Spotlight of the Week: 1978 27th Lancers
In placing third, Blue Devils fell just short of achieving DCI's first three-peat by a little more than three tenths of a point as Santa Clara Vanguard won the title by a tenth over Phantom Regiment. The Devils' former brass arranger and instructor Jim Ott moved on to Spirit of Atlanta and helped that corps soar from 23rd place its first year in 1977 to sixth place, while capturing the Brass Execution sub-caption on the judges' sheets by a full point.
In seventh place, Revere, Massachusetts' 27th Lancers commenced its show with the bull-fighting theme, “Prelude,” also known as “Overture from Carmen” and “March of the Toreadors.” French composer Georges Bizet wrote the opera in 1875. Said to have influenced Tchaikovsky and Ravel, the composer died at the age of 36 from a heart attack, thinking “Carmen” was a flop due to being savaged by the press just three months earlier.
1978 27th Lancers
The Lancers started on the left side of the football field, taking advantage of a new rule that allowed corps to begin their shows on the field as opposed to starting behind the left or back sidelines.
As was typical for the corps, the show opened with a flurry of color guard work from the flags and rifles. Having pioneered the introduction of spinning double flags in 1975, the bright streamer flags the corps utilized in 1978 were doubled one moment and magically became single flags in the blink of an eye. One notable thing about the rifles was how they were often worked right into the drill formations of the brass players, which wasn't a common sight for this time period.
Next the corps played John Williams' “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” which came from the 1977 smash hit film by Steven Spielberg, following up on the success of the Spielberg-Williams collaborations of “Jaws” in 1975 and “Star Wars,” also from 1977. After a slow solo statement by two horns, the full corps went into a brief fanfare statement of the theme, setting up a color guard exchange with a line of rifles surrounded by two lines of flags. The entire selection was only a half-minute long.
“Close Encounters” segued into “I've Got the Music in Me,” written in 1973 by Bias Boshell, keyboardist for the Kiki Dee Band. Kiki Dee is an English singer, born Pauline Matthews, who is better known for her “Don't Go Breaking My Heart duet with Elton John in 1976. Half the color guard flag spinners moved to smaller hand streamers the same bright colors as the larger flags. Multiple flags of different designs were not yet a “thing” in drum corps, largely due to competitive restrictions that by 1978 were somewhat eased that made it difficult for corps to pick items up off the field during performances.
The piece then moved into a drum solo, with the horns carrying red hand flags and performing a drill of two rotating, collapsing boxes that appeared out of a straight line down the 50-yard line — first with the flags up and then with the flags down. As simple as the maneuver was, it was something drum corps audiences hadn't seen before, and thus it was highly effective. The solo ended with the horn players spinning the flags, something not generally thought of as being possible at the time due to the time it would take to teach basic guard technique to non-color guard performers.
1978 27th Lancers
Next the Lancers utilized a tune that was brought back from their 1975 production. Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon wrote “Celebrate” for the 1969 Three Dog Night album, “Suitable for Framing.” The band rarely wrote the pieces it recorded and introduced audiences to an astounding number of songwriters who went on to enjoy great fame.
The 10 rifle spinners up front, just behind the two horn soloists during this selection, had long streamers attached to the ends of their rifles that created a circular pattern when spun. The rifle spinners then knelt down to lay on the field while continuously spinning. It was another moment from the guard that, although it doesn't sound radical from the vantage point of today, was indeed quite innovative. To add to the visual punch, the spinners lifted their legs while lying down and spun their rifles in front and behind their raised legs. A squad of white pompons was added to the end of the piece, hiding a color guard member who was to jump out from under at the end.
1978 27th Lancers
The pompons were most appropriate for the beginning of the cute “Can-Can” from Prussian (German) composer Jacques Offenbach's “Orpheus in the Underworld” operetta of 1858, and the pompon bearers took on the spirit of cheerleaders.
For the end, the contra bass horn players sat on the ground as they then laid back to play as cymbal players somersaulted through the drum line to add one of many exclamation marks to the show.
With the 27th Lancers' usual bravado, “Can-Can” took the place of “Danny Boy,” which had served as the corps' closing tune the previous three years and the five years that followed.
Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than 35 years and serves as a staff writer for various Drum Corps International projects. Boo has written for numerous other publications and has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating.
As an accomplished composer, Boo holds a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in music theory and composition. He resides in Chesterton, Indiana.