Gallery: Members of Caballeros community marching band perform Latin-themed routines
Marie Louise of West Orange spends most of her year cataloging books and answering questions in the hushed environ of a school library. Once the summer hits, however, she rocks out on football fields, performing with one of New Jersey’s loudest bands.
Louise doesn’t play heavy metal or pop-punk. She tosses sabres, spins flags and flips rifles in the color guard of the drum corps, Hawthorne Caballeros.
The group revels in the raw power of rhythm and brass. No woodwinds allowed.
Some 50 horn players, along with 28 percussionists, join forces to create stentorian sounds that make stadiums quake and crowds roar. They dare the mightiest marching bands to match their decibel level.
Louise’s job is to whirl poetically between goalposts, keeping pace with music that averages 170 beats per minute.
"When I’m running around the field, shouting and counting, you wouldn’t see me as a librarian," says Louise, 26. "It’s nice to have two totally different things going on."
Every summer for the past 65 years amateur musicians from New Jersey and beyond have been reinventing themselves as Caballeros. They swap business suits and work uniforms for satin shirts and sombreros, performing Latin-themed routines that fuse art and athletics. Members range in age from 15 to 50-something.
"It’s like you become a rock star on the weekend," says drum major, Chris Fontanelle, 47, an IT technician from Freehold. "After a performance, the crowd is standing up and you’re like, ‘Yeah, that’s for me.’ The standing ovations, you can’t get that at work."
The Caballeros (pronounced kab-uh-lair-ohz) is a community band with an international reputation. Founded at Hawthorne American Legion Post #199, the group has taken nine world titles and completed five undefeated seasons.
"In school, people say marching band is lame, but you take someone to drum corps and just the sound, the drum line, it gives you chills," says cymbal player, Shealyn Costello, 17, a student at Hawthorne High School and granddaughter of corps founder, Jim Costello.
"I brought my friends and they couldn’t take their eyes off of the field. They want to jump out of their seat," she says.
Among the 27 marching brigades that compete on the Drum Corps Associates (DCA) circuit, the Hawthorne ensemble is the only one built around a Latin aesthetic.
Horn line member Robert Doyle commutes seven hours each way from Ottawa just to jam as a Cab.
"The uniform, the style of music they play, the style of marching is unique," says Doyle, 52, a federal prosecutor who first saw the group when it visited Canada for exhibitions during the 1960s.
"There’s a mystique about this corps…My children told me there’s only one corps that matters and there’s only one corps that they’ll travel to see me perform in, the Caballeros," Doyle says.
For him, marching on a gridiron is a way to unwind after a tough week litigating cases involving terrorism and organized crime.
"When you’re on the field, you have to concentrate so much that your mind is off everything else," says Doyle, who carpools with three other Canadian Caballeros. "You don’t have one nanosecond to think about work. You have to think about where you’re going next and what you’re playing next."
The corps’ repertoire has included songs by Carlos Santana and Gloria Estefan. In 1990, their program was a medley of Latin-flavored tunes from "West Side Story" medley. In 2007, they played highlights from the opera "Carmen."
Mastering difficult music is a rush, says Blaise Castaldo, who marched in the horn line for 15 years before joining the support staff.
"I describe drum corps as ‘extreme marching band,’" says Castaldo, 57, a construction engineer from Montgomery, N.Y. "We try to pack as much punch into our program as we can to max it out in a very short period of time."
The summer season builds to a Labor Day crescendo: the DCA World Championships in Rochester, N.Y.
"This is a performing art even though it’s competitive like a sport," says Cabs president Frank Gerris, 69, of Hawthorne, a retired consultant and Prudential executive. "You have to communicate with the audience like anyone on a stage would."
Attendance is steady this year, says Cabs treasurer Richard Warga. Still, the recession has left many corps struggling. Cabs membership is $650 in annual dues, a price that’s actually at the lower end of the cost spectrum for the marching arts. Some competitive groups are gone, including the Caballeros’ rivals across the Hudson, the New York Skyliners.
"It’s tough," says Warga, 63, of Secaucus, a former horn player who sells decorative hardware by day. "It costs us over $200,000 a year to run the corps and our fundraising is way down. People ask me if I get paid to do this. It actually costs me money."
The name, Caballeros translates into "gentlemen" and the lockstep legacy began with a group of WWII veterans who marched in cadet uniforms. A year after their first parade, the corps adopted a Latin theme, adding a splash of salsa to marshal music and trading military attire for puffy shirts with bellbottom slacks. Founder, Jim Costello oversaw the transformation.
"(Jim) wanted to be different than the standard military uniforms and Sousa patriotic music," says Lou Storck, 67, of Hawthorne, a truck driver and Navy veteran who was mentored by Costello, aka Coz, in the color guard.
"When the Cabs started to hit the crowds with the Latin stuff, the flamencos, the people went nuts. They played the ‘I Love Lucy’ theme one year and rocked the place," Storck says.
Costello, who died 10 years ago at age 79, is regarded as a giant in the world of drum corps. An electrician by day with Italian roots, he led the Cabs for more than a half century.
"It’s awesome to be part of the legacy," says Shealyn Costello. "People call me ‘Coz.’ If my grandfather was here, he’d be proud."
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