If one has been around drum corps for a few decades and thinks of important contributions to the activity by color guards, it's unlikely the name 27th Lancers wouldn't come to mind first and foremost. William Walton's "Crown Imperial" was long considered synonymous with the 27th Lancers. It was performed by 27th many times throughout the 1970s as well as in the corps' 1981 production. In the '81 version, a flurry of flags began spinning just prior to the start of the piece and were caught by color guard members on the first downbeat. Then the flag spinners quickly bent over and picked up additional flags tightly wrapped on the field that were fairly well camouflaged by how they were set, and suddenly, there were two flags being spun by each member as members of the brass section goose stepped to the front. Not to be outdone, the rifle line executed a five-yard toss over the heads of the contra bass players, who quickly knelt for good measure. The drum solo, featuring Jean Luc Ponty's "New Country," featured double flags in the color guard and single flags spun by horn players. The brass section expanded and collapsed a box from and to a file on the 50-yard line which was highlighted with some tricky flag tosses and a 15-foot rifle toss and catch by contra players. A final outbreak of spins—with the rifles on the 50, the color guard flags on either side, and the horn flags in an arc framing the guard and drums—finished the piece with a dizzying blur. Don Ellis' "Niner Two" was the concert number for the '81 Lancers. If you don't already own the CD, "Don Ellis Live at Montreux," do yourself a favor and either buy it or purchase the MP3 downloads from iTunes or Amazon. You'll also get Ellis' recording of "Open Wide," which was performed by the 27th Lancers in 1979 and 1980 and Blue Devils in 1993. 27th's version in 1981 included an awesome drum break while the members of the rifle line did a little of their famed spinning while lying on their backs. They even propelled the rifles into the air with their feet! George Zingali's drill formations took the brass section to stage left at the end (only five horn players were to the right of the 50), at a time when the drum corps activity was still trying to figure out this wacky thing called asymmetry.
1981 27th Lancers
The pop song, "The Greatest Love of All" served as the closer to the production. The introduction is fascinating to listen to for the melodic treatment presented by the five timpani players, which at this point in DCI's history were still being carried and played on the field by individual members. For most of the season, William Walton's "Spitfire Prelude" was used as a tag to the closer, and late into the season was still in the show. In the final two weeks of the season, though, the piece was replaced by the corps' theme song, "Danny Boy," which is heard on the 1981 recording. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, a corps could still get away with doing something so dramatic at the end of the season. Still, it helped if a corps was as talented as the 27th Lancers. This week only, you can save on 1981 World Championship Audio and Video Performance Downloads on the DCI Fan Network. Buy the 1981 27th Lancers Video Performance Download. (Available this week only for $3.99. Regular price: $4.99.) Buy the Audio Performance Download bundle of all 12 Finalists from 1981. (Available this week only for $15.99. Regular price: $19.99.) Offer ends Monday, July 11 at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Performance excerpt of the 1981 27th Lancers.
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.