1989 Santa Clara Vanguard
When Phantom Regiment was announced in 2nd place at the 1989 DCI World Championship Finals with a 98.40, the corps had tied the highest score ever awarded to a World Class Champion up to that point. That record score only held for about a minute, when Santa Clara Vanguard was announced with a 98.80, capping a nearly undefeated season only marred by a mid-July loss to the Blue Devils. SCV's score would remain a record for more than a decade until 2002. 1989 was Drum Corps International's second year in a row at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium, a World Championship that witnessed Crossmen returning to the Finals after a four-year absence and Freelancers making it back in after going inactive in 1986. Some of the most memorable moments included the Cavaliers' barbarically loud drumheads on hoops, Cadets' slow-motion "strobe light" drill formation effect and Suncoast Sound's second take at the all-original "Florida Suite," with mostly new selections. Santa Clara Vanguard won with a revamped, second-year edition of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera." For many fans, the production was everything they wanted from drum corps, and for that reason, it has long been a fan-favorite. It was voted the number one finalist performance ever by fans who selected the shows to be presented during DCI's 2007 Classic Countdown theater event. After a brief and mysterious introduction, the brass section spilling from an upfront block formation during the title track, more than made the ears perk up. The eyes noticed the brass players and percussionists all wearing white masks over half their face, just as the title character did in the Broadway production. Large sets of the same design were propped up across the back and down the sidelines, looking quite ominous. "Angel of Music," though a ballad, was delivered with a forceful passion that matched the "Phantom of the Opera" selection that bookended it. "Masquerade" was interpreted with large flags of eye masks and large whimsical masquerade ball masks on the members of the front ensemble. As loud as the music was, one can hear the fans erupt in frequent cheers. This was a show that kept on delivering thrilling moments from the beginning through to the end. The masked Phantom appeared at the end of the work, threatening all and running to the back as the corps went into "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again."
The appearance of a large block of black see-through scrim flags glistening off the sequined black and white color guard costumes was one of many moments that just plain worked, although it's almost impossible to quantify why. The martial persistence of the drums and lower brass in "Track Down the Murderer" set the stage for tensions to rise, culminating in a cyclonic musical outbreak that concluded in anguish and an eardrum ringing blast of unresolved fury. Out of this, a music box effect from the front ensemble led into the beginning of "Music of the Night," a tender ballad that built up into a loud resolution with the horns and drums all facing backfield. This allowed the reverb off the back stands to create an awesome echo that haunted those in the front stands. It was here that the Phantom made an appearance, playing the melody on a baritone bugle. A huge arc of corps members coalesced into a company front that pushed toward the front with a glorious volume, yet even that didn't drown out the screams of the audience on the recording. Part of the special effect was due to a one step hesitation just before the step-off, on count five of what normally would have been a typical 4/4 measure. This made the front appear to lurch forward, as if rocketed by a slingshot. As this happened, the Phantom's throne was prepared by members of the color guard. The Phantom was covered up in a white shroud and the horn players quickly dispersed around the field, to be swallowed up by various large pieces of black fabric, including one with a giant image of the mask that snuck up behind the Phantom's throne. The shroud over the Phantom was removed and revealed that he had disappeared into the ether, like a ghost evaporating into the crevices of one's imagination. Fourteen of the mask props were spread in two arc forms across the back, and as the fabric emblazoned with the mask quickly moved away, one of the masks appeared from underneath. This effect was saved for Finals and served to further drive the audience into delirium. For this week only, you can save on the Legacy Collection DVD that contains this complete Santa Clara Vanguard performance, along with all finalists from the 1989 DCI World Championships. Buy the 1989 Legacy Collection DVD. (Available this week only for $28. Regular price: $35.)

1989 Overview

Discount DVD offer ends Monday, Jan 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.