CHEEKTOWAGA – The Pine Hill Drum and Bugle Corps is the only – if not – the oldest fireman’s drum and bugle corps in New York State according to Drum Major John Stiegler. The affiliate group of the Pine Hill Hose Company celebrated their 90th anniversary over the weekend.
“I’ve been a member for 50 of those 90-years and there is a big, big history,” Mr. Stiegler said. “We had a lot of photographs at our birthday party and a lot of the people are gone – the people who taught me fifty years ago and the people who taught other people.”
The organization with its John Phillip Sousa style of music has been a staple in parades in Cheektowaga and across Western New York amassing a huge fanbase – evident by the spectator’s cheers as the drum corps marches down the street.
“I’ve been drum major for the corps for over ten years now and even with all the aches and pains that I have, when the music starts playing behind me – my wife calls it my miracle cure because the hairs will still stand up on the back of my neck when people applaud as we march through the judging area,” added Mr. Stiegler. “And when we play a concert after the parade the people come in to hear us because we’re different than everybody else.”
The organization consists of around thirty active members and a handful of inactive members who are unable to march because of age or disability but still play music with the corps after the parade.
Mr. Stiegler says the organization is starting to face a hard truth in its 90th year – the average age of the drum corps membership is around 70-years-old and it’s slowing down.
“There was a time when we were the younger members of the corps, and now we’re the senior members, and we don’t have the younger members to take over,” said Mr. Stiegler. “The younger people just don’t want to join and it’s that way with all kinds of organizations I belong to.”
Organizations that depend on volunteers like community fire departments and VFW posts are facing a diminished pool of willing volunteers. A handful of younger members have joined up over the last ten years but the additions are hardly enough to offset the core group of aging members.
“They’re missing out on the camaraderie. The drum corps is like a family, once you join the drum corps you become apart of the family. Some of our other members played for years in other places and came here because we’re the only active drum corps in Western New York,” said Mr. Stiegler.
At one point, the drum corps marched in 15 parades between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Mr. Stiegler says the organization has cut back on parades and they may have to pass on more parades if they can’t buck the trend.
“My hope for the next ten years is that we find some young people to take over to keep going. If not, I don’t know,” added Mr. Stiegler.
Anyone interested in joining the drum corps can reach out to Mr. Stiegler at 716-982-8316.
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