DCI.org's Michael Boo shares his thoughts on the corps performances on Aug. 9 at Rose Bowl Stadium for the DCI World Championship Quarterfinals. Yokohama Scouts Under a sunny and pleasantly warm sky, Yokohama Scouts opened up the DCI World Championship Quarterfinals with an exhibition of "The Ultimate Journey Through the Sky," based on the music of David Holsinger. The corps last ventured to the DCI World Championships from across the ocean in Japan in 1999, reminding us that drum corps is an international phenomenon not just present in North America. Selections of "To Tame the Perilous Skies" and Gymway's Revenge" demonstrated the small corps' ability to really lay on the volume when needed, with "On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss" providing a tender counterpoint. Realizing the corps' sacrifices to reach America, the audience gave a rousing welcome and the corps was presented with an extended thank-you over the public address system, translated into Japanese so the members could better appreciate the warmth and gratitude of the audience. Pioneer Pioneer was the first competitive corps on the field. "Fields of Green" has proven to be one of the corps' most popular productions ever, with a contemporized panache that reinvented the recognizable Irish melodies, letting us hear the music with new ears. Gustav Holst's "Suite in E-flat for Military Band" kicked off the production with a larger, fuller horn sound, followed by the charming lilt of Leroy Anderson's "Rakes of Mallow." "Irish Washerwoman" served as the drum solo, followed by a tender "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" and a rousing chorus of the corps' theme, "Garry Owen." Troopers The audience offered a most rousing "welcome back" when Troopers walked out of the tunnel onto the field. "Awakening" showed the corps is not just back, but back in grand style. With a full 64-person horn line and a visual program not making concessions to the youthfulness of the corps, this show has delighted old and new Troopers fans throughout the country. There is just nothing like being able to throw love out to an icon of drum corps that one had to wonder had its last hurrah. Joseph Curiale's "Joy," written to celebrate the composer's survival of a life-threatening malady, appropriately conveys the sense of thankfulness all have at Troopers' return. Dave Brubeck's "Unsquare Dance" allowed the corps to demonstrate that despite its demeanor of military bearing, they could still let their hair down. The emotional pulling on the heartstrings of Gordon Goodwin's "Ever Braver, Ever Stronger" served as a reflection on what we could have lost forever. Looking toward the future with hope and having proven that the corps is a survivor, David Holsinger's "American Faces" delivered the euphoric statement that the celebration has only just begun. Mandarins "Dragon Dance" commenced before the judging began with a relaxing, atmospheric wave of pit sounds washing across the stadium to Joseph Curiale's "Tea in Chinese Camp." Curiale's "Call of the Mountain" and "Shadow and Light" delivered contrasting moods of drama and suspense, inspired by the hopes and travails of the Chinese workers who came to this country for a better life, but who faced hardships as well as opportunity. Shigeru Umebayashi's percussive "Battle in the Forest" penetrated the confines with a vigorous confrontation of resolve and might, the guard standing their ground and pushing back all attackers. Tan Dun's "Jubilation" from "Symphony 1997" fêted accomplishments of the Chinese as they found prosperity and a new home, with Chinese dragons dancing across the field and aerial guard fireworks akin to the explosion of fireworks that light up the skies in every Chinese New Year. Southwind "InTheLoop" commenced visually with the corps circulating through four loops that created one continuous loop, playing off the theme of smaller entities belonging to a greater entity. Original music by Steve Vento, Shane Gwaltney and Eric Willie was fresh and invigorating, continually interpreted visually by pitting individuals or small ensembles against the larger group. Musically, the melodies explored this connection of the individual to the larger group through elements of loneliness when not being part of the greater ensemble and ecstasy when feeling one belonged. At such moments, drill forms that featured isolated individuals or groups evolved to feature the entire corps as a single entity, ending with the entire group showing that it's easier to work together than apart. Cascades One of the fun things of watching "Three" is trying to catch all the ways that the number is manifested in various drill incarnations. If one looked at something long enough before it evolved, one would find some reference to three somewhere. Frank Ticheli's propulsive "Postcard" was an angular work that sounded as if it was chiseled out of some form of musical rock, its lines as hard-edged as any Piet Mondrian painting. Eric Whitacre's comforting "Sleep" was like pulling a blanket over one's body in front of a blazing fireplace, wrapping up for the evening in the comfort of loving arms. Philip Glass' frenetic "V2 Schneider" from "Heroes Symphony" threw many more renditions of visual "three" references across the field, its maximum minimalism overlaying the drill with an audacious impetus that pushed the corps up to the edge of