become one of DCI’s first board of directors chairmen.
In 1973, Royer’s corps was defeated just once -- the Troopers bested them at an early season contest. That season was capped by the corps’ first World Championship victory.
Royer’s contribution to the drum corps era can be measured by the creativity he sparked within DCI. Under his leadership, the Santa Clara Vanguard pushed the boundaries of the music and visual captions. Royer wrote the corps brass book himself, while DCI Hall of Famer Fred Sanford composed the percussion book and fellow Hall of Famer Pete Emmons wrote the drill.
“Gail’s major contribution to the drum corps activity was that he heard the sound of drum corps differently than everyone else,” said Mike Moxley, former director of the Blue Devils. Moxley was a 4th-grade clarinet and oboe player when he met Royer, who directed Moxley’s school band.
Royer’s influence on drum corps can also be measured by the support staff he continually hired to lead the corps. His instructional staff reads like a who’s who of the DCI Hall of Fame: Gary Czapinski, Fred Sanford, Pete Emmons, Ralph Hardimon and Wayne Downey. “He got the right people in there, and let them do what they did best,” said DCI Hall of Famer Gene Monterastelli.
Prior to the formation of DCI, under Royer’s leadership, the Santa Clara Vanguard were the 1970 American Legion National Champions, and were the 1971 VFW National Champions. The Santa Clara Vanguard then placed first at DCI World Championships in 1973, 1974, 1978, 1981 and 1989. The Santa Clara Vanguard never placed lower than third in first eight World Championship appearances.
Royer lead the Vanguard until his retirement in 1992. He passed away in 1993.