Wednesday, August 6, 2008

D.C. Aye-Yie-Yie!

What a show! God I miss drum corps! I had a fantastic time on Monday night heading to Toledo with my sister and her boyfriend Christophe to see the DCI Summer Showcase. It was a GREAT mix of corps. Best part was that, being so late in the season, they were very polished (for the most part).

We got there just as the show was starting. After leaving Val & Christophe to park, I get my general admission ticket (to the tune of $20 ?!?!??!?!) and wander into the stadium. Not 10 feet in, I run into my friend Bob, who apparently came up with my old corpsmate Chris. At intermission got to wander the souvie booths and ran into several old friends and former students of mine and caught up. The evening was everything I had hoped it would be!

My thoughts on the corps...

Poor Pioneer. I say that with the utmost respect. They're the corps that never grew up. In some ways, I respect that. They were that last holdouts with G bugles, but they've never managed to make that leap to the "cool kids' table". They cling to their traditions, almost always playing a very loosely themed Irish show and never seem to be taken very seriously. As much as I pity their never-ending mediocrity, I admire their tenacity to hold onto the soul of drum corps. They sounded good (I didn't get to see how they marched, arriving a bit late) and scored in the respectable mid-70's.
As I ascended the bleachers and passed the director, Roman Blenski (and his signature hat), I was reminded of my own era of drum corps. As much as I bemoan the direction of drum corps these days, I do wish Pioneer would take a few reasonable steps toward modernizing their show so they could fulfill the dreams of so many bygone div. II corps and make the top 12 - for the honor and remembrance of Drum Corps Midwest and the lil' guy.

Pacific Crest
A fine corps with a good sound and a decent show. I had a hard time getting really sucked into it because their lack of upper body control was a big distraction. This led to them tiring quickly, phrases being dropped, timing suffering slightly at times, and a general lack of cohesion. It made me want to instruct again - DESPERATELY! That's the kind of stuff I'm great at fixing.
Their uniforms left something to be desired as well. All black with a dark teal triangle. This made the drill somewhat hard to read as they blended into the field too much. Black can be sharp and intimidating, but you need a bolder accent color to be able to see the drill clearly. Drumline had some sloppy moments and the guardwork wasn't particularly interesting or difficult, but it was a good show and (when they weren't sounding tired) was well in tune.

WOW! I hate weird shows I can't hum. I've been a judge and have a music ed background, but when I'm in the stands I'm Joe Schmoe who wants a familiar tune running through my head on the drive home. This show had none of that - and I LOVED it! My pretentious scholarly side must have won out for these guys. The brass book was SO exposed and they did it wonderfully. Foot technique was a bit inconsistent, but the balance, blend, and timing between the drumline, pit, and hornline were AMAZING (most of the time). Unfortunately, at this point in the season, credit for demand is tough to factor in. Ya got what ya got, and mistakes hurt the score. The tiniest of timing errors stuck out. There weren't many of them, but they became an elephant in the room (or on the field). BRAVO for tackling a show like this! Watch these guys! This show will KILL them in September!
...oh yea. You're done this week. Bummer.

Old school drum corps. I loved the show. Now if they had only practiced it more...
Colts have been rather stagnant for decades. Always entertaining and good enough to be considered one of the "big boys", but never a top 6 contender. So continues the tradition. Mild sloppiness and slightly frayed edges abound. Not quite to the point of distraction, but enough to keep them in their familiar place. Same old Colts. That's not meant to be disparaging. I LOVE the show, but they need some sort of Underdog-style "super energy pill" to boost them up just a notch or two to make the big time. After watching them for nearly 20 years, I really wish they'd stop treading water. I want to see them bring familiar music back in vogue, and it seems they may be our last, best hope to do so.

Madison Scouts
"Night of the Iguana" is a show title that both excited and scared me. Madison doing Latin jazz is usually a good thing, but something in the title spooked me. Madison had let me down a lot over the past few years and, like most of the drum corps community, I wanted to love them again. The new uniforms were interesting. A bit of the old school 60's flavor, but streamlined for the new millennium - a good design. They managed to win me back...mostly
The hornline is awesome - loud, characteristically a bit bright, and polished. The drumline is tight, intense, and energetic. The guard...well, not so much. They are the weakest link.
Okay, forgive me for the following:
They have a few guys in the guard that are - how shall I say this - a bit husky. Now, this isn't meant to criticize those members, but when I marched, you hardly ever saw a corps member - let alone a GUARD member - who was much overweight by the end of the season. You work too hard all summer to be ABLE to stay fat! The guard members in question did fine and kept up with the rest of the guard reasonably well, but therein lies the problem. I don't think the guard staff was working these kids enough. The mediochre execution and low-demand work are hints, but the fitness level of the members is the giveaway. My first season, I lost 55lbs, mostly on a 2 month tour! I didn't watch what I ate, I didn't put in any extra work than was asked of me, the staff just rehearsed my ass off (litterally) and we nearly won the title.
I must say, though, with those leather-style biker outfits with the buckles, all I could think of was "Weird Al's" Fat video. I know - pot calling the kettle... Anyway, when the staff goes soft, so do the kids.
Phantom Regiment
Clean, crisp, professional. The show is wonderfully designed, the guard is tight, the percussion is clean. The hornline is a bit inconsistent in tone color. The high brass is a bit too bright (especially for Phantom) to blend as well as they should with the low brass (which as always is wonderfully dark and rich). The character portrayal by ALL members is wonderfully believeable and projects well, at least for the stadium I was in. The musical choice and overall show style was so signature Phantom, I half expected a finale with gigantic 20 yard wide banners and The Wedge. It was Classic Phantom and I loved every minute of it - 'nuf said.
Those of you that have read my annual review of corps know that I try to like Glassmen every year. I always give them a fair shake, and they always dissapoint me. They're usually quite good from a performance standpoint, but the show isn't usually conducive to either grabbing the audience (or at least me) or showing off the strength and talent of the performers. At least , not enough.
I don't know who this corps was in the Glassmen outfits, but it wasn't the corps I've been politely enduring for 18 years. I LOVED This show. The arrangements were INCREDIBLY clever, mixing themes from "Pee-wee's Big Adventure", "Sabre Dance", "Hungarian Rhapsody #5", and a several other tunes that evoked images of a carnival to create a musical tapestry that was simply fun as a day on the Midway! The visual design was well-paced and the use of specific characters tastefully subdued. Design, to arrangement, to performance - the whole package was just...well...FUN!
It took them 18 years, but Glassmen finally has a show that I just can't help but enjoy. Bravo!
Sadly, this year I won't be seeing the big screen event, so I'll miss out on a lot of great corps. Still, having not been to a live show in at least 5 years, I think it was a good trade off. You're not subjected to some cameraman or TV director's idea of what's important. You can focus on what YOU want to see. Plus, there's something about having a live brass line blow you back a few feet that sends tingles up my spine just thinking about it.
Next time, I gotta remember to have money for the souvie stands.

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