Drum Corps International
Notes from I & E

Notes from I & E

by Drum Corps International

Here is a sampling from an I&E enthusiast's notebook ... 12:45 p.m. - Today I celebrate ten years of watching I&E. Because of a convention at Adam's Mark Hotel, the I&E venues started much later in the day. This is probably a good thing. After the late-night excitement of the Division II/III contest last night, these kids have earned a morning sleep in. As for I&E, nothing beats taking a peek under the shako to see just who is giving us such wonderful music. And this year's edition did not disappoint. Although more corps are opting to not let their members perform, the number of participants is about the same and fan numbers appear to have grown. The lobby was packed with corps members. In one area, a timpanist gave her all. The score area was ready to go – with categories but no scores. Giving the schedule a glance a few items are evident. This year there are no French horns. Electronics is still a dead issue. And there are ten participants on the waiting list for the auxiliary venue. This latter news is both disappointing and exciting. It's sad because a number of hard-working kids may not get to 'shine' this day, but it is outstanding as well. Up until this year, the guard categories had not embraced the fairly new ensemble categories. Today there are more than a handful of flag and auxiliary groups. 1:30 p.m. – I try to stake out my front row spot in the percussion ensemble area, but it's hard. Already the ballroom is packing up. Down the hall, the snare room is a sweatshop with people lining the walls. Across the street in the guard venue, there are no seats and viewers must secure a floor spot. The excitement is palpable. Here we go! PACIFIC CREST PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE First up in the percussion ensemble area was Pacific Crest. They boasted a full complement including timp and rack. This nine-man group performed "Urban Dances" by Richard Danielpour. PACIFIC CREST CYMBAL ENSEMBLE As the front ensemble whisked back into the large ballroom to watch their buds, the PC cymbals, dressed in all black (T-shirts, shorts, bandanas, gloves and sneakers), incited the crowd with: "Have you ever seen a cymbal line this hot?" At one point the 'big guy' and 'little guy' played a bit on the four-cymbal rack. The little guy rolled to the bottom and the big guy jumped over him. After going back and forth, they finally settled in the middle – with the big guy straddling the little guy – and a fight ensued. The Little One called the Big One "A big fat ... " The latter expletive was cut out by a loud cymbal crash. This continued with even more expletives drowned out by crashes. Another cymbal clucked like a chicken and, to a groaning crowd, was ordered by the others "Stop pecking!" It's so rare to actually hear cymbal humor. COLTS PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE Somebody give these performers some cough medicine! Nearly all 11 members with this group had hacking coughs - ah life toward the end of tour! Their "Centric Impressions" is a piece based on a Nigel Wesley lecture. At least that appears to be what they said. It's enjoyable to see kids getting into playing the best possible triangle, 'holey' cymbal, and jingle bells. They have an interesting muted mallet technique where the mallets are push-swirled along the top keys. 1:59 p.m. – I race over to the snare venue to catch what I hear will be impressive displays by the Blue Devil contingent. Unfortunately, I miss the winning gentleman, Ivan Pacheco, but catch a buddy. Later I learn that Ivan performed an outstanding feat of dexterity – using one of his sticks in the crook of his arm to repeat a fast display of work. MAKANA SILVA (BLUE DEVILS) – SNARE With a shout "Go Mac Diesel!" from his BD buddies, Silva took time to set up his snare. Patience in the face of anxiety is a good sign. It also signals to everyone, this guy knows how to do this right. Then with his back to the packed house, he slammed his first beat – startling everyone in the oppressive stillness - and began a warmup. Through the constant camera flashes, he gave us segments of brilliance. One distinctive part had him using a left hand traditional grip in his right hand, creating a unique roll. And at the end, in true gentlemanly form, he shook hands with the judges. KOHEI MINAMI (PIONEER) – SNARE Sticking around for the next contestant, we are introduced to Kohei Minami, an 18-year-old rookie snare from Pioneer. Only three Pioneer members were chosen to play that day while the rest of the corps rehearsed. How sad for the performers who didn't have vocal support. The room was small and packed – but from the jackets, you knew Kohei was playing for strangers. With this crowd, he was going to have to earn their applause. And he did. With certain assurance, he struck one stick balanced on the rim with another stick, watched it soar, and caught it – thus beginning a stunning display of work. Speed rolls, dynamics, rhythm variations, and then, the audience favorite, tricks. With just one stick, he created a roll by slapping each end of the stick down using both hands, flipping it up, while balancing the other stick in the palm of his hand. It earned him genuine claps from an impressed crowd. 2:15 p.m.-- The SCV Cadets Bass Ensemble have scratched, which unfortunately moved up ... SPIRIT CYMBAL ENSEMBLE Running late, they were initially supposed to go on at 1:38. Then it was moved to 2:38. It was unfortunate because many Spirit supporters, thinking it was the later time, missed probably one of the most brilliant displays of cymbal ensemble work I've ever seen. As introduced by S.O.M.E. announcer John Calabrace, it was described as "A Latin Tragedy which tells of a boy who goes to a party and accidentally dies. He is carried off by the Angels of Death. Please enjoy the show." This last line got a quick chuckle from the crowd. But the laughing quickly turned to jaw-dropping silence and then crazed enthusiasm. For the next couple of minutes it was non-stop, don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-something cymbal work. They opened with some quick "Slice & Dice" moves, and then some humor from "The Latin Boy" who, obviously the one in charge, barked corrections in Spanish. After some teasing, they got into the business of running cymbals crashes. At times, there were some truly indescribable moments. The