Chum for a Sunday Afternoon: Drums, Drives, Drugs, Dust, Dresses and More

Observation StewI’ve been on travel for my daughter’s graduation, and so I haven’t had a lot of time to write about the articles I’ve seen. I’ve got two themed collections of chum that I’ll write up after last night’s theatre review (not sure when I’ll post them). But first, here’s the stuff that wouldn’t theme, but that caught my eye:

  • Bang. Bang. Bang. Anyone who has attended Drum Corps, or likely even seen a band will recognize this name: Remo. The news in recent weeks included an obituary of the man behind the name: Remo Belli, who invented the synthetic drum head. Before Remo, drums were animal skins, highly variable. As the obituary notes: “Belli was a young professional drummer in the 1950s, backing singer Anita O’Day and others, when he grew frustrated with the limitations of animal-skin drumheads, which could wilt or expand depending on the weather. In 1957, he and his collaborators perfected and began marketing one of the first artificial drumheads made of a resilient polyester film manufactured under various brand names, including Mylar, made by DuPont. He dubbed that first product the Weather King, a signal that it was durable no matter the atmospheric conditions of the gig, unlike finicky cow-skin drums.” Since then, his product has become the standard.
  • Long Commute. This article caught my eye because it deals with Las Vegas and teachers. Specifically, there is a group of teachers who live in Las Vegas, and commute daily to teach in the small community of Baker, at the gateway to Death Valley. Why? Pay, of course. The starting salary for teachers in Baker is $44,000. In Las Vegas it’s $34,000, though it will be $40,000 next year after a new contract takes effect. At the same time teacher shortages are ravaging America’s cities, however, rural schools have arguably been hit hardest. Teacher turnover is high, and many small towns are finding it hard to attract teachers. While many are attracted to Baker because of the pay, they stay because the work is satisfying, the way teaching should be but often isn’t in large urban school districts. Class sizes are extremely small: compared with the 30-50 in the large school districts, we’re talking 4-10.
  • Hacking the Brain for Fun… and to Relieve Pain. In our life, pain is a constant. My wife deals with arthritis; I deal with migraines. What do you think we would do for a good solution for the pain? Here’s an intriguing direction: A group is playing with a non-chemical solution that involves hacking the Vagus nerve. The vagus nerve starts in the brainstem, just behind the ears. It travels down each side of the neck, across the chest and down through the abdomen. ‘Vagus’ is Latin for ‘wandering’ and indeed this bundle of nerve fibres roves through the body, networking the brain with the stomach and digestive tract, the lungs, heart, spleen, intestines, liver and kidneys, not to mention a range of other nerves that are involved in speech, eye contact, facial expressions and even your ability to tune in to other people’s voices. It is made of thousands and thousands of fibres and 80 per cent of them are sensory, meaning that the vagus nerve reports back to your brain what is going on in your organs. Research shows that a high vagal tone (strength of your vagus response) makes your body better at regulating blood glucose levels, reducing the likelihood of diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease. Low vagal tone, however, has been associated with chronic inflammation. Said inflammation has been connected with arthritis and migraines. This article talks about using an implant to stimulate the vagus nerve to reduce pain. Fascinating.
  • Pain and Empathy. Chemical painkillers  can be insidious. For example, we all believe Tylenol (acetaminophen, paracetamol in the UK) is safe; safer than aspirin or other NSAIDs. But there have been numerous reports that even the slight overdose can cause serious liver damage, and slight overdoses are easy because it is in so many products because it is believed to be safe. Here’s another danger from Tylenol: In research published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, scientists from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State University describe the results of two experiments they conducted involving more than 200 college students. Their conclusion: Acetaminophen, the most common drug ingredient in the United States, can reduce a person’s capacity to empathize with another person’s pain, whether that pain is physical or emotional. In fact, I’m on it right now (just took two Excedrin). Ask me if I care ;-).
  • It’s a Gas — Porter Ranch Causes . One group I do emphasize with are all the folks in Porter Ranch, the community next to where we leave. Not only did they have to deal with the Aliso Canyon gas leak for numerous months, being relocated and such, but they are still having problems even after the leak was sealed. They have now figured out why. Los Angeles County Public Health Department officials say its test of dust in Porter Ranch homes turned up the presence of metals, including barium, that could have caused the kinds of health symptoms some residents have reported experiencing even after the big gas leak was plugged. County officials said there appeared to be  a pattern — or fingerprint — of metals to which all of the homes were exposed. Those metals were barium, vanadium, manganese, lead, strontium and aluminum. The county health official said the barium was in the form of a salt known as barium sulfate, which is not radioactive. It was found at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility, which is in the Santa Susana Mountains directly north of Porter Ranch homes. Barium sulfate is added to the fluids that are used in the course of oil well drilling. As I said when the leak first started, this is going to be a clusterf*ck of tremendous proportions — unfortunately, one that will affect our synagogue and many friends and neighbors.
  • Taking Offense at Everything. There are more folks these days that are just finding any hint of skin or sex offensive. We’ve all seen the bathroom wars, where a subgroup of men either believe that men will just choose to dress as a lady to go into a ladies restroom to attack women, or that some woman dressed as a man will go into the mens room and see their shortcomings. Here’s another one: a female weather reporter wearing a beautiful black beaded dress on-air was handed a grey cardigan because some viewers complained they could see her bare arms. This didn’t happen in some backwater area either — this was in Los Angeles folks. Geez, get a life folks. If something offends you, change the channel. If you can’t control your urges, that’s your problem. ETA: Then again, perhaps it was all a joke. Perhaps. ETA#2: Yes, it was a joke.
  • Cell Phones and Theatres. Here’s a very nice piece on Broadway vs. Cell Phones. It explains why they are such a problem. First, taking pictures is making copies of a copyrighted design (yes, the show and all the design elements are copyrighted, and represents significant artistic work). Second, the light these devices emit can distract the performers on the stage, and can distract and disturb other audience members. Thirdly, if they  make noise, the noise can do the same: distract and endanger performers, and disturb the audience. Power them off, or silence them and put them in airplane mode. Why the latter? The signals sometimes interfere with wireless microphones.
  • Replacing Ikea. In Burbank, California, Ikea is moving down the street to an even larger facility. So what is going to happen to the existing facility? What will happen to the dying mall next to it. A report this week gave the answer. Crown Realty is proposing to build a six-story, mixed-use project with 765 apartments and about 40,000 square feet of retail space on the ground level of the current Ikea space. They also envision converting the site into a community gathering area where an outdoor ice rink could be built and a farmers market could be held. As for the neighboring mall, one of the major proposed changes will be redesigning the entryway at San Fernando and Magnolia boulevards. A section of the second-floor roof will be removed to create an open-space feel and an escalator will be installed to allow pedestrians to get to the upper level from the street. Other amenities — such as the food court, children’s play area and elevators — will be moved around to create a better flow and atmosphere in the mall.
  • Yiddish in Poland. Lastly, in honor of my daughter’s graduation, here is a map of the Hebrew and Yiddish language frequency in Poland based on the Polish Census of 1931. Those of you who know her will understand.