the neighboring mountains. Pacific Crest "What Happens in Vegas..." delivered the high-energy rollicking, non-stop energy one expects from the great city in the desert. "Viva Las Vegas" plugged into the neon lights that could probably be seen from space and offered a view of the city as a fantasy land of possibilities, a "7777" drill form anticipating the good run of luck to follow. A set of dice in "Love for Sale" built on this expectancy of luck, but the narrator brought us back to earth with a reminder than "In Vegas, money talks. It says 'good-bye.'" "Angel Eyes" was a more solemn take on how luck can change, its pensive mood one of intense melancholy. But every story has to have a happy ending, and "Luck Be a Lady" focused on the big payoff, where pockets get stuffed with cash, rooms get comped and a showgirl (or two or three) hangs off every arm. Madison Scouts Making great strides and continuously moving up through the ranks all summer, Madison Scouts' "Unbound" provided a glimpse into a more pop oriented corps than in recent years. The mysterious humming of Alanis Morrissette's "Uninvited" off-the-line and the corps' mystical advance onto the field raised the level of anticipation as to what we would witness next. When Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" kicked in with its throbbing, repetitive rhythms, the show suddenly changed character and took off running towards a full realization of a fleur-de-lis. In fact, fragments of the corps' trademark were seen throughout the show. Pulling hard on the emotions of the fans, Gabriel Faure's "Requiem in D Minor" seared the field with its classical outpouring of passion. Selections from "Moulin Rouge" ended the show with muscular brawn, throwing us back to the famous shows of the corps' past that lit the field afire with searing combustions of blasting horn bravado. Crossmen Long capes worn only in the pre-show moving warm-up and the introduction of "Bones" reminded us that Crossmen has a long history that pre-dates its move to Texas this year. "Metamorphosis" reverently looked into the corps' storied past and projected itself into the future with a tribute to music that has come before and is in the memory banks of the fans, while looking into the corps' anticipated bright future in Texas with music that is new and entrancing. Audio glimpses of selections such as "Russian Christmas Music," "First Circle" and "Birdland" abound throughout the opening segment, with fragments of von Weber's "Symphonic Metamorphosis" continually peaking through to indicate the corps is currently going through a metamorphosis of its own, the medley ending with the corps' Maltese Cross. The rest of the show, passing through "The Crow" and original music by the corps staff, pointed to the Crossmen of the future, secure in the knowledge that the corps will be around to entertain long into the future. Blue Stars Successfully building upon its initial move up to Division I last year, Blue Stars delivered a huge sound in "Power and Grace" that aptly captured the meaning of the first part of the show's title. The opener of Stravinsky's "Firebird" was totally deconstructed and reconstructed to create a piece that was heard afresh, its most violent segments destructively intense with an anger verging on spontaneous combustion. Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" covered the bases for "grace," lovely and soul-caressing, as did Saint-Saens' elegiac "The Swan." Hearing the melody of the latter piece in the tubas was unexpectedly comforting. The finale of "Firebird" reminded us that corps fans can take only so much beauty and grace, that what we really want more than anything is to have our dimples further indented by detonations of gusting brass explosions. The Academy As a first-time entrant into Division I competition this year, the Academy has sure been making a lot of corps nervous. Making finals at the DCI Southwestern Regional, the corps served notice that it is to be reckoned with and has no desire to wait to break into the big show. "The Chase" is an original music book by Sam Pilafian and Patrick Sheridan, based on a 1940s film noir crime movie. Melodic motifs fittingly capture the seedy underbelly of the dark recesses of the city's shadier characters. The characterizations of the Hero, the Villain and the Woman are seen throughout as each tries to control the outcome of what happens in the day-to-day life in the city. A rousing big band "At the Jitterbug Club" raises the blood pressure and is countered by the lovely "Hymn for Diana" by Joseph Turrin, a work that oozes admiration for another being and relaxes the soul before "The Chase/Conclusion" threatens to set the city afire as the Hero gets the Woman, making the city and humanity safe for all. Spirit from JSU It's hard to believe I've been enjoying Spirit for 30 years now. I can still vividly remember being blown away by that magnificent Jim Ott horn line in 1978, his first year with the corps, and although during the corps' second year, still very much during its birth. "Genesis" peeks at the corps' rebirth as it faces the future with a new style and altered identity that is fresh and updated, as exemplified by the clean look of the new uniforms that are futuristic while harkening back to the delta design of the corps' birth. Divided into the segments, "Creation," "Controversy" and "Conflict," the show passes through