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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Mike Embrey the Music Man

By Barry Schrader.................................August 10, 2010

Dee Palmer is unquestionably the ‘music maker’ for DeKalb County, but Mike Embrey could be called the “music man.”
Unlike Professor Higgins in the Broadway hit “Music Man,” Embrey isn’t trying to sell instruments to kids, but rather provide first class musical entertainment to this part of northern Illinois. His company, Funme Events, is based in DeKalb, and he organizes shows of all types – Broadway revues, tattoos, concerts and parades, among other activities.
Embrey’s latest accomplishment was bringing back a national drum and bugle corps show with 11 corps participating in the week of events at the end of July. The national competition was held here for 25 years, and then it was wooed away to Kalamazoo, Mich., five years ago.
Embrey said this was just a sample of what the community could have here again each year – national drum corps competing with the related parade, concerts and practice events. But it will take a commitment on the part of the City of DeKalb and corporate sponsors.
“They have to show the National Drum Corps Association it is wanted and will be supported,” Embrey said.
This music man and I have something in common: we both spent our high school years as horn players in a school band, both have a love for drum and bugle corps and were involved in some musical groups in our earlier lives.

Concord Blue Devils B corps took
first place at DeKalb competition

Mike Embrey announcing the
drum corps field show

Besides my days as a horn player with Paul Buzzell and Donna Ewald at Genoa-Kingston High School, where we played under the direction of music teacher Roy Hubbell, I also served as Explorer Post adviser for a drum corps called the Tri-Valley Royalaires in California for a couple of years. It gave me a lifelong appreciation for the drum corps movement, and I attend their events whenever possible.
Embrey has a much more impressive background. Besides being a member of a drum corps during high school and college while he majored in music, he served during the Vietnam War era as a soprano bugler in the Air Force Academy drum and bugle corps. After that, his life has been pretty much all about music to this day.
Asked what it takes to organize a drum corps these days, Embrey said flatly “a quarter of a million dollars.” He recalls when starting out he (or his parents) had to come up with $250 a year to be a part of a corps. Now, kids need to raise $1,500 to participate. Then the parents must get involved in major fundraising to support the corps for six to nine weeks of travel nationwide each season, which involves big buses, equipment trucks and a chuckwagon. Uniforms and instrument purchases, plus the related food costs and instructor salaries, all add up to big bucks.
We sat next to a father from the Concord (Calif.) BlueDevils B Corps for the competition at the NIU’s Huskie Stadium and learned what a loyal following each corps has.
They will fly anywhere in the country to watch their kids perform and, of course, that means economic benefits for the communities that host the shows.
The DeKalb area gains something from the visitors spending time and money here, as well as the local businesses that provide food, diesel fuel and even instrument repairs for the groups while they are on the road.
I found out from Embrey what a rich drum corps history DeKalb County has. In 1920, after World War I, the returning veterans formed a drum corps through the American Legion that lasted all the way to World War II days. Going inactive during that war, it soon was resurrected by the returning vets through the Legion. They turned it over to the community in the early 1950s, and it became the DeKalb Barons, but only lasted a few years.
At that time, there were 25 active corps throughout Illinois, Embrey said. Those numbers have experienced a major decline, so there are only a handful left in the Midwest today. But the big ones still remain – the Madison Scouts, the Dubuque Colts, the Cavaliers and the Phantom Regiment, for example.
So the question remains: will DeKalb provide the resources to attract the national competition back here, and will we be able to see more shows like we did in July once again at the NIU stadium? I sure hope so.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115