The Size and Scope Would Leave Broadway in Awe

Western Corps Connection userpic=drumcorpsMost people know that I’m into Live Theatre, and love to write about it. Truth be told, I love live performance of any variety. Last night, instead of being at the closing of the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), we were out in Riverside in 90+°F and humidity watching a form of theatricality that, especially considering its size, stamina, and scope, would likely leave any Broadway performer in awe. Where were we? We were at the Western Corps Connection (FB) in Riverside, watching a drum corps competition.

Drum Corps (you’re probably saying to yourself)? That’s just a fancy half-time show. There you would be wrong. Here’s why Drum Corps would put Broadway in awe (and has, if you remember Blast on Broadway (FB)). Let’s take a single World Class corps. It consists of roughly 150 young adult performers (16-21) plus additional staff. These performers are roughly divided into four groups: Marching Brass (valve-based horns), Marching Percussion (various types of drums), Guard members (dancers who manipulate a variety of props including rifles and sabres), and a small number of pit personnel (xylophones, large drums, and now it seems, keyboards) and drum majors (conductors). They must give a 15 minute performance to music of their own choice; the performance must be sufficient to cover an entire football field. They will be judged on this performance based on the quality of their music, their precision, their visual effects, and the general reaction of the audience. Music has ranged from Broadway standards (including Sondheim) to Jazz to Orchestral to … you name it. Now, imagine that they also must load all their equipment onto the field and connect it up before each show, and remove it afterwards. Now put them in competition over the summer, marching and dancing almost every day under the summer sun, with 25 to 40 other such similar groups (our show had 7), and have them judged as to who is the best.