the driving Oriental sensitivity of Jun Nagao's "Fluttering Maple Leaves," into the evocative strains of Imogen Heap's murmuring "Hide and Seek" and smashing into the valiant soaring disposition of David Gillingham's "New Century Dawn," speaking to the genesis of a new day and entertaining corps productions yet to come. Glassmen The Gypsies took up residence in the Rose Bowl and suddenly everything was more colorful and lively. Robert W. Smith created a festive jubilance with "Gitano," based on "Capriccio Espagnol" by Rimsky-Korsakov and "Rhapsodie Espagnole" by Ravel. Almost inquisitive in its desire to explore the hidden nuances of the Gypsy lifestyle, exoticism permeated every crevice, from the opening gathering during the folk drumming introduction to the last wave of the townsfolk to the departing entertainers. We thought we knew the source material, famous as it is. Yet these interpretations were delightfully fresh. Vibrant costumes of muted earth tones highlighted the earthiness of the performers, contrasted by the wild array of colorful flags and banners that erupted at the end of the show. Seemingly as soon as they arrived, the Gypsies were gone to the next town. Colts Like photography sped up to capture a full year of plant life or a building under construction in just minutes, "Equinox" took us through the change of the seasons in less time than it takes a snowman to melt in southern California. Covering the field with the colors of autumn during Andrew Lloyd Webber's "With One Look" and passing towards winter via the regal strains of Mussorgsky's triumphant "Coronation Scene" from "Boris Gudunov," the power of the horns and the vivaciousness of the guard have never been more in evidence. The frigid fun in the snow of winter was heard in Prokofiev's "Troika" from "Lt. Kije," with Mussorgsky's "Great Gate of Kiev" and Bartok's "String Quartet No. 4, mvt. 5," demonstrating the more threatening aspects of the changing seasons. Webber's "As If We Never Said Goodbye" filled the field with the regeneration of nature's beauty as the cycle began anew with new growth and new promise. Boston Crusaders "A Picasso Suite" paid homage to the most influential visual artist of the past century, using his art as inspiration for a wide palette of sights and sounds that traveled through his many periods of artistic creativity. Picasso's Blue Period inspired Patrick Doyle's "In Pace," the flags most perceptibly picking up on the hues of that era. Jay Kennedy's original "Cruzados" captured the Spanish sensitivities of the painter's homeland, motivated by the bullfight music that rouses the most tired soul. "Oblivion," a poignant slower-paced tango by Astor Piazzolla, represented Picasso's Cubist period, witnessed in the more block-oriented drill forms. Chick Corea's "La Fiesta" finished off the show with a fiery exaltation to the Spanish psyche. Blue Knights Starting as if calling out to the masses huddled in apprehension of the unknown, the solitude of the opening of "Dark Dances" sets up the brain cells to be pushed over the edge when Shostakovich's "Tenth Symphony" kicks into brutal overdrive, leaving nothing standing in the wake of its destructiveness, wiping out hope and leaving fans gasping for relief from the doom. And that's what it's intended to do. This isn't a walk in the park or a feeding of farm animals at a petting zoo. It's a bold slap across the face that lives up to its title. With much of the corps' kinetic body sculpturing peppering the production, the production is a visual delight of unusual and unexpected movement. Offering hope for the bewildered, Shostakovich's "Concerto No. 1 for Piano, Trumpet, and Strings" gives a reprise from the sonic assault and provides for a chance to gather one's wits prior to witnessing the eventual domination of the symphony's final praise of glory, Santa Clara Vanguard "!," (pronounced "Eureka!," caps off Vanguard's 40th anniversary in grand style. Quietly atmospheric, the opening of Ravel's "Daphnis and Chlo?©" impressionistically tantalizes the neurons with subtle nuance, the cymbal line being tossed across the waves from the side of the field to front and center. "War Dance" from "Daphnis and Chlo?©" savages the sensitivities with a brash onslaught of dynamic hostility. Ravel's warmly amorous "String Quartet in F Major" and Bartok's bubbly "Romanian Dance" set up the emotional powerhouse that is the pinnacle of the scorching climax of Respighi's "St. Gregory the Great" from "Church Windows," the horns doing a one-step "Bottle Dance" at the loudest moment. Ending with "Finale" from "Daphnis and Chloe," the show ends with a giant exclamation mark that, well, put an exclamation mark on the show. Carolina Crown "Triple Crown" has proven to be an instant audience favorite, the poetic rendering of wild horses etched into the imagination by the interpretive guard and the sonic brilliance of the horn line. We see the wild horses "Stampede" at the beginning to the wilderness strains of John Debney's "Theme" from "Dreamer," followed by the "The Trap" from "Hidalgo," capturing the noble steeds and putting them in corrals. "Training" ended with the horses in a circular enclosure of horns, representing a horse track training loop to the tender resonance of The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," followed by the exhilaration of Copland's "Happy Ending" from "The Red Pony," getting