Pyro Lugo-Allen’s introduction to drum corps came the old-fashioned way — snail mail.
While a member and drum major of a nationally-prominent Lawrence Central High School in Indiana during the early 2000s, Lugo-Allen had a pen pal; that pen pal was an active member of The Cavaliers, the activity’s competitive stalwart of the era.
“I met another drum major at a Bands of America event, Mitch Birnbaum,” Lugo-Allen said. “We kept in touch, and he ended up joining The Cavaliers. And for whatever reason, we just wrote physical letters back and forth that summer of 2001.”
Lugo-Allen loved everything they knew about drum corps, and was hooked on the activity upon first seeing it live and in-person at an early-2001 Cavaliers rehearsal in Carmel, Indiana.
“Watching them rehearse was way different than watching, like, a PBS broadcast on TV, which had been the only other place that I had seen drum corps,” they said. “That was entertaining, but seeing it live, you see the precision.”
“I remember distinctively, that the rifle line threw tosses inside the corps — very close to the corps — they were all going up, and they were all the same height, and they matched,” they continued. “And I was just like, ‘Oh, my Lord, that is superhuman. How are they doing that?’”
All of those early connections created a noticeable ripple.
That ripple first led to an audition at The Cavaliers. Lugo-Allen went on to perform with the Rosemont, Illinois corps’ color guard from 2002 to 2005, before serving as drum major in 2006.
For Lugo-Allen, there was an intense passion for the activity from day one.
“Once I made the corps, I stopped caring about a lot of other stuff,” they said. “It was like, ‘Woah, drum corps is awesome.’ My life really made a shift toward drum corps and diving fully into that. And once I was in, I was hooked — I think like most kids are.”
But that was just the beginning; the waves of Lugo-Allen’s passion for marching music have since swept through two decades of instruction, design, and personal growth, all of the above coming with The Cavaliers.
While The Cavaliers provided a litany of positive and formative experiences as a performer and professional, Lugo-Allen’s drum corps career took a sharp yet exciting turn to a new organization in the fall of 2022, when they accepted the role of artistic director with Blue Knights.
And according to Lugo-Allen, the new opportunity came at the right time.
“I think just having a fresh start is number one,” Lugo-Allen said. “Just a fresh start can be important in anything — move to a new city, get a new perspective, go to a new coffee shop, take a different route to work — whatever it's going to be, just doing something and changing something, it's going to make a drastic impact. I think certainly that has been the case here.”
The Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps are excited to announce Pyro Lugo-Allen as our new Artistic Director! Read More about them here--> tinyurl.com/BKArtisticCreativeDirectorPosted by Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps on Tuesday, September 6, 2022
In the early months of their new role, it’s been clear to Lugo-Allen that their pairing with Blue Knights — in the sense of creative ideals, styles of workflow and personal values — is a match made in heaven.
“I feel super, super nurtured. I feel super seen,” Lugo-Allen said. “I feel like the Blue Knights have worked to create a space like that, long before my being involved in the organization. I'm just stepping into it. It feels great.”
Being able to leave creative fingerprints on a new organization has been a positive experience for Lugo-Allen, but the ripples of their career and work don’t start and end on the football field.
As a non-binary person of color in the notable role of artistic director — a competitive position to find and hold at any drum corps organization — Lugo-Allen serves as a shining example of something they described as paramount to the activity’s positive evolution: representation.
In discussing their perspective on the importance of representation, Lugo-Allen described their first experience visiting a doctor’s office after moving to Atlanta — a city which, Lugo-Allen noted, is comprised of approximately 50 percent Black individuals.
“I saw my first fully-staffed doctor's office of all Black people,” they said. “And what that tells me immediately is that, ‘Wow, I can do anything at any level. There's a place for me there.’”
“If some kid right now sees his Black band director, and he's a young Black man, he may think that that's a possibility for him,” Lugo-Allen added. “I think that's more important than having any type of leadership model that is about diversifying. I think it's really got to be about showing equal representation — as hard as it may be — as you can.”
In Lugo-Allen’s experience, the membership level of the drum corps activity provides a great experience for young people to interact with people of other backgrounds, races and lifestyles.
And that’s a fantastic thing, as Lugo-Allen described — a bright, enriching aspect of the drum corps experience.
“When we grew up through the drum corps activity, or even marching band in general, it was always a place where, simply, everyone has the space. Everyone belongs,” Lugo-Allen said. “You end up developing this idea that there is a global commonality among musicians or band members, color guards, marching bands, drum corps, however you look at it. And I think that that is true, and nurtures you and serves you to a certain point.”
There’s work to be done, though, as Lugo-Allen noted.
Their hope, for one, is that within the higher-ranking creative, instructional and administrative positions of the drum corps activity, young people can witness a similar level of diverse representation as they may see among fellow performers, to foster an environment wherein they can envision their future selves in those same roles, and go beyond the performance and participation side of drum corps.
“For every token you put in the box of me being a Black, queer, non-binary teacher, there is someone right next to me who identifies as something totally different, that is just as marginalized and needing a seat at the table as well,” Lugo-Allen said. “Ultimately, it's about opening up the conversation to as many types of people as we can, and making sure that those unique perspectives are validated, listened to and considered.”
Ask me if I love the Blue Knights… ok I’ll just tell you, I’m smitten💙🏾💙Posted by Pyro Lugo-Allen on Sunday, January 22, 2023
Above all, Lugo-Allen passionately highlighted the importance of drum corps organizations creating an all-around positive and welcoming environment, in which students and staff members alike can thrive, be seen and heard, and express themselves within their own corner of the greater drum corps universe.
Ultimately, to have room for that kind of growth, education, expression and relationship-building for all participants is what the drum corps experience is all about.
“We're just breaking the seal on what I think we have to explore there,” they said. “And I think the ways in which we relate to students will only improve if we start to listen to more students, and start to truly identify the unique perspectives within a corps.”
“I think ultimately, when you can get a model like that,” they added, “you'll have a really powerful cast of people on the field.”