That’s drum corps. That’s why I said size, stamina, and scope is much greater than any single Broadway show, and might even be greater than a Broadway season (given the compressed timeframe). Broadway performers also get to go home; they don’t sleep in buses or in school gymnasiums. These performers have a grueling job. If you are in the Live Theatre industry, and see someone with Drum Corps experience on their resume, know you are getting a tested musician or a tested dancer, one who knows and loves hard work and precise results.

Drum Corps, like Broadway and the rest of the theatre world, has gotten more and more… well… more and more over the years. My wife, when young, marched in a youth band that thought it was a corps. She tells me of the days when the colors (US and state flags) had to be on the field at all times, when there were strict requirements on instruments, flags, and performances. Today things have changed greatly: there is amplification of the pit, keyboards, electronic sound effects, the occasional non-valve horn, and sound mixer boards. We even had an electric guitar and an electric bass from an Open Class corps! Some things haven’t: the best corps are not just loud, they are LOUD, if not LOUD! Corps have triggered noise complaints from residents.

Don’t take my word. Here’s a link to a performance of this year’s top Open Class corps from the 2014 show that will show you:

You can find more videos on YouTube. Drum Corps International (DCI) (FB) has a number of free videos posted on their site.

Last night’s show featured 6 “Open Class” corps and 7 “World Class” corps. World Class corps have made the DCI top 25; they march with a full complement of performers. Open Class corps are smaller. They may be feeders to larger corps (both Blue Devils (FB) and the Santa Clara Vanguard (FB) have cadet corps to train the young, although they weren’t at our show); they may be corps that are rebuilding after a bad year or a large age-out (you have to leave when you are older than 21); or they may be corps that do not have sufficient membership (we saw some former World Class corps in Open Class with less than 10 in the guard). June and early July shows may not yet be complete — the finals are in early August.

Here is my assessment of the corps we saw last night, in the order of performance:

Open Class Corps

Golden Empire (FB) – Bakersfield. This is the second year they have fielded a corps, and they are amazing for a new group. Their show this year, “The Color of Crime”, seemed to be about a jewel heist. It consisted of 5 scenes: (1) “Breaking In” (The Area is Secure / Pinch of a Finger, by Christophe Beck”; (2) “Heist & Escape” (Perfect Day for a Murder by Christophe Beck; (3) “Scot-Free Shopping Spree” (Feeling Good, by Anthony Newley); (4) “Pink Cloud Paradise” (Dreamsville, by Henry Mancini); and (5) “Clues to Confrontation” (The Damburger Incident, Dragalong Dreyfus, Chasing Yuri, and Pink Panther Theme by Christophe Beck, Henry Mancini). I felt the story was good, but they needed to work on their precision. They had a keyboard and used amplification. They had a nice sound, but they needed to be much louder to provide the “oopmh” that was required. They were unable to fill the entire field.

Incognito (FB) – Garden Grove. This corps started in 2005, expanded in 2007, and fielded a corps for the first time in 2008, and then took a number of years off, returning last year. So they are rebuilding. Their program, “Planet Incognito”, had 3 movements: World of Incognitians by their director, Tony T Nguyen; The Planets: Mars by Gustav Holst, and The Planets: Jupiter by Gustav Holst. This was a small corps, only marching 8 in the guard and about 6 horns. Their music was slow, and it was clear their show was incomplete. They did not use amplification. They were notable for marching a trombone, which you never see.

Impulse (FB) – Buena Park. Impulse was formed in 1999, and seemed to be the inheritor of the mantle of the Velvet Knights (FB), one of the most crowd pleasing corps ever, at least in terms of fun. This year’s show was called “Interpolation”, and they didn’t give more details. The corps was a shadow of what it used to be, with a very small 5 member guard. They were OK on volume, but not as much “in your face” as I remembered them. They tried to fill the field.

