Thursday, August 16, 2007

DCI: Apocalypse or Resurrection? A rant…

I went to see the Cinecast of the Drum Corps International Quarterfinals show last Thursday night. Rather than give my impressions of the corps, I must cover the discussion being held by every drum corps fan throughout the country relating to the most controversial part of the evening: George Hopkins's whiney tirade.

George Hopkins is the Devil incarnate.

There. I said it.

How the HELL they fit his head into that stadium, I'll never know. For those of you that missed it, the Cadets were about to take the field. "Hoppy" stops them as they're setting up and DEMANDS that the field be re-lined. He then proceeds to march them OFF the field. They had just relined it at the intermission about 4 corps prior, but he, being the know-it-all egomaniacal ass that he is, decided to stop the evening and put everyone on hold for them to re-line the field for HIS corps. The boos reverberated from Pasadena to every theater showing the Cinecast throughout the country.

George Hopkins has been systematically undermining the drum corps activity for the last 15 years or so. He has been the one leading the charge for "innovations" like moving to Bb bugles, allowing electronic amplification of the pit percussion and voice, and has even been pushing to allow woodwinds and other band instruments on the field. Through his domination of Youth Education in the Arts (YEA, who operates both the Crossmen and Cadets drum corps), he has managed to strong-arm many of his proposals into the DCI rulebook, all in the name of "progress".

Beginning in 1993 with Star of Indiana's infamous Medea show, it began to look like Hoppy's dream would come true: to turn drum corps into an "artform". Pop, jazz and showtunes gave way to esoteric minimalism, bizarre props, and obscure classical pieces and contemporary original composition that bore NO resemblance to the goose bump-raising electricity the corps of days past would generate. Rather than fans exiting the stadiums humming tunes from corps performances, they would leave with '?' hovering over their heads.

Most corps for the past 10 years or so seemed to try this route at least once (with a few blessed exceptions like Bluecoats). Thankfully, there seems to be a backlash now and many corps seem to be going back to toe-tapping, hummable melodies and accessible music the majority of the audience can enjoy. A balance is being struck in the battle of art vs. entertainment and "old school drum corps" vs. "progressive drum corps", no thanks to George Hopkins.

A few of my thoughts on Hoppy's "progressive" ideas.

Drum corps is entertainment, pageantry, not art. Art makes you think. I don't want to think when I'm watching drum corps. I want to be struck with raw emotion and amazement. I don't go to fireworks to contemplate the dichotomy of good and evil, either.

Drum corps shows should not need a libretto or narration. The human voice is neither a drum, nor a bugle. A neat effect when the full corps sings something – on occasion – not a pivotal focal point of your damned show. If I want thought provoking themes, I'll go to the opera.

If you need a generator, power chord, or batteries to perform your show, grab the famous brass ensemble of your choice and go perform it on stage.

'G' bugles vs. 'Bb' bugles. I've softened on this issue – mostly because the fight is lost anyway. Bb horns have a completely different sound, and yes, a better sound. I don't care. It's not a "drum corps" sound. I wouldn't be so bitter if it wasn't rammed through under such bullshit pretenses. It was supposed to help smaller corps by making it possible for kids to bring their own horns and make purchasing instruments cheaper. Yet, they weren't even ALLOWED in div II/III the first 2 years! The only corps that were allowed Bb horns were the ones who got whole lines sponsored by Yamaha and other manufacturers. Meanwhile, smaller corps had to completely replace their horn lines, at great expense, in order to keep up and be taken seriously. Follow the money. Political bullshit.

Bravo for exposing your kids to different music, but you're performing for the audience, not the fucking judges and your overeducated, pretentious music colleagues. We outnumber them and pay for the damned ticket. Teach your kids performance technique, theory, and maybe even a little music history, but leave the broadening of their musical horizons to the school music programs. I didn't pay $20 and drive 100 miles to hear music I would turn off if I heard it on the radio.


I'm a purist. I have no problem with progress, but redefining a genre is different. That's not progress, that's replacement. George Hopkins, if you want a new idiom, start your own damned circuit. Drum Corps International is for DRUM CORPS.

Okay, this rant isn't as eloquent and certainly not as in-depth as I'd like it to be, but I could go on for days.

Coming up next: Seasonal unemployment and missed opportunities

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