Alumni Feature: John Kowal

John Kowal: 1979-1983, ’85 Percussion

John Kowal became a Bluecoat in 1979 and marched in Bluecoats and Phantom Regiment until 1986, his age-out year. John is presently living just outside of Houston Texas, working as a mechanical engineer for the NASA Johnson Space Center. He has one twelve year old son and two step-daughters ages 19 and 23.

Q: How has Bluecoats impacted your life?
A: One of the things I’ve noticed about different organizations or institutions is the difference in the impact the people have had on me. The camaraderie in drum and bugle corps, Bluecoats, is that thirty years later I can go back and compare people from then and now; the members look different but they are still the same. It’s as if I stopped marching last year. I’ve been to events like High School reunions. The people are different and it feels strange. In Bluecoats, bonds last a lifetime. I always strive to do my best; perfection is my goal. I got my feet wet in college and applied that attitude for college which led directly to my employment with NASA.

John Kowal (center)

Q: What are some of the Bluecoat’s core values or principles that have resonated with you in life?
A: I believe it is being able to work with people from different backgrounds and coming together as a team, as one. Working together day in and day out in drum corps, one gets tired of people and that gets on everyone’s nerves with the daily routine. Drum and bugle corps’ regimen demands pulling back together and performing with focus on the common goal.

At work, my specialty is thermal protection, i.e. reentry tiles. During the Columbia Space Shuttle incident, no one was worried about who was getting the attention, focus, blame, or personal gain. The direction was just finding out what the problem was and to solve the issue. It didn’t matter what role one played, whether it was taking the big lead or running down to copy papers. I had already acquired the ability to put personal issues aside and focus on the goal.”

I believe it is being able to work with people from different backgrounds and coming together as a team, as one.

Q: What is a unique gift or benefit the corps gave you that you apply in your life today?
A: The corps gave me the gift of playing music and that creates a good release. The experience of drumming at a young age with the drum corps clicked with me. I am not a good “set” drummer; I don’t believe it is the same. I find that other marching drummers have very analytic minds. One snare line that I marched in, four out of ten were engineering students, not music majors. The corps marching discipline requires mathematics and subdividing that makes the connection with engineering.

Q: What things do you enjoy now that was a result of Bluecoats?
A: Music. I play the piano; I also am in the process of learning to play the guitar. I hope to enjoy a return to rudimental drumming through RIB (Rhythm In Blue), the active post drum and bugle corps experience for Bluecoats Alumni. It is a big foundation of my life- just playing music. I’ll never forget the memories.

I feel a strong emotional connection to Bluecoats Alumni; I’ve always carried that connection in the background. I would reach out at times, but didn’t drum much. I would play on the drum pad, but it wasn’t the same as playing with people. I went back to Ohio this past fall to see some of “the guys,” and we started drumming and things just fell into place. It has always been a big part of my life, the sense of pride and commitment. There is a sense of togetherness, belonging to something. I’ve tried to communicate it to others not familiar with the activity, but just can’t explain it. I watched ‘Clash of the Corps’ and found it does not come across with clarity in how corps really is.  I never really left it behind. It will always be a part of me. Every once in a while it just “pops” out.

Q: What is your message to the present active members in the Bluecoats?
A: I suppose my answer would be try to enjoy every minute. It’s a big grind and the summers are grueling. I can imagine that now it is so much more demanding. I want you to know that what you are doing today makes us alumni so proud; you are always on the cutting edge, defining the game, making change and forcing others to follow.

My first year with the Bluecoats was the ’79 season. I practiced all year in the bass line. I did five seasons, ’79 to ’83 with the Bluecoats. We didn’t field in ’79 or ’83. Those lost years were like gold to me – limited and valuable. I always wondered how people could walk away from it. I had to march every year until my age-out year. In ’84 I took my shot and tried out for Phantom Regiment. I know some others went to Garfield, Bayonne, Crossmen after ‘83. In 1985 I had summer school that year, so I returned to march with the Bluecoats to finish the last half of the season out. It was such a fun year; I took it in and relaxed.

My overall drum corps experience taught me that nothing is too high to achieve, no dream too big; just go for it. I know it sounds so corny, but just ‘savor’ the moment. This past year you will remember for your entire life, this season, all of these people, you all will struggle tonight; however, this will make a big impact and always be a part of you.

Feature authored by Timothy Kuhne