Watchmen (FB) – Riverside. Watchmen formed in 2013, and marched an Open Class corps for the first time in 2014. Their repertoire, “Influenced”, was original music from staff members Richie Sabastian, Alex Mendoza, and Harry Hutchins. This was another small corps, with only 7 in the guard. They used amplification and had two keyboards, plus vocal sound effects. Their guard needed to up their precision. They also needed more volume, but they were missing their low end horns.

Gold (FB) – San Diego.  Gold started in 2005, and competed outside of California first in 2011, and has been an open class finalist every year since 2012. They are the corps in the video I embedded above. Their repertoire this year, called “Pop Star”, consisted of the music Toxic by Cathy Dennis, Bloodshy, and Avant. Their field setup was unique — they put the pit on the field about 70% back, with a raised drum set, and electric guitar, and an electric base. They then had a big pink tarp the covered the wiring and provided good visual effect. They marched a full complement of horns, and had very sexy guard outfits. They had nice music and filled the field well. They got organized chaos right. All in all, a very good show.

Open Class Conclusions

🎺🎶🎺🎶 ⇒ Overall, I liked the programs of Gold and Golden Empire the best. They had accessible music, great sound, and great visual effect.  The other corps were clearly marching at a disadvantage with incomplete complements.

World Class Corps

These corps all marched full complements.

Mandarins (FB) – Sacramento. Mandarins used to be an all Asian corps, and go back to 1963. Their repertoire, “Resurrection”, featured four movements: The AwakeningWarriorDynasty of the Emperor, and Forever in Stone, all by Key Poulan (music director), Sean Womack (percussion arranger), and Mark Hunter (percussion arranger). This is what a corps should sound and look like: they had an entertaining and energetic show. They were notable because at one point, most of the guard started playing horns — you don’t see that too often. They had great general effect, and when they took the field, they took the field. I also noticed that their faces were particularly fierce — acting with the music, instead of the constant smile.

Pacific Crest (FB) – Diamond Bar. Pacific Crest is a newer local corps, having stared in 1993. They are the only world class corps left in Southern Californnia. Their repertoire, called “The Catalyst”, consisted of four movements: Scythian Suite Op 20 (Sergei Prokofiev); Liberi Fatali from Final Fantasy VIII (Nobuo Uematsu); Enjoy the Silence (Martin Gore), and Angels in the Architecture (Frank Ticheli). Their music was not that accessible and their show was unfinished, at least based on this weird open metal structure they rolled on the field and kept moving, but did nothing with. They had odd sound effects, but good percussion. Not that crazy about this show.

The Academy (FB) – Tempe AZ. Academy stared in 2001, becoming a corps in 2004, joining World Class in 2007. They had a very accessible show, “Step In Time”, that used music from Mary Poppins (stage): (I) Introduction (Chim Chim Cher-ee; A Shooting Star); (II) Practically Perfect (A Spoonful of Sugar; Practically Perfect; Galop (from Masquerade Suite)); (III) Step in Time; (IV) Feed the Birds; and (V) Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The guard uniforms were beautiful, and they had very nice props. They provided good field coverage and wonderful effects. They were notable for having the pit use tap shoes on hands tapping on a board to provide tap percussion. They also used drum brushes to provide a great auditory effect on Feed the Birds. They had the right sound, and were the first corps to get a standing ovation.

Blue Knights (FB) – Denver CO. A musical group founded in 1958 by former vaudeville comedians and musicians Faye and Fred Taylor, they hit the corps scene in 1991. Their repertorie “Because…” featured 5 movments: Because (Lennon, McCartney); Rush (Jay Bocook, Kevin Shah, Mike Jackson — all BK staff); Apres Moi (Regina Spektor); I’m Alive (Adam Watts), and Fly to Paradise (Eric Whitacre). Their uniforms were beautiful: white and light blue for the musicians, orange and light blue for the guard. They had some wonderful dance moves, but the music was not accessible. They also had this odd ghostly echo effect that was more distracting than anything else.

