In 2001, while the Cavaliers were visiting the four corners of Orchard Park’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Cadets were dancing on the Moon over Buffalo, and Blue Devils were off on an “Awayday,” Santa Clara Vanguard was hustling off to the bustle of the workplace in “New Era Metropolis.” The music for this series of sketches symbolic of the modern-day workforce was drawn exclusively from American works of the latter half of the 20th Century.
The fourth-place show started with a single vibist playing a lullaby-like melody as a lone color guard member rotated her arms around her torso as if the hands of an analog clock, representing the passage of peaceful sleep about to be rudely interrupted as a distance bell tolled on the hour. “Alarm,” consisting of a raucous few chords about as gentle as an early morning rousing by one of those infernally loud Westclox Big Ben alarm clocks, revealed flags emblazoned with clock face Roman numeral symbols for 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock.
The short introduction launched the corps straight into the feverish “Rush Hour,” based on John Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine.” Adams’ described his frenetic minimalist masterpiece with the words, “You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn’t?” The relentless continual attack of the repetitively stabbing chords perfectly caught the exasperation of the rush hour commute.
“Jug Blues and Fat Pickin’” by Donald Freund was said to highlight the camaraderie, discord and humor that accompanies the daily rituals on the “Assembly Line.” The Memphis Beale Street music scene in the late 1920s and down-home bluegrass banjo pickin’ inspired the rollicking piece, originally written for concert band. In the work, Freund re-created the joy of a jug band, which typically included guitars, banjos and a variety of homemade instruments; such as rhythmic spoons, washboards, a washtub bass and a glass or stoneware jug into which a performer produced different pitches depending on the tension of their lips.
Another concert band piece, the “Lento, pesante” movement from Norman Dello Joio’s “Variants on a Medieval Tune,” was featured during the “Skyline Dreams” segment. Particularly notable at the end was when the color guard members looked at their “watches” and tapped them to be sure the devices were still working, as some days at the office never seem to end.
I served as the escort during World Championships week for the famed Maestro Dr. Frederick Fennell. I took him to an SCV rehearsal so he could work with the corps for the Opening Ceremonies performance of “America the Beautiful/O Canada.” During the corps’ run-through of their show, he was so enraptured by the interpretation of this piece that he took his cell phone out and phoned the composer to share what he had just witnessed.
As tired as the office workers/performers may have been at the end of the workday, there was a spark of life that reinvigorated them once they left the office for the “Metropolis Finale,” based on “New Era Dance” by Aaron Jay Kernis. The jazzy roars of urban nightlife filled the field with the strains of what the Times’ music critic Richard Morrison described as “a six-minute explosion of New York exuberance.”
Performance excerpt of the 2001 Santa Clara Vanguard.
The expressions of partying through the night and the cacophony of the city nightlife scene increasingly got out of control, and a siren announced the arrival of the police to restore order. A battery percussion bass drum commenced a rhythmic beat over which the members started chanting, “New Era…New Era…New, New, New…New Era” over and over, like an Occupy Ralph Wilson Stadium mob. The guard let down their hair and started gyrating to the increasingly jazzy ethnic percussion beat. A very short visual tribute to the corps’ famed “Bottle Dance” brought huge cheers from the audience. In the accompanying video vlip, note how at the end of the guard feature, one member marks time and salutes in a gesture of the old guard acknowledging the “new era” of the new guard.
In a visual tribute to the corps’ Championship show from two years earlier, two narrow blocks of horns, one in front and one in back, pivoted mirror-like as another block forced itself into the middle and all became one massive block that split apart and then wedged back together from another direction.
The day was complete and it was time to go home and sleep off the raucous night of partying. After the relaxing bliss of the weekend, the alarm clock would once again ring and start the process all over again.
For this week only, you can save on the DVD set that contains this complete Santa Clara Vanguard performance, along with all finalists from the 2001 DCI World Championships.
Discount DVD offer ends Monday, May 7 at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than a quarter century 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, Ind.