Southwind’s program designers were inspired by a work of art.

The well-known 1932 photograph in question has a simple name, and portrays a simple premise. “Lunch atop a Skyscraper,” depicts 11 construction workers sitting in a row across an exposed steel beam, perceivably eating lunch, hundreds of feet above the Big Apple skyline.

The creative team at Southwind took the black-and-white image and ran with it, all the way to the corps’ 2023 production, “Cowboys of the Sky.”

“It highlights the iron workers of New York City during (the early decades of the 1900s),” corps director Ernad Sisic said, “and pays tribute to those daredevils who built the city skyline.”

And right off the bat, in regards to how Southwind will bring the well-known photograph to life on a football field, Sisic made one thing readily clear.

“We're definitely going to have a skyscraper on the field,” he said.


Posted by Southwind Drum & Bugle Corps on Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Southwind has abundant plans for how to depict the life and work of New York City’s “Cowboys of the Sky” within the drum corps idiom.

Visually-speaking, Sisic described in further detail the use of several stage sets to add skyline-esque vertical dimension to the performance space, as well as loose “beams” scattered across the field.

“The goal is to create a set that brings the viewer in — something that's very intriguing from the start, without us even playing some notes,” he said. “And then around the field, you'll see various steel beams, and those will all be manipulated throughout the show.”

Musically, Southwind’s repertoire does plenty of the leg-work in terms of further dramatizing the period and setting of the corps’ production.

Sisic provided a descriptive timeline of Southwind’s musical plans, which feature the likes of Dave Grusin’s music from the 1981 film, “On Golden Pond,” George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” Aaron Copland’s “Our Town” and James M. David’s “Urban Light.”

To celebrate our countdown to our May camp, here is our current repertoire for our 2023 program, "Cowboys of the Sky"! Go to to sign up for our next camp from May 5th-7th!

Posted by Southwind Drum & Bugle Corps on Tuesday, April 25, 2023

“Rhapsody in Blue,” a popularly-utilized work in drum corps history, has played a vital role in other productions related to New York City and 1930s urban life, notably Madison Scouts’ unnamed 2010 program, and Blue Devils’ championship-winning 2009 program, “1930. ”

“The show opens up with a very chorale-like opening, and that lays the scene for us to transition into a more work-style period,” Sisic said. “The steam whistle identifies that the workday has begun and we move through that process with ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ and ‘Urban Lights.’ We’re definitely starting off the show with that very positive, very upbeat tone.”

“After that,” he continued, “we take a step back and we reflect on the concrete jungle that we just built, and we overlook the Big Apple with a beautiful piece called ‘On Golden Pond.’ And then we look at the skyline — the streets are always alive, New York is a very lively city, so we conclude with ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’”

For Justin Williams — the brass arranger charged with piecing much of that musical tapestry together — the concept of Southwind’s 2023 production connects to more than one aspect of his wiring; Williams, who also teaches United States history at the collegiate level in Alabama, has a soft spot for the era at play in the corps’ program.

“This period of U.S. history is one of my favorites to teach,” he said. “So when that idea came out, I was initially very drawn to it.”

As such, he noted that through photographs like “Lunch atop a Skyscraper,” the industrial era can often be glamorized or idealized retrospectively. Ultimately, the 1930s posed just as many challenges as they did achievements, and according to Williams, Southwind’s production taps into both sides of that coin.

“That was a difficult time, certainly, for these men who actually did this for real life, this was not fun or easy work,” Williams said. “It is an artistic approach, but a very reflective one.”

2022 Southwind
Southwind finished in sixth place at the 2022 Open Class World Championship Finals.


Sisic and Williams alike, though, weren’t just energized by the program Southwind will put on the field in 2023. Even moreso, the two expressed plenty of excitement for the group of students who will ultimately perform “Cowboys in the Sky” at more than a dozen stops on the 2023 DCI Tour.

While the organization, as Sisic described, is still gradually making its way through the various post-COVID challenges faced by many drum corps, he said Southwind is on a steady upward trajectory in terms of student interest and involvement.

“We are on a very good path to a great summer, and I'm really excited,” he said. “We’re seeing a good trend toward students coming back to Southwind. We know that we're doing our best to provide fundraisers, scholarships, whatever that might be to support them.”

Beyond just talent or ability level of those involved, Sisic and Williams raved about the growing positive vibes surrounding Southwind’s 2023 summer season, describing a welcoming, eager, positive and all-around enjoyable group of designers, instructors and performers.

“It is a family vibe,” Sisic said. “The goal of Southwind is to make members better human beings, so that's how it is — very positive, very family-like, very encouraging.”

“There's just something special about the corps,” Williams added. “Every single person only has the members’ success at the forefront — that's our prerogative.”

And as an added bonus, Sisic noted — the members are big fans of their 2023 production, which they’ll debut on the DCI Tour, July 13 in Tupelo, Mississippi.

“They’ve played through everything, and their response has been awesome,” Sisic said. “They're very excited to put the work in and then get it out to the people.”