Home News Local news Youngsters Savoring the Island's Latest 'Flava'

Youngsters Savoring the Island's Latest 'Flava'


July 15, 2005 – Kids in St. Croix are excited about a new program that demands strict discipline, long hours in the blazing hot sun, and intense concentration. In return,the V.I. Flava Drum and Bugle Corps gives them pride of learning a new skill, while enhancing their musical and artistic talent.
Only in its third week of existence, the drum and bugle corps is getting bigger every day.
"Each day we meet we have new members," said founding member and St. Croix program director, Melody Rames. "The parents and members spread the word about the program, and the kids just keep coming."
The corps began on June 30 with 18 youngsters. "On Thursday, we got 9 new members." Rames said. "That's the way it is, we get at least five new member every time we meet. Now we are up to 44 members."
Flava accepts students from ages 14 to 21, with or without former musical training.
An intensive training took place the first two weeks with the youngsters practicing drill and rudimentary brass, percussion and flag-twirling. The practices were led by instructors from New York City, who have more than 100 years combined experience in drum and bugle corps.
Hershel Vaughn is the lead instructor who teaches precision marching and percussion. Harry Johnson led the brass horns instruction, while Iymanni Daniels teaches flag twirling and color guard, and Arlene Williams teaches dance, body alignment, breathing techniques and strength training.
The four will return to St. Croix on July 30 to do another week of intensive training. In the meantime, Loren Hughes, the lead local instructor, oversees the practices, which are held at the St. Croix Campus of the University of the Virgin Islands.
The program has been a labor of love that took over a year and a half to materialize. Elmo James, the other founding member and executive director of the organization, said, "It's been a long hard road, but the focus was on what this program would do for the kids."
James — the son of Thelma Charles of Estate Strawberry and the brother of former basketball star Ronald "Ranche" Charles, whom the St. Croix Central High gym is named after — said he "grew up in the corps."
"I loved it, I gained lifelong friendships and traveled all over the states with the corps," James said. "It kept me off the streets and gave me skills that I could not get anywhere else."
James, who lives in Chattanooga Tenn., said he was inspired to start a drum and bugle corps in St. Croix when he saw a marching band from the St. Thomas/St. John district perform at the St. Croix Festival Parade in 2003.
"When I saw the marching band, I said, 'Why doesn't St. Croix have one of those?'" He enlisted the help of Rames, and together they applied for a grant from the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Program. It took the pair a year and a half to get the grant for the pilot program. The grant is administered by the St. Croix Foundation.
"We are going to build the corps up to 60 members," James said. That is the amount of members necessary to enter the Division-III section of the national drum and bugle corps.
James has been working with the Tennessee-based Statesmen Drum and Bugle Corps for 15 years. "The board of directors of the Statesmen have adopted Flava and is providing the fledgling organization with technical assistance."
Hughes is a veteran drum corps member who traveled all over the world with the Florida A&M marching band. "The movie 'Drumline' was based on the style of marching we invented," Hughes said.
Hughes, who was first introduced to music at age 2, said St. Croix youth are disadvantaged when they go to college because they didn’t participate in a marching band. "I was voted the number one musician in the Virgin Islands from ninth through 12th grade," Hughes said.
The 1993 Central High graduate said his musical skill was tested at the college level. "I went from number one to last place. The instructors asked me what competitions did I participate in and what was the name of my corps. I didn't have an answer." Hughes eventually rose to the top position in the A&M corps.
Through the grant, Flava purchased more than $9,000 in musical equipment and accessories, while additional musical instruments are leased from the Tennessee organization. The equipment was shipped to St. Croix in time for the first rehearsals.
"Our plan is to purchase at least another $10,000 in musical equipment for Flava," James said. "The equipment will belong to the corps members as long as they are in the group. They can take the instruments and color guard equipment home so they can practice in their spare time."
The organizers say the involvement of parents is a key factor to the success of the project. "We've already formed a parents association," James said. "They will assist in choosing the color scheme for the group and help make the uniforms and flags."
The group will make its debut at the St. Croix Festival Parade in 2006. "We are going to keep practicing, and hopefully the group will be ready at least by 2007 to be a part of the Drum Corps International summer competition tour."
For more information about V.I. Flava Drum and Bugle Corps, call (340) 690-1741 or (340) 643-0494.
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