Phantom Regiment (FB) – Rockford IL. Founded in 1956, they have been finalists every year since 1974. Kudos to them for being the only corps east of the Mississippi to come to California. They had a very accessible repertoire “City of Light”: I Love Paris (Porter), Horoscope (Constant Lambert), Clair de Lune(Dubussy), An American in Paris (Gershwin), and Symphony No. 3 (Camille Saint-Saens). They filled the field and had a nice loud sound, but their precision was a bit off and their show just didn’t grab me.

Santa Clara Vanguard (FB) – Santa Clara. Founded in 1967, this is one of the top corps in DCI. Their program, “The Spark of Invention”, featured Invention in A Minor (Bach), Virus Attack (Amin Bhatia), Pure Imagination (Bricusse, Newley), and Piano Concerto (Corigliano). They were LOUD, but Vanguard is always loud. They had multiple costume changes on the field, and had these odd Van DeGraff generator type props. They also had an odd echo effect created by sound board delays — likely intentional, but I didn’t like it.

Blue Devils (FB) – Concord. The other major California corps, they were founded in 1970. They have won nationals 16 times, most recently in 2015 (yes, that’s what the program says — Blue Devils is that cocky and sure of themselves). They have never been lower than 4th in the last 20 years. Their program, “Ink”, dealt with fairy tales: Dark Forest (Dave Glyde), Sweeney Todd (Sondheim); The Giant Attack (Sondheim); The Mad Hatters Tea Party (Gordon Goodwin); I Like You (GOT7); Children Will Listen (Sondheim); Last Midnight (Sondheim). This was Blue Devils doing it right — a very accessible program, wonderful dance, wonderful story, wonderful and LOUD music. My only quibble is with the use of The Ballad of Sweeney Todd to accompany fairy tales — Snow White, in particular. They had the precision, and they knew it.

World Class Conclusions

🎺🎶🎺🎶 ⇒ Overall, my favorites were Blue Devils, The Academy, and the Mandarins, in that order. For me, as a theatre person and not a musician, their shows touched me the best. I was surprised at Blue Devils — often they do an inaccessible Jazz show. They did it right this time.


Position Corps Score
Open Class Division
1 Gold 50.600
2 Golden Empire 50.150
3 Watchmen 44.550
4 Impulse 43.450
5 Incognito 36.100
World Class Division
1 Blue Devils 79.850
2 Santa Clara Vanguard 78.650
3 Phantom Regiment 72.900
4 Blue Knights 72.400
5 The Academy 65.950
6 Pacific Crest 64.900
7 Mandarins 63.050

The scores for last night’s performance are shown to the right. Scoring is on a 100 point scale, with 40 for General Effect (20 each from two judges, one a visual expert, one a music expert); 30 for Visual (20 points each for Visual Analysis, Visual Proficiency, and Color Guard, summed and divided by two), and 30 for Music (20 points each for Music Analysis, Music Brass, and Music Percussion, summed and divided by two). Here are my thoughts on the scores.

In the Open Class, I think they got it right. Gold had the best show, and Golden Empires was far above the incomplete shows of the others.

In World Class, I really think that Mandarins should have been higher; ditto for Academy. They must have lost points with the judges on precision somewhere that I missed. Blue Devils did deserve to win.

A few technical notes: The RCC Band (FB) and Riverside Community College (FB) need to provide more food trucks and more drink options, especially on hot days. People were not able to cycle through the food lines in the 40 minute intermission. That indicates you need more servers and more options. It would also be useful for RCC or DCI to make clear what can and cannot be brought into the stadium. Lastly, next time I must bring stadium chairs; sitting for four hours without a seat back is hard.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: July is a month of double-headers, begining with “Murder for Two” at the Geffen Playhouse (FB) on July 3rd, and “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB) on July 4th. The next weekend is another double: On Friday night, July 10th, we’re seeing Colin Mitchell‘s show Madness, Murder Mayhem: Three Classic Grand Guignol Plays Reimagined at Zombie Joes Underground Theatre (FB); Saturday July 11th brings “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB). The following weekend is another double header: “The History Boys” at the Stella Adler Theatre (FB) on Saturday (Goldstar), and “Green Grow The Lilacs” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) on Sunday.  The last weekend of July brings our last double: “Lombardi” at the Lonny Chapman Group Rep (FB) on July 25th, with the annual Operaworks show the next day. August start calming down, with “As You Like It” at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend of August, our summer Mus-ique show the second weekend of August, and “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) the third weekend of August. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: Kelrik Production (FB)’s Urinetown at the Monroe Forum Theatre (Hold for Sat 10/3);  “Mrs. A. Lincoln” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


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.


