Philadelphia hosted the Drum Corps International World Championships for the first of two years in 1975.
The events, held at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, contributed to the year-long celebration of America’s Bicentennial. The city where the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence also originated the inaugural live broadcast of the DCI World Championships on PBS, marking the first time professional recordings preserved all finalist performances for posterity.
Two corps earned a spot for the first time among the elusive top 12, Pennsylvania’s own Royal Crusaders and the Garfield Cadets. 1974 finalist DeLaSalle Oaklands became Oakland Crusaders after merging with the Etobicoke Crusaders, and the 27th Lancers soared into fourth place after placing 20th the prior year.
The World Champion Madison Scouts won every competition entered in 1975 except for the DCI Midwest Prelims, where the eventual second-place Santa Clara Vanguard, the 1973 and 1974 DCI World Champion, nixed the Scouts’ perfect season. Blue Devils, a first-time finalist in 1974, soared into third place.
Santa Clara Vanguard’s 1975 show earned a perfect score in the general effect caption, an accomplishment not repeated until the Blue Devils did so in 2014. Vanguard’s show opened with Zoltán Kodály’s “Entrance of the Emperor and His Court” from “Háry János,” a 1926 Hungarian folk opera and subsequent orchestral suite about a teller of tall tales regarding heroic exploits.
Visually, the corps started symmetrically centered on the 50-yard line, which was typical for the day except for corps that started their shows from the upper left corner. Also typical was having the color guard start on the field, with the rest of the corps behind the back sideline. It wouldn’t be until 1978 that entire corps were allowed to start on the field.
Serving as a percussion feature, Vanguard utilized Mahavishnu Orchestra founder and guitarist John McLaughlin’s piece “Birds of Fire,” which came off the title track of the band’s 1973 album of the same name. The corps’ four timpanists re-created the quick 9/8 time signature of the piece’s bass line, which required the drummers to silently tap the odd-metered beat with one hand while playing with the other.
Next Vanguard featured “Dance of the Buffoons” from “The Snow Maiden,” an 1881 opera by Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov. “The Snow Maiden” is based on a Russian fairy tale about the mythological daughter of Father Frost and Mother Spring, this movement capturing the spirit of the acrobats who performed during a party of song and dance.
The visuals featured the color guard performers and some brass players doing some impish arm swings and the horns performing a series of knee bends while marching around a circle, which, believe it or not, was a tad controversial among some for being too whimsical. Interrupting the selection was a quote from Benjamin Brittan’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” which the corps played in its World Championship-winning production the prior two years.
Vanguard based the remaining