Originally, it was just meant to be a one-time decision.
Early on in the 2018 DCI Tour, one of Spartans’ performances was set to take place in rather balmy conditions.
So, the Nashua, New Hampshire corps took the field, but its well-known black and cream uniform jackets didn’t. With the spike in temperature, Spartans had made the game-time call to simply sport long-sleeved gray tops.
“I think one of the first shows it was really hot so we just decided to go with it,” program coordinator Matt McGuire said. “And we liked it.”
The unconventional tops — which had originally been intended to go under the more traditional jacket — became the featured uniforms of last year’s production, “Da Vinci’s Workshop.”
For all intents and purposes, Spartans’ first attempt to experiment with the costuming side of modern drum corps worked, and it stuck.
But as drum corps continue to traverse the future of the activity, particularly in terms of design, it’s all a series of such experiments, in a way. Corps have toyed with the newest forms of visual and musical innovation for decades, seeing what sticks and curating bold new ideas in the process.
Spartans’ 2019 program celebrates that constant innovative nature of the marching arts and the corps itself. The show, titled “Experiment X,” is Spartans’ take on their own evolution and the evolution of the drum corps world, one experiment at a time.
“We got into this conversation about how every year is sort of this experiment, to try to figure out all the pieces that work together to make a great show,” McGuire said. “And we kind of just wanted to run with that idea. We thought that was a really cool concept, and an opportunity for us to do some really creative and interesting things, and to sort of redefine what we are and what people expect of us.”
The “X,” simply, refers to 2019 as the 10th season since the now 64-year-old corps took a one-year hiatus, back in 2009. After that season, the corps stormed back in 2010 and earned an Open Class bronze medal.
The five-time Division II World Champions have finished among the top five in DCI’s Open Class division every year since. And through it all, that experimental spirit has been the constant.
For the upcoming season, Spartans’ show concept will employ the same such mentality in all aspects of design, whether it’s with modern takes on musical selections, innovative integrations of electronics and vocals, or a bold new costume design.
“In going with that theme and the idea of being experimental, we wanted to make some pretty significant changes, so it’s going to come along with a costume change. The complete look of the drum corps is going to be different,” McGuire said. “There’s a lot of surprises in store for everybody this year.”
Furthermore, “Experiment X” is split into five “acts” which loosely tell the story of drum corps’ evolution over time, culminating with the final movement which will look ahead at what the Spartans — and the marching music activity as a whole — can become in the future.
To bring this concept to life, Spartans’ list of music selections features a wide array of styles and sounds, spanning from “Egyptic” by Beats Antique to “Shofukan” and “Gretel” by Snarky Puppy, and even employing “Shallow” from the widely popular 2018 Academy Award nominee, A Star is Born.
“Every time we’ve given the corps members a new piece of music or when we workshopped a bunch of stuff over the winter for some of the visual ideas that we had ... you could see it in their eyes,” McGuire said. “They were so excited.”
McGuire noted that, as would be expected with a show that touches on the history and future of the corps performing it, ‘Experiment X” is particularly special for veteran members of the organization.
But from what he can tell, everyone’s buying in, top to bottom. And as such, excitement is rapidly building toward Spartans’ 2019 debut, June 29 in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
“The veterans, the rookies, the staff, I think everyone is kind of leaving every rehearsal feeling like it was a great direction to go in,” McGuire said. “It gives you that sense of, ‘Yeah, we did the right thing here.’”