Pomp and Precision: You May Enter The Field in Competition

I’m taking a vacation day today because we got home really late from a Drup Corps show in Riverside last night. I mention this, of course, not only to explain why I’m posting in the morning on a Tuesday, but as introduction to my thoughts and observations on last night’s Drum Corps Show, the Western Corps Connection.

I’m sure many of my friends reading this are not familar with Drum Corps. Drum Corps is a competitive youth activity best described as follows: Take a group of up to 150 young adults. Divide them roughly into groups marching brass, marching percussion, a color guard, and a small number of people in the pit with less mobile percussion equipment. Have them perform an artistic program of around 15 minutes on a football field, and judge them competitively in areas of General Effect (both visual and music), Visual aspects (performance, ensemble, and colorguard), and Music (brass, ensemble, and percussion). Have these groups do nightly competitions around the country, starting in June, and ending in August in Indianapolis, IN. The activity has changed from what it was in the 1970s when my wife marched with a youth band (the Royal Cavaliers Youth Band), and even from when I was introduced to the activity in the 1980s. Rules have changed quite a bit: corps are larger, more instruments are allowed on the field (I was even seeing keyboards and speakers last night!), and there are less of the military aspects (for example, there are no longer requirements to march the colors and have them on the field). However, it is still an enjoyable activity to watch, and the youth involved work their posteriors off.

Last night’s show in Riverside, at the Wheelock Stadium at Riverside City College, featured 11 corps. Five of them were world class (formerly Division A), meaning they were marching full complements of members (up to 150), most of whom were college-age. The world class corps participating were the Concord Blue Devils, the Santa Clara Vanguard, the Sacramento Mandarins, The Academy from Tempe AZ, and Pacific Crest from Diamond Bar. Five of the corps were open class (formerly Division B), meaning they are not marching a full complement of members (they must have at least 30), and the members are likely younger and less experienced. The Open Class corps were City Sound (Long Beach CA), Gold (San Diego CA), Impuse (Buena Park CA), Revolution (San Antonio TX), and Velvet Knights. There was one all-age corps, Socal Dream. The program was introduced by the Moreno Valley All-City Youth Band. There was a corps called “Incognito” on the schedule, but they didn’t show… or perhaps they did, but were … oh, never mind.

Before I go into the individual program observations, followed by the final scores, I’d like to make some general observations:

  • Participating Corps. I find it interesting that none of the typically “B” and “C” corps were participating this year. We normally, for the Southern California shows, get Blue Devils B and Vanguard’s B corps, and sometimes even their C corps. We’ve even gotten Mandarins B in the past. I’m wondering if this is a reflection of the economic times: the tours are too expensive for the parents to finance, or fewer people can afford to participate in the activity. It was nice to see VK back in competition—more on that later.
  • Changes. This activity is changing from what it was in the early days. Gone are the days where there were requirements to fill the field, to march the colors (I even remember that in the 90s), and from when there were restrictions on what was in the pit. Last night I was seeing amplification in the pit, keyboards, speakers, and sound engineers. I’d argue this has come at the expense of precision, but then I saw Vanguard and Blue Devils march. I also saw every corps marching with rifles and sabers. I don’t remember this from past years; and perhaps it is compesation for the other changes, for rifles and sabers are unforgiving and expose a corps skills level. I wonder if their use is a new rule.
  • The Audience. Audiences have gotten discourtious, pure and simple. I’m not talking about the screaming and yelling—I’m used to that at events like this. I’m referring to the practice of arriving to the show only for the world class corps (which is an insult to the open class kids), and the practice of leaving before retreat and the scores. These kids are working their posteriors off, pouring their hearts and energy in their performances. At least the audience can do them the courtesy of watching. They can also show courtesy to other audience members and not crawl over them in the stadium. I got knocked over twice by people too eager to get to their seats they paid no attention to what or who was in their way.
  • The Announcements. During the show, “air grams” were sold, which were basically messages read by the announcer, quite deadpan, to people in the field. I could really imagine abusing this. “Joe: Please remember to zip your zipper this time. Love, Mom” “Barbara: Now, don’t drop the rifle like you did last night. We know you can do it” One could haev a lot of fun abusing these :-).