highlight was the five gentlemen, blindfolded, standing in a circle facing out, shoulder to shoulder and ripping lightening fast crashes, not with their own plates, but their neighbors: Over their head, under their legs, right side, left side. In a pattern that seemed almost random, the crashes got faster and faster. Until the "Latin Boy" died. The next portion of their show turned somber with almost sacred music. One cymbal was bowed. Another had chains circling inside two plates. In pin-dropping silence, they picked up their fallen comrade and exited the stage. It only took another second, but the audience was on their feet giving them the first full-blown standing ovation of the day. Hats off to the defending cymbal champs – Spirit Cymbal Ensemble – who took it home once more. 2:30 p.m. – With a small block of time available, it's time to check out other venues. A race over to the other building found the lobby crawling with guard members. VANGUARD CADETS FLAG ENSEMBLE Comprised of two ladies (Kathryn Linder and Samantha Buckman) and a gentleman (Marty Gutierrez), this flag piece featured a love triangle story of jealousy and passion. Using music to "The Way Young Lovers Do," the group drew the gambit of emotions. JESSICA STANCIU (DUTCH BOY) – AUXILLARY The tall, lithe blond, dressed jazz-style, including dipped fedora performed to upbeat music, filling her program with dance, sabre, and flag work. VANGUARD CADETS AUXILLARY ENSEMBLE Using music from Bond, Joy Tseng and Peter Cheng's expressive piece used dance and sabre to tell the story of new love. The couple's unison work on flag and sabre ended with dramatic dance. VANGUARD CADETS PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE Back at the home site, the SCV Cadets percussive side took the stage to perform Chopin's "Polonaise in A-flat Minor." At one point, with the eight keyboards in full swing, the left-out timpanist took out a camera to snap a memory shot of his friends in the front row. MAGIC PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE was an add-on and consequently were missed, being they were first up after the lunch break. IMPULSE PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE This was not your traditional setup! But we wouldn't expect less from the 'fun' corps. Comprised of two snares, the guys began with "Anything you can do I can do better." And a responding "I can do anything you can do." "No you can't!" The offended partner then proceeds to buzz roll. The taken-aback snare merely whispers, "Wow." They go back and forth until they finally get in snare-sync. The buzz was intense until interrupted. They soloed impressively while going back and forth on rims. Then changing sticks to brush and a lot of head bobbing. Unity at work! They finally combine forces for a fun groove. But wait ... one became sad and begins boring warm ups and then end the show back to business, in sync, and pulling in the crowd. IMPULSE MIXED ENSEMBLE This was also not traditional. Comprised of six Impulse brass dudes and one doubling on high-hat cymbal and percussive sticks. All were dressed in their uniform complete with "!" but the one mellophone wore a green Leprechaun hat. Beginning with pleasant Ren-type music, it then turned into the theme to Super Mario Brothers complete with cymbal and clicks and a familiar sound to indicate: "You win!" RACINE SCOUTS PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE It's groovin' to the '70s! With their tie-dyed wear, opening "Knock Three Times," and closer "Bad Bad Leroy Brown," this young group made the most of their time giving the crowd – as in every year – an entertaining production. How can you not love bubbles, a flipped out tambourine, and a guy on feather-toy and funnel? RACINE SCOUTS MIXED ENSEMBLE Did a self-described 'gut-wrenching Stevie Wonder' version of "Don't you Worry 'bout a thing." The group was comprised of six brass and three percussionists dressed in black. MEMPHIS SOUND CYMBAL ENSEMBLE I sat next to two ladies who had flown in for the Division II & III contest the day before – one of them a mom to one of the cymbals - and was impressed with their dedication, delaying their flight to catch this special moment. The six-man group (mistakenly thought of as three sets of twins!) wore flames across their T-shirts and were appropriately smokin' using a variety of techniques even incorporating a 'humming' bowl. SEATTLE CASCADES BASS DRUM ENSEMBLE Five bass drummers in uniform set up in drumhead face-up mode. Softly – in fact sleeping! – they started with soft rolls. Quickly the rolls from performer to performer sped up then dynamically got quiet until they were sticking to air. One sequence, audience interactive with the Cascade folk encompassing the entire front sidelines, had everyone yelling "gimme smoke!" MADISON SCOUTS MIXED ENSEMBLE Calling themselves the Madison Scouts Big Band, they did an el fuego production of Maynard Ferguson's "Give It One." The large ensemble had four baris, mellos, and trumpets, with two 'kickin' contras and a set-drum. In their version, the mellos took an improv line then handed it off to some screamin' sops, then to drums. Their dynamics, aggressive playing, and high energy playing earned them a well-deserved standing 'o'. SOUTHWIND PERCUSSION ENSEMBLE Performing a latin-esque tune "Ritmo de la Noche" by Al DiMeola, the 12-member front ensemble began with half the members hidden and jumping in with tambourines to dance and jazz up the intro. A timpanist and rack joined the 10 keyboards, which barely fit thestage. At one point the timpanist actually carried the melody. The finale had nine mallets working in tandem on three keyboard that created a brilliant visual. SOUTHWIND BASS DRUM ENSEMBLE This five-dude line had basses lined up but not in normal sequence. It was big bass center, smaller outside of that, and middle basses on the outer space. Vocalized drum-speak was engaging - "taka ta taka tikata." We need an interpreter! Each of the bass rims carried cymbals. One bass stated, "We are gathered" which set off a spin around the basses, head to head work and partnered rolls into marching basses. They were the only ones to actually carry their basses. Everything old is new again! The trick of the day was their LIMBO: the top bass bent backwards while his buddies raced right over him, their bass drum skimming over his face. Scary but effective!

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