Drum Corps International
Celebrating the Declaration of Drum Corps

Celebrating the Declaration of Drum Corps

by Michael Boo

This week marks the 4th of July, a holiday celebrated with parades, cookouts, and fireworks. Marking the occasion, DCI.org columnist Michael Boo takes a look back in time to count down his top five drum corps shows in DCI history that exemplify the spirit of America. Whether they be flag waving patriotic endeavors or productions that oozed Americana from every facet of their being, these are shows that Boo says will make you want to put on your Uncle Sam top hat and hoist the Stars and Stripes.

5. 1995 Bluecoats

Bluecoats celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II with "Homefront: 1945," a euphoric-yet-bittersweet look at the lives of those left behind while soldiers and sailors went overseas to fight for liberty. The brass and percussion were attired in military dress uniforms and the color guard members wore clothing and hairstyles of the 1940s. Tunes from the era highlighted the personal battles at home and the military battles overseas. Lovers danced with each other before departing for military training. A variety of songs of the armed forces were heard amidst Morse Code and the escalation of battle. The corps celebrated the end of the war with enthusiastic dancing and a live replication of that famous Life Magazine photo of a sailor kissing the first young woman he saw in Times Square. But the reality of war hit home as one woman was presented with a folded American flag while grieving over the loss of her loved one, reminding us that freedom isn't free. Watch this complete performance on DVD.

4. 2002 Cadets

"An American Revival" took place in the heart of Manhattan as the nation was entering World War II, spanning the six decades between the "Day of Infamy" and the attacks of 9/11. For the most part, the show was a feel good delight; the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" remains one of the greatest musical parties ever thrown on a football field. Citizens of the Big Apple tried to get in one last bout of merrymaking before the lights were turned off in Times Square. Then a mood of solemnity filled the air as the male members of the color guard put on their army khakis and all stated the "Pledge of Allegiance." After forming an American flag drill formation and re-creating the famed raising of the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima, the corps staged the image of the three firemen raising the flag amidst the rubble of the fallen towers. During the corps' final performance of the season, screaming sirens and flashing lights on fire trucks stationed across the street were activated, perfectly capturing the mood of a country still recovering from the attacks 11 months earlier. Watch this complete performance on DVD.

3. 1984 Suncoast Sound

Suncoast Sound reflected the turbulence of America in the 1960s, a time when many were convinced we all might disappear in a nuclear war precipitated by the Cuban Missile Crisis and further aggravated by the Vietnam War. Drill formations of a bomb and a giant mushroom cloud rekindled this sense of uneasiness. The spiritual highlight of the show was when a dispute between police and war protesters led into a deeply reverential moment, when 28 pieces of adjoining fabric were slowly picked up to reveal a representation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The image of a young girl communicating with the spirit of her unseen deceased father at the wall was chilling and heartbreaking. The production came to a close starting with the discontent of "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" before evolving into "America the Beautiful." An old-fashioned American flag presentation was followed by color guard members unrolling banners of red, white and blue, portraying a sense of renewed hope and pride in the nation. Watch this complete performance on DVD.

2. 1986 Troopers

Troopers have long been nicknamed "America's Corps." How could they not be on this list? Of all the patriotic and Americana shows the corps has brought us, this may well be its most red, white and blue production of them all. The corps opened its 1986 production with "American Salute," based on the Civil War era song, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home." "Silverado" caught the dynamic flavor of settling the Old West, complete with a hoedown. The reverence of "Prayer of Thanksgiving" was followed by the Americana exuberance of Copland's "The Red Pony" and the corps' trademark "Sunburst" drill maneuver. What pushed this show over the edge into patriotic splendor was the slow tempo "Battle Hymn of the Republic," with eight red, white and blue banners unfurled as if the rays of the sun rising over a new day of honor. With the entire corps surrounded by red, white and blue flags, this show couldn't have been more patriotic had the corps spelled out "AMERICA" across the field. Watch this complete performance on DVD.

1. 1992 Star of Indiana

For those who perceive America as one of extreme excess, "American Variations" responded with, "Yeah, what about it? And while we're at it, here's even more of the more, more and MORE!" Pushing home the unabashedly patriotic theme were red coats, white pants and blue sashes on the brass and percussionists and red and white stripes inside the blue color guard dresses, just in case the red, white and blue flags didn't quite convey the message. In "Amber Waves," transparent scrim paintings of Americana scenes were set up across the field, including sheaths of wheat, the Golden Gate Bridge, crested bluffs, and purple mountains majesty. Flags representing immigrants sailed across the field to introduce a scrim of the upraised hand of the Statue of Liberty. "Flag of Stars," based on quotes from "The Star Spangled Banner," led to the entire corps disappearing behind a giant scrim depicting fireworks exploding in the background of the Miss Liberty. Perhaps the only thing missing was an apple pie. Watch this complete performance on DVD.

Honorable Mentions

American themes have long played a starring role in drum corps productions. Here's just a few more of the countless standouts over more than four decades.

2002 Blue Devils


2002 Blue Devils
"Jazz—Music Made in America" was a celebration of America's most endearing indigenous art form. From the black-and-white visuals of the ragtime opening, through the unmistakable American sounds of Gershwin and a down-home blues classic, to a Buddy Rich staple, this show was a tutorial in why jazz is so associated with America. Watch this complete performance on DVD.

1980 Bridgemen


1980 Bridgemen
There are few things more American than a circus, and Bridgemen brought one right to our stadium seats. The show also explored the pure American musical elements of funk and jazz. But it was the re-creation of "War Between the States" that demonstrated the nation's ability to become one after the most dreadful of divisions. Watch this complete performance on DVD.

2009 Blue Stars


2009 Blue Stars
"The Factory" captured the steadfast dedication of stateside workers during World War II, people who were toiling to win the war at home by producing needed war supplies. All the while the soldiers they loved were winning the war on the seas, in the skies and on foreign battlegrounds. Watch this complete performance on Blu-ray disc.

2009 Santa Clara Vanguard


2009 Santa Clara Vanguard
American composer Aaron Copland's "Ballet For Martha," was one of the most beautiful musical productions ever put on the field. The ballet music is better known as the source for the popular "Appalachian Spring" orchestral suite. It makes this list because its sheer exquisiteness pulled at the Americana heartstrings in everyone with a pulse. Watch this complete performance on Blu-ray disc.

2011 Madison Scouts


2011 Madison Scouts
"New York Morning" was a roller coaster ride of national emotions, from the ambivalence of starting a new day in sunny Manhattan, through the horror of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, to the banding together of Americans to face the future with a new resolve and a resurgent sense of national pride. Watch this complete performance on Blu-ray disc.
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.

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