Crown Drill Designer Shares Common Bond with Creative Team Members
Drill designer Leon May shares a common bond with Crown creative and instructional team members Michael Klesch, Matt Harloff, and Michael Townsend: all four have worked together since 2003, building Crown into a top World Class Drum Corps.
While one of his proudest moments with Crown came in 2013, as the corps won its first DCI World Championship, working together with this team to bring Crown back into DCI's Top Twelve was an important accomplishment! “In 2003 making finals was very satisfying,” said Leon. “It’s what we set out to do.”
How He Began with Crown
Leon joined the Crown creative team after spending four years designing drill for corps such as the Crossmen, Phantom Regiment, and Spirit of JSU. “In the late fall of 2002 I found out that Crown Music Director and Arranger, Michael Klesch, was joining the Crown team along with guard designers and instructors, Rosie Queen and Michael Townsend,” said Leon. “Crown Executive Director Jim Coates called me, and I decided to take the plunge.”
Leon had worked with Michael at Phantom Regiment and the Crossmen and was eager to join with him again to help develop Crown into a top 12 drum corps. Coates had been director of the Crossmen when Leon was the drill writer.
Leon’s relationship with Michael Klesch dates back to 1988, when he was a soprano player with the Garfield Cadets and Michael was the brass caption head and arranger. Leon marched with The Cadets from 1988 through 1990 and then joined the visual team in 1991 until 1995, taking over as Visual Caption Head from 1996 through 1997.
Inspired to Write Drill
As a marching member of The Cadets, he learned from DCI Hall of Fame drill designers George Zingali and Marc Sylvester. The last drill Zingali ever wrote for The Cadets was in 1988 and Sylvester took over in 1989.
Zingali is widely considered to be one of the revolutionaries in drill design, and Leon was inspired by his work, saying that he changed the way drill was written and, “made drill design about art. George really brought the artistry and musicality to drill design.”
“I learned how to chart and clean drill and a lot about design from Marc Sylvester," said Leon. "I consider Marc to be a mentor to this day."
Also honing the craft of drill writing in the 1990s by labeling Marc’s drill was current Cadets drill designer, Jeff Sacktig. He and Leon marched together with The Cadets and were later on staff together. “Jeff and I were great friends when we marched together and are still to this day,” said Leon. “We used to go on tour together all summer long in the years we taught the corps. In 1995, Jeff started writing the drill and we taught together through 1997.”
Why Drum Corps?
Leon first learned about drum corps while in high school in Yorktown, IN from Band Director Mickey Stisher. “My high school band would go to a drum corps show every summer in Bloomington, IN,” remembers Leon. “Mr. Stisher would play drum corps tapes during supervised study period after band class. The 1983-87 PBS DCI finals broadcast videos were viewed daily after school during my high school years.”
Not only did Leon play in the high school marching band, he was also in the winter guard. In 1992, he marched in the Escapade Winterguard out of Dayton, OH under the direction of former Cavaliers drill designer and DCI Hall of Fame member, Michael Gaines, with current Crown Program Coordinator Keith Potter, as well as guard instructor Rosie Queen. The three of them also taught the guard through 1995. Leon went on to teach indoor colorguards and high school bands with Keith throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
Over the years, Leon has been constantly working to improve his ability to communicate ideas visually. “I like to gather inspiration from things I see in everyday life, as well as musicals, operas, ballet, architecture, music, artwork, and fashion,” said Leon. “While designing for Crown, we are always trying to find new looks, textures, and visual devices to take us through our productions.”
That has never been truer than in the 2012 and 2013 Crown shows when Leon designed two signature drill moves that incorporated rotating three-dimensional images. In 2012, the image was a cube, patterned after the cubes that were spun during the show. In 2013, it was the image of a prism dispersing a beam of light into the color spectrum.
The Future in Design
Crown fans can expect new and unique visual designs throughout the coming years. “The greatest thing about being able to design for Crown is that design-wise we are a very ‘chameleon-like’ corps,” said Leon. “From year to year, we can really change what we look like and how we go about the design.”
In addition to writing the drill for Carolina Crown, Leon designs drill for several champion high school marching bands from around the country including Broken Arrow from Oklahoma, Harrison from Georgia, William Mason from Ohio, and James Bowie from Texas. He currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife Beth.