ready for the big race that arrives with the dawning of John Debney's "Manny's Story" and "Last Race." We hear a bugle call to start the race and suddenly, Rossini's "William Tell Overture" announces the start of the race. When you get the DVDs, look at the guard, wearing the colors of the top DCI corps as the horses race to a photo finish. Phantom Regiment In all my years of attending drum corps shows, I have never experienced such a unique mallet keyboard effect as when Phantom's pit produces at the beginning of "On Air," an innovative musical book that seamlessly combines some of the most modern music to hit the field with some of the most classic, along the way capturing the wonder of flight from a birds-eye perspective. That mallet effect takes place in the "Vespertine Formations" opening that precedes the "1000 Airplanes on the Roof" opener of Philip Glass, a throbbing distillation of pounding rhythm which courses through the bloodstream in a most stimulating manner. "Flower Duet" from Delibes' "Lakme" lets the birds rest and coo at each other, the serenity interrupted by Prokofiev's percussive "Suggestion Diabolique" as if birds of prey move in on the lovebirds. Stravinsky's "Firebird" wraps up the production with the birds taking off from rest and flocking in the sky, even changing direction as birds do as they swarm over the fields growing ever distant. Bluecoats After a season of surprising every top corps on the field at least once, Bluecoats come into the home stretch with "Criminal" still on the loose, the shadowy figures of society's non-worker class still getting away with their enterprising way of life. David Holsinger's "Battle Music," Trilok Girtu's "Small World," Michel Legrand's "Room Service" and Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" blow past stop signs and every other traffic device to deliver a richly varied stylistic offering that covers many musical bases, from symphonic to jazz to pop, each seeming to belong with the other. Along with Steven Bryant's "Hummingbrrd" and Holly Cole's "Timbuktu," the corps offered many humorous sight and sound gags, such as when the guard was instructed, "Drop your weapons" and then dropped their rifles. The instruction, "You have the right to remain silent" was greeted with several seconds of silent drill. Bluecoats have had no problem playing with the "big boys" and are undoubtedly now one of the corps other corps will be gunning for now and in the future. The Cavaliers When The Cavaliers announced the corps would be performing "And So It Goes," the music of Billy Joel, there was much speculation and even confusion how music by a pop artist could be taken and transformed into a highly competitive production. There is no more question; the show has over the season been transformed into another corps classic, the music at times unexpected and the visuals captivating and original. Taking a largely symphonic approach to the music, the corps seems to have lifted the Joel songs and transferred much of the selections to a concert stage, Many might be surprised just how sophisticated is the music of Billy Joel, as it's certainly opened up a lot of ears. There's a lot of gymnastics required from the entire horn line as well as the guard, and just watching this show induces sweat from the spectators. The Cadets "This I Believe" has generated far more keystrokes on computers across the drum corps planet than any other show. Some haven't known what to make of the narration and others have been convinced they know what to make of it all too well. All along, the corps has been delivering an astounding music book and a drill that at times defies description. Many of the horn motifs and riffs going on during Nelybel's "Symphonic Movement" are nothing short of mind-boggling, and the breaking down of the different sections of the corps are truly inspired, fitting everything together like a jigsaw puzzle. In Frank Ticheli's "Blue Shades," who would have ever thought a marching basics block could be focus of attention? And the audience really enjoyed getting "into it" when the narrator said, "Alright, let's do something with no voice." (I can't help but think that line was generated by the creative staff with big smiles on their faces.) Oh, and there's also Karl Jenkins' "Adiemus II: Cantata Mundi." Lots of neat stuff in that, too. Blue Devils "Winged Victory" is everything we want from Blue Devils ... In-your-face jazz from the horns, drummers that just don't quit and pound the field into submission, huge widely spread drill forms that cover two zip codes, and a guard that dances its wings off. The large black guard wings, by the way, nicely fill up the field with their ghostly presence. Inspired by a series of disparate works and thoroughly recomposed into a new three-part composition, the show transcends the darkness of the opener and gradually turns white and bright yellow, as if bringing in the rays of the sun to light up the field, followed by a return of the wings, now all white. It's an ending of intense hope and awe and one can't help to feel a sense of personal salvation from the darkness that preceded it. The clouds are chased away and the sky turns blue despite the darkness of night and all is well with the world and the heavens above.
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 print and Web 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.