Kanye West. Kesha. Kendrick Lamar. Gustav Mahler.
It’s a unique combination of artists, to say the least. Over the past two years — the corps’ fourth and fifth in Open Class — it’s a type of repertoire that’s starting to become the norm for the Houston-based Guardians.
“Guardians doesn’t really have an identity yet, and so we wanted to take the last two years and kind of mold it into that,” corps director Johnathan Doerr said. “We kind of wanted to redefine those ideas this year, and identify Guardians just a little more, while progressing our competitive nature.”
The corps’ 2017 program, “My Beautiful Dark, Twisted Fantasy,” which dove into the mind and music of Kanye West, was a significant and successful jump in a new direction. Simply put it, it worked.
Aside from Guardians’ competitive success a year ago — the corps cracked the Open Class top 10 for the first time — Doerr said member buy-in to the corps’ bold new style was palpable. Essentially, it was the performers’ excitement that led Guardians’ design team in the direction of the corps’ 2018 program, “Damned.”
“When we saw that the kids really bought into last year’s product, to us, that’s the most important thing about what we do,” Doerr said. “We want to make sure that they love what they’re doing and what they’re performing, that they feel that they look good, that they feel like they sound good, and that’s all that really matters to us at the end of the day.
“Obviously, the audience seems to really enjoy it,” he added. “So, that’s a really big plus.”
“Damned.,” according to Doerr, is loosely inspired by Kendrick Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2017 album, “Damn.” Through the visual cues of tall pillar props that come together to form a church of sorts, Guardians’ program follows a path from damnation to salvation.
While the music selections that tell that story may not be recognizable to everybody, the hope, according to Doerr, is that they’re used in ways that still make sense to the overall theme being portrayed.
For example, Kesha’s 2017 song, “Praying,” may not be on the day-to-day playlist of the average spectator, but its inclusion at the end of the show to signify redemption still makes clear sense in the context of the production.
“We use music that is pretty fresh, and it’s something that, sometimes, the judges might not be familiar with, but we try to use it in a way that gets the point across without them requiring the knowledge of that type of music,” Doerr said.
According to Doerr, the use of popular music has allowed members to take what they’re doing throughout the summer and connect it with their friends and lives back home.
“They know the music that’s happening, it’s not an obscure piece of music that they have to listen to many, many recordings of,” Doerr said. “It’s something they can buy into that they listen to every single day, and that their friends are listening to. It’s something they can show their friends and be super proud of.”
And with his corps’ membership clearly on board, Doerr and the Guardians seem to have found their own niche — one previously untraversed and certainly turning heads — in the drum corps activity.
“I’m glad we found something,” Doerr said. “And I’m glad it’s something the students can be really proud of.”