Now to the observations on some of the individual performances. Note that this is primarily from memory: I didn’t take detailed notes.

SoCal Dream was the only all-age corps, and you truly saw all-ages on the field. It would have been nice if they were indicated as all-age in the program: I was wondering why the age range was there watching them.

City Sound had the most accessible music, using selections from Tommy. Although we thought they were pretty good for a B corps, they came in at the bottom of the rankings.

Impulse and Velvet Knights (VK) are always the most fun corps. VK actually died a few years back, and Impulse started from the ashes…. and then VK returns. Both of these corps believe in pleasing the audience and having fun. Impulse gave a good performance, perhaps a bit more restrained from past years. VK still has aspects of the craziness (the red Converse marching shoes), but it seemed to be toned down more this year. Both still need to work on building their show and performance, especially VK which needs to get back their precision. VK again had an accessible program.

I remember less about Gold and Revolution. I remember that Gold marched in primarily black for a program about primary colors, and Revolution had more grey in their uniforms, but seemingly had death on the field.

My, my how Pacific Crest has matured. We remember when they started just a few years ago, and now they are doing a world class performance. We thought their show was great. I don’t remember them covering the field as much as they could, and their certainly need to work on growing their volume.

I was disappointed in the Mandarins show. They over amplified their pit, and seemingly added recorded winds and voices, which bothered the purist in me. Their keyboard overpowered their drumline. The costumes were these bizarre brown things that just didn’t have the visual pizazz needed.

The Academy was one of the surprises. We hadn’t heard of this corps before, and they gave a great performance that left us going “wow”.

Santa Clara Vanguard is one of the top corps in the nation, and has been around forever. This shows in their performance, which was loud, precise, and spectacular. The music (primarily by Bartok) was reasonably accessible. The musicians participated in the guard activity, and had fun with it. The red costumes of the colorguard were wonderful against the green field. The volume was loud, and the music quality wonderful. This was the first group that knew how to do rifles and sabers right: toss em, spin em, and have them be caught with a single crack in unison. It was a thoroughly enjoyable performance.

The Concord Blue Devils are another top national corps that has been around forever. Again, they gave a BD worthy-performance: loud, jazzy, and precise. But aspects were too much. They marched large mirrors on the field, which some found distracting. I didn’t find them that way, but I do think they could have been used more effectively. I also found the guard uniforms less effective than they could be. Although the combination of colors was beautiful, it made the guard hard to follow on the field and hurt the visual effect. But this corps was precise and had great music.

As for the scores… In World Class, the rankings were: Blue Devils (84.5); Vanguard (80.7); The Academy (74.1); Pacific Crest (70.25); and Mandarins (68.1). In Open Class, the rankings were Gold (72.15); Revolution (69.9); Impulse (69.8); Velvet Knights (62.95); and City Sound (60.25). The All-Ages corps, SoCal Dream, received a 63.35. The specific captions may be found here and were not announced; it is interesting to look at the details to see what scores were mixed.

Upcoming Theatre and Dance. Next weekend (July 10 @ 8pm) is the first show of the 2010-2011 Colony season, “Grace & Glorie”. The third weekend of July brings ; The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” at REP East on July 17 and the July “Meeting of Minds (Catherine the Great, Daniel Cromwell, and Daniel O’Connell, starring Gary Cole, Penny Peyser, Ian Buchanan and Jim Handy) on July 18. The 4th weekend brings Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on July 24, and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” at the Mark Taper Forum on July 25. July or August should also bring [title of show] at the Celebration Theatre (July 16-September 5) — I’m just waiting for tickets to show up on Goldsar. In terms of what is ticketed and calendared, August starts with “Young Frankenstein” at the Pantages on August 1, and (hopefully) “Rent” at the Hollywood Bowl (pending ticketing) the following weekend. August 15 brings the August “Meeting of Minds”, and August 21 “Side Man” at REP East. Looking into September, there is “Free Man of Color” at the Colony on September 4, and “Leap of Faith” at the Ahmanson Theatre (September 5-October 17, to be ticketed), and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” at REP East (9/17-10/16). It is unknown if there will be a September “Meeting of Minds”, and if so, when and where.