The word “family” is often used in drum corps, but for the Collins siblings, the word “corps” is often used in their family. Paul, Lauren, and Susan, all of whom have been affiliated with the Jersey Surf in one way or the other over the past several seasons, have know drum corps almost as long as they have known each other.
Paul, the oldest of the trio and owner of The Brass Shop mobile instrument repair service, first experienced drum corps when he was only 8 years old. His grandmother brought him to his first show, inspiring him to pick up trombone in school that fall. Twelve years later, Paul started his own drum corps story as a baritone player for the Syracuse Brigadiers.
Paul marched for a total of 24 years between the Brigadiers, the Rochester Crusaders, and other various parade corps. In 1987, his first year off the performance field, Paul asked DCI Hall of Famer Gail Royer, long-time director of the Santa Clara Vanguard, if a mobile brass instrument repairman might be needed on tour. Paul recalls, “The answer was yes, and it took him one second to respond. In 1988, The Brass Shop was born.”
In the beginning, Paul would take vacation time to do short trips to assist the touring corps with their instrument repair and maintenance needs. Now retired, he spends up to six weeks on the road each summer. He says, “As I get older it gets a little more difficult but I just don’t want to stop. I’m only 68 and absolutely love what I do.”
After watching her brother march in the “shiny white satin ‘blouse’ of the Utica Royaleers,” oldest sister Lauren Ripley picked up the trumpet. Lauren marched six seasons with the Rochester Crusaders after they opened their horn line to girls. Years after retiring from the field, Lauren and her husband founded the Arizona Sun Drum Corps.
Just as Lauren’s grandmother had passed on to her grandchildren, Lauren and her husband instilled their passion for music in their two children. “Of course,” she says, “they wanted to march,” so they became a Colts [drum corps of Dubuque, IA] family for the next several years. Lauren’s “sewing career has woven in and out of every phase” of her life so she helped with the Colts’ uniforms until her children aged-out. After spending last season with the Jersey Surf, she is “now back in Arizona and helping the Academy with—what else—uniforms.”
Throughout the various corps and regional relocations of her family, Lauren’s sister, Susan Palmer, has remained a constant. Susan was also a trumpet player by nature but her volunteer career began early in high school. While Lauren and Paul marched in the Rochester Crusaders, Susan traveled each weekend to visit her siblings at rehearsal. During her visits, she became the babysitter for many of the corps members’ children. When Lauren needed assistance with the food staff for Arizona Sun, Susan volunteered her professional food service experience to serve as Chief Cook. The sisters made the move to Colts together, Susan again volunteering in the kitchen.
Susan’s son, Ian, has been attending DCI events since just about the time he was in the womb. When he was finally of age in 2011, he marched as a trumpet player with the New London, CT-based 7th Regiment Drum Corps. During finals week that year, Bob Jacobs, Director of the Jersey Surf, mentioned to Paul in passing that the corps would be expanding the scope of its touring operation and would be adding to its volunteer cooking crew the following season. Susan says that her brother volunteered her for the job and before she knew it, she and Ian were off to Jersey Surf rehearsals. The mother-and-son duo stayed with the Surf until 2014 before a well-deserved break after three seasons on the road with the corps.
Although life has moved the siblings apart and scattered them across the country, drum corps always brings them back together. Last summer the reunion happened on the Jersey Surf tour. When Surf needed their uniforms custom-tailored, Lauren hopped on tour to assist other volunteers as an in-house seamstress. She joined Susan, who served as head cook, and Paul, who provided repair services to Surf on the road and back at home prior to and following the tour.
The trio’s plans for 2015 are still up in the air, but we can be sure to see them somewhere on the road this summer… sharing their love of drum corps with another generation of performers.