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.

Read More …


Drum Corps in California

DCI has just announced their major events schedule. No, they haven’t moved championships back to California from Indianapolis. However, it does show that the Rose Bowl (yuk on the venue) will be hosting a major competition on the 4th of July. I sense there will be tickets to be ordered…

[In other Rose Bowl news, USC may move to the Rose Bowl, sharing space with UCLA. Why? Because the Coliseum Commission are dunderheads.]


And The 2008 World Champions Are…

Last night, we went out to the Rose Bowl for the DCI World Championship Finals. First, however, a digression, as not everyone is familiar with DCI or the sport of Drum Corps. I tend to describe it this way: Take a group of between 120 and 135 (soon to be 150) of young adults (aged 13-22). Break them into three units: marching brass, percussion, and a color guard. The brass group is typically on the field, and consists of sopranos (trumpets), mellophones, baritones and euphoniums, and contra basses. Percussion is both marching [marching snare drum, tenor drums (also known as “quads”, “quints”, or “toms”), marching cymbals, and marching tonal (pitched from high to low) bass drums] and off-field in the “pit” [marimbas, xylophones, vibraphones, glockenspiel, timpani, various types of drums, cymbals, gongs and many other auxiliary percussion instruments]. The color guard has all sorts of flags, rifles, sabres, and anything that gives good visual effect that you can throw and catch. Have this group develop a show of around 15 minutes. Put them in competition with similar groups from around the country, judging them on visual and musical general effect, visual performance, visual ensemble, color guard, brass music, percussion music, and the overal musical quality. Have them tour the country all summer continuously competing against each other (just like pro-sports), culminating in the “world championship” game. That’s drum and bugle corps. You can also read this FAQ.

DCI is special to my wife, as she marched (in her youth) in the Royal Cavaliers Youth Band. This group was in numerous exhibition with the Drum Corps of the time (pre-DCI) such as the Kingsmen, and often scored highter! She got me interested in the sport/spectacle, and thus we’re in Pasadena.

In any case, for the first time in its 35 year history, the DCI finals visited the west coast, holding their finals in the Rose Bowl. A few comments about that, before I go into the show proper. The Rose Bowl was constructed in 1921, and has a current capacity of 92,542, although only half of the stadium was used for the show. It was last renovated in the early 1990s. Although the Rose Bowl Association claims that the stadium “will continue to be the model for stadiums throughout the nation due to the stadium’s continued emphasis on patron comfort…”, I can tell you that is bullshit. The seats are narrow, with a pitch that is worse than a fully-packed United 575. I just couldn’t move the entire show. I’m reminded each time I go to the Rose Bowl why I hate the Rose Bowl. I don’t even go to UCLA games, and I’m a UCLA Alumni!

On to the show. We were attending the finals, which presented the top 12 of the 22 Division I (75-135 members) corps. The marching order was determined by the semi-final scoring. Here’s what we thought of each corps:

