The Lyons Family established in 2013 the Matthew “Sonny” Lyons Sr. Memorial Fund in Sonny’s memory for his lifetime love and dedication for Rudimental Drumming and Music Perfection exemplified in the following venues: Drum Corps, Bands, and Orchestras. The Memorial Fund’s mission statement is to: “Continue to promote, perpetuate, and preserve the art of Rudimental Drumming.” Sonny, throughout his life exemplified this mission by remaining focused on excellence, perfecting his God given abilities to excel in Music and by sharing with others the proficient qualities of a Champion Rudimental Drummer as taught to him by the renowned Drum Instructor Earl Sturtze, his Mentor.
The scope of the Memorial Foundation is to provide assistance to an individual, group, or organization in some manner, shape, or form to enhance learning and executing the appropriate rudimental skills necessary to excel in the musical field and further promoting Sonny’s Mission Statement.
In those days if you were a drum corps drummer in Connecticut you had probably at least heard of “Sonny” or “Matty” Lyons. I believe Lyons was first brought to my attention while I was in the parade line-up of my newly joined drum corps, the Germantown Ancients. This parade was the preface to what was Germantown’s first sponsorship of a fife and drum muster. The year was 1967; the place, Danbury, CT. The Ancient Mariners Fife & Drum Corps during a pause in the march was warming up in front of the movie theatre on Main Street. There was a snare drummer, towering over the others in the drum line, executing his attacks from high up in true Sturtzian style and having movie star looks. Arnold Bird, nudging me and telling in his inimitable way, “Now there’s a fine drummer!” Now Bird was the director of the Germantown corps and a fifer not always impressed by drummers. “That’s Sonny Lyons”. (In truth I’m not sure Arnold Bird was the speaker in this story – but I’d like to think so).
It was many years later before I actually had a chance to speak with Sonny to any great length. Being laid-off from my job in 2002, I had a chance to do some research at the Company of Fifer’s & Drummers Museum on drumming results from the early competitions held by The Connecticut Fifer & Drummers Association and other Northeastern drum corps associations. Never truly accomplishing what I intended, I did however have a chance to have some great Connecticut drumming history conversations with Sonny. I was impressed with his personal drumming history. And I was moved by his friendly helpfulness in showing me the drumming archives at the museum. A special treat was his showing me the index card files that Earl Sturtze had used through the years to categorize his many students. Earl rated his students with stars with the better students having more of them. I don’t remember how many stars would be his ultimate: 4 stars or 5. Whichever, I remember Lyons’s card had the maximum number which Sturtze awarded.
In the ten years since, I would occasionally meet Sonny at a fife & drum affair. He was always friendly to me and liked to discuss drumming – he was always a student of the art of performing the drum rudiments. Just a few years ago at a jam we both attended he was showing me his exercises using alternating Swiss triplets.
Sonny died on August 11th. He was one of the best and deserved more fame. His competitive resume proves that with his regional and national individual contest titles and his championships with the Connecticut Yankees Drum & Bugle Corps. But he spent many of his productive years in the service of his country and his community while others were getting the glory.
I’m sorry that I didn’t make more time to learn more of his story.-Joe Gillotti