Summer Marching in Riverside

Last night, we went to our annual drum corps show: the Western Corps Connection in Riverside, CA. For those who aren’t familiar with drum corps: drum corps are musical marching units, consisting of up to 150 high-school and college-age kids, roughly divided into brass, percussion, and guard sub-units. These groups develop a visual music and performance program, and perform in competition, touring across the US over the summer, where they are scored on their performance quality and precision. The units are grouped into a number of classes: all-ages (self-explanatory); open class (a minimum of 30 members up to a maximum of 150); and world class (up to 150 members, primarily college age).

The show we went to last night, the WCC, is typically one of the last shows in the Southern California area. It typically features corps from around the state and the region, usually with one or two corps from elsewhere in the country. In the past, the “B” corps (i.e., the open division training grounds) of some of the major groups would also participate; they haven’t participated in the last few years for what I am guessing to be economic reasons.

I should state upfront that I am not a drum corps expert. I learned about this sport from my wife, who used to march with a youth band that thought it was a corps and competed as if it was a corps, and regularly bested the corps in competition. This left a lifelong impression on her (just like camp did to me), and we try to see at least one show a year. Of course, I don’t understand a lot of the nuances that she sees; although I’ve learned over time. I tend to see more the performance aspect, and treat drum corps as yet another form of live entertainment: music, movement, that hopefully tells a story.

I’ll also note that drum corps has changed mightily over the years: The article on the RCYB describes well what corps was in the 1970s: presentation of colors, limited instruments, regimented rules. Today’s corps are more varied: the pit contains not just percussion but sythensizers (and I even saw a bass guitar!), as well as amplification. Horns are no longer just in the key of G. The style of guard has oscillated over the years: there were years where we saw nary a sabre or rifle on the field; this year it appeared as if every corps was using them, and other props were a rariety. Some years you would see lots of costume changes on the field; again, that seems to be out of style. I think the biggest change is musical: the 1970s corps often had what I would characterize as accessible programs: the music often featured either Broadway or other music of the day. In the 1990s more esoteric music took over: modern jazz, specially composed pieces, adapted classics. That’s mostly still the case; I still tend to prefer the accessible programs.
[P.S.: To those that remember the era of the 1970s: Evidently, Kingsmen is reforming!]

Last nights competition featured 11 groups: one all-ages, four open class, and six world class corps. It was held at Wheelock Stadium at Riverside City College. It actually wasn’t too hot: it started at about 98° and perhaps 15% humidity, but cooled off nicely as the evening went on.

All-Ages. The sole corps in this category was SoCal Dream out of Irvine. Their program include Baroque Samba (Darmon Meader), Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma), and Nutville (Horace Silver). I recall that they were a small corps, and marched a two trumpeters next to each other that had about a 3′ difference in height. Final score: 50.75.

Open Class. First up was City Sound out of Long Beach. Their program featured City of Angels (Ozomatli), Saturday Night (Ozomatli), La Pistola y el Corazon (Los Lobos), At Last (Etta James), and Sunless Saturday (Fishbone). They did not have a guard component. They came in 4th, with a score of 48.25.

Next was Impulse out of Buena Park. Their program featured Symphony No. 3, Mvt. 4 (Giannini), Variations ona Korean Folk Song (James Barnes Chance), Corral Nocturn (Copland), Hoe Down (Copeland), and a Copland Finale. I’ve always liked Impulse!; they were one of the corps that formed from the ashes of the original Velvet Knights. They’ve lost the playfulness of their early years, alas. However, I did like their music: we tend to love Copland around here. They came in 2nd, with a score of 66.15.

The third open class corps was Gold, from Hawthorne CA. They featured a program called Reel to Real with music from one of their Brass members. Alas, I don’t remember much about their program; I wish I did, as they are located not that far from where I work. They came in 1st, with a score of 69.00.

The last open class corps was my favorite, Velvet Knights from Pasadena. This is the “new” VK, but attempts to follow the standards of the old “VK”, down to the red tennis shoes. They had a program with a baseball theme that was a real crowd pleaser in terms of entertainment (but not performance—they didn’t wow the crowds like the world class corps did). They are the source of the picture of this post, and included the use of baseball bats and balls instead of rifles. The program featured The Final Game (Hanz Zimmer/A League of their Own), The Final Game (Randy Newman/The Natural), Drum Feature (Iraheta Alex Mendoza), Take Me Out to the Ballgame (Norworth), and Training Playoffs (Zimmer). In fact, the program ended with the corps leading a seventh-inning stretch and a sing-along to “Take Me Out”. This might have been done to ensure the show finished with the audience standing. VK came in 3rd, with a score of 59.55.