  1. Spirit from JSU (85.925 QF, 85.550 SF) from Jacksonville FL. Spirit’s show was called “Genesis”, and focused on three main facets that a new life will encounter; Creation, Controversy and Celebration. The production included Jun Nagao’s “Fluttering Maple Leaves,” Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” and David Gillingham’s “New Century Dawn.” We thought that Spirit’s performance was technically proficient, but had no “wow”, no volume.
  2. Colts (87.075 QF, 87.000 SF) from Dubuque IA. Their program, called “Equinox”, which featured “With One Look” from Sunset Boulevard, “Troika” from Lieutenant Kije Suite, “String Quartet No. 4, mvt 5” Allegro Molto, and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” from Sunset Boulevard. We thought the show was nice and had a fair amount of pizazza. They were the only one with show music, that we could tell.
  3. Glassmen (87.175 QF, 87.025 SF) from Toledo OH. Their show was called “Gitano”, and was an original program inspired by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Capriccio Espagnol, and Maurice Ravel’s Rhapsodie Espagnole, celebrating the Spanish Gypsies. When they came on the field, the gypsies were the first thing you notices, especially their attitude. They formed a great guard… however, the music was only good. Where has all the accessible music gone?
  4. Boston Crusades (89.350 QF, 84.450) from Boston MA. Their show was called “Picasso Suite”, featuring In Pace (Patrick Doyle), Cruzados (Jay Kennedy), Oblivion (Astor Piazzolla), and La Fiesta (Chick Corea). The show was interesting: the guard brought easels on the field, and used open-square flags as frames, eventually ending with Picasso-style flags, framed. The brass tended to play to the back stands, and thus didn’t have the power one wanted. They had a weak start and a weak finish.
  5. Blue Knights (90.2 QF, 90.45 SF) from Denver CO. Their program “Dark Dances” featured music from Dmitri Shostakovich, specifically Piano Concerto No. 1 and Symphony No. 10. This was a more traditional guard, and the corps had good volume and good modulation. The brass section did a really neat hat trick, and they had good sabre work.
  6. Bluecoats (93.7 QF; 93.75 SF) from Canton OH. Their program “Criminal” told the story of a jailbreak and followed the journey of a criminal mind. Its music included Criminal (Fiona Apple), Battle Music (David Holsinger), Small World (Trilok Gurtu and Robert Miles), Room Service (Michael Legrand), Smooth Criminal (Michael Jackson), Hummingbrrd (Stephen Bryant), Timbuktu (Holly Cole), and Every Breath You Take (The Police). We found it an inventive show. The guard started in orange prison jumpsuits, they then changed costumes on-field to something more ninja-like. They worked their theme well, and had lots of great effects. I’ll note when they came on the field, the audience mooed “Blue”, which sounded like they were being booed.
  7. Carolina Crown (93.325 QF; 93.875 SF) from Ft. Mill SC. Their program, “Triple Crown”, featured “Theme from Dreamer” by John Debney, “The Trap” by James Newton Howard, “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones, “The Red Pony: Happy Ending” by Aaron Copland, “Manny’s Story” by John Debney, “William Tell Overture” by Gioacchino Rossini, and “Last Race” by John Debney. This was a fun show, with wonderful crowd-pleasing effects, including a “photo finish”.
  8. Santa Clara Vanguard (93.2 QF; 94.05 SF) from Santa Clara CA. Vanguard’s show, called “!”, featured Introduction from Daphnis and Chloé (Maurice Ravel), War Dance from Daphnis and Chloé (Maurice Ravel), String Quartet in F Major – 2nd Movement (Maurice Ravel), Romanian Dance for Orchestra, Sz. 47a (Bela Bartok), St. Gregory the Great from Church Windows (Ottorino Respighi), and Finale from Daphnis and Chloé (Maurice Ravel). This was a very technically spectacular show, with good volume, formations and guardwork, but wasn’t that accessible and not a grabber. Oh where is the SCV of old that blew everyone off the field?
  9. Phantom Regiment (94.6 QF, 95.4 SF) from Rockford IL. Their show was “On Air”, and featured selections from Vespertine Formations by Christopher Deane, 1000 Airplanes on the Roof by Philip Glass, Flower Duet from Lakme by Leo Delibes, Suggestion Diabolique by Sergei Prokofiev, and Firebird by Igor Stravinsky. Another technically-wow, but not a grabber. Very etherial. They did have a baritone horn screamer, which was unusual.
  10. Cavaliers (96.225 QF; 96.775 SF) from Rosemont IL. This all-male corps presented a program called “And So It Goes”, featuring music from Billy Joel: Angry Young Man, Invention in C Minor, Pressure, I’ve Loved These Days, and Scenes From An Italian Restaurant. They had a spectacular guard, and did very many strength-dependent movements. There aren’t many all-male corps left.
  11. The Cadets (96.5 QF; 97.25 SF) sponsored by Youth Education in the Arts from Allentown PA. The YEA connection is very important here, as their program “This I Believe. Truth, Value and the Personal Experience Called Drum Corps ” was encouraging youth to go into music. The program featuerd Symphonic Movement, Blue Shades, Chorale VI, Cantus – Song of Aeolus. They had good energy and good music, but a very non-traditional show that featured four microphones and spoken words selections throughout the program emphasizing the “This I Believe” notion. This upset the traditional fans in the bleachers, some who even yelled “Shut Up” — poor form in my book. I enjoyed the show.
  12. Blue Devils from Concord CA (97.2 QF; 97.3 SF). The program was called “Winged Victory”, and featured Pegasus Fantasy, The Ascension, and Heaven. This was typical Blue Devils: a jazzy, technically-adept non-accessible show, with great field coverage, fun costume changes, and blowing everyone else off the field. No one does it like BD, and there is a reason they win year after year.

So what were the final scores:

  1. Blue Devils. 98.0. Captions: Visual Performance, General Effect, Percussion, Brass
  2. Cadets. 97.025.
  3. Cavaliers. 96.35. Captions: Color Guard.
  4. Phantom Regiment. 94.85
  5. Santa Clara Vanguard. 94.175
  6. Carolina Crown. 94.15. Spirit of Disney award.
  7. Bluecoats. 94.05.
  8. Blue Knights. 90.275.
  9. Boston Crusaders. 89.1
  10. Colts. 86.15.
  11. Glassmen. 85.75
  12. Spirit from JSU. 84.5

Overall, we noted that Drum Corps has really changed from what it was in the 1970s. It has grown, and the music has become less accessible. It is like studying for the test, instead of studying for the joy of it. The pit has changed, and thus the music has changed. It is still good, but drastically different. Those who want to watch the performance can see it on ESPN2, September 5, at 10:00 pm Eastern. For the next 10 or so years, the finals will be in Indianapolis IN, so we likely won’t go. We’ll stay with the local shows.


Various and Sundry Weekend Observations

  • I got a haircut this morning at my usual place. The discussion was what I expect: Football at Alabama, Football at UCLA, and who was getting them their next cup of coffee.
  • Next Friday (our 23rd wedding anniversary) I’m taking a day off of work and taking the family to Universal Hollywood. This was about the only day I could do it before school starts, and we’ll do a nice anniversary dinner up on Citywalk. I debated between one day tickets (at about $46 each with a coupon), or getting an annual pass ($62, through the credit union). As Universal is only ½hr away, I decided to go with the pass. It will pay for itself in two visits, and that will be easier to do over the year. I actually haven’t been to Universal Studios proper since I was a boy, and they just had the studio tour.
  • This evening, we’re going out to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena for the DCI World Championships. It should be good; according to the front page of DCI, the top three corps are within one point of each other. The corps in the final, in marching order, are Spirit from JSU, Colts, Glassmen, Boston Crusaders, Blue Knights, Bluecoats, Carolina Crown, Santa Clara Vanguard, Phantom Regiment, The Cavaliers, The Cadets, Blue Devils. Expect a review tonight or tomorrow. There was a nice article on the upcoming finals in today’s LA Times.
  • Tomorrow, while the wife and daughter go out shopping with ixixlix, I’m going to stay home and work on the highway pages. I’ve got over a month backlog, so it should be a busy day.

Return of the Energizer Bunny

Many years ago, there was a drum corps called the Velvet Knights out of the Anaheim area (you can see them perform here). VK, as this corps was known, had extremely entertaining shows that defined convention. They disappeared in the late 1990s, and their sense of humor was sorely missed. A quasi-similar corps started from the ashes of VK called Impulse, but they were never quite the same.

Today, I received a mailing from DCI about new corps cleared for this year. Guess who I was pleasantly surprised to see… a corps called VK of Pasadena. It appears that some VK alumni have restarted the corps, and they have qualified as a Division III corps for this year. I wish them success; it will be great to have them back. I’ll just have to remember to bring an inflatable beach ball to the finals in Pasadena (we’re going to the final show, but I don’t know if VK will make it in).

(If you’re curious why we’re into corps… my wife marched when she was young with a youth band that thought it was a corps… and often scored higher! If you don’t know what drum and bugle corps are, you can either read this entry, or imagine taking 120 kids, dividing them equally into brass, percussion, and flags (ok, put 20 or so in the pit with bells and such)…. and putting them out on the field in competition with each other for precision, musical quality, and showmanship. Quite a lot of fun!)