During the intermission, the requisite beach balls came out and were bounced around the audience. Always fun. There was also a giant beach ball that came out during retreat.

World Class. First up was the host corps, Pacific Crest from Diamond Bar (DCI page). They’ve really grown up since they started, and put on an extremely professional and sharp program. Their program featured Lauds (Praise High Day) (Ron Nelson), Push (Robert Smith), Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 (Mahler), Pianos from Serenada Schizophrena (Elfman), and AirLink (Jack Stamp). They came in 5th, with a score of 66.85.

Second was Mandarins from Sacramento, CA (DCI page). This used to be an all asian-corp; they’ve broadened since then. Their program featured two pieces by PercaDu: Octobones and Spices, Perfumes, Toxins. They came in 6th, with a score of 65.70.

Third was The Academy from Tempe Arizona (DCI page). Their program, called (Re), featued Little Fugue in G Minor (Bach), Lux Aurumque (Whitacre), Fly (Einaudi), and Lollapalooza (Adams). They gave a spectacular show, but only came in 4th, with a score of 72.30.

The fourth corps was a long time favorite: Santa Clara Vanguard from Santa Clara CA (DCI page). Their program, which was usually accessble, went in the other direction: First Essay for Orchestra Op 12. (Barber), Piano Sonata No 2 (Dorman), Eternal Knot (Karl Jenkins), and Etudes for Piano No 13 (The Devil’s Staircase), (Gyorgy Ligeti). The thing I remember about their program was a running motif about annoying one of the trumpet players, including him in guard antics. They came in 3rd, with a score of 77.75 (one tenth of a point out of 2nd).

The penultimate corps was Phantom Regiment out of Rockfield IL (DCI page). PR’s program was called Juliet, and featured East of Eden (Lee Holdridge), Requiem (Verdi), Reduiem (Mozart), Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet (Rota), Romeo & Juliet (Prokofiev), and Elsa’s Progression to the Cathedral from Lohengrin (Wagner). A nicely accessible program with good music and marching, but I didn’t like the guards all-white uniforms, which tended to show bulges that shouldn’t be shown. They provided a stunning, crowd pleasing performance that earned them 2nd place, with a score of 77.85.

Last up was Blue Devils out of Concord CA (DCI page). One of the best corps around, BD featured a program that was surprisingly accessible for them (they usually do modern jazz)—all Burt Bacharach: A House is Not a Home, Summer of ’77, Promises Promises, The Sweetest Punch, One Less Bell to Answer, Woman, I Say a Little Prayer, Wives and Lovers, and God Give Me Strength. They were also visually stunning, with the guard in uniforms that were white and black in the front, but pink and red in the rear. They were spot-on in precision, and truly loud in a fashion that is uniquely BD. They ended up in 1st place, with a score of 80.45.

Upcoming Theatre, Concerts, and Dance: Next weekend is open, as Jerry Springer: The Opera did not work out datewise. A possibility is Working” at the Ruby Theatre in Hollywood; it is their closing weekend. The weekend of Carmageddon brings “Twist: A New Musical” (July 16, Pasadena Playhouse, ticketed) and “Jewtopia” (July 17, REP East, ticketed). The wekeend of July 23 brings Dolly Parton (July 23, Hollywood Bowl) and “Shrek” (July 24, Pantages Theatre, ticketed). July closes with “The Sound of Music” (July 30, Cabrillo Music Theatre, ticketed). August brings “Doubt” at REP East on August 13, and “On Golden Pond” at the Colony Theatre on August 20, and possibly the last Summer Evening at the Huntington with the Quarteto Neuvo on August 27. September currently only has one weekend booked: “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” at REP East on September 24; October shows “Shooting Star” at the Colony Theatre on October 1, “Annie” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on October 22, and (hopefully) Bernadette Peters at VPAC on October 16. October will also hopefully bring The Robber Bridegroom” at ICT. Of course, I expect to fill some of the weekends in August, September, and October with productions that have yet to appear on the RADAR of Goldstar or LA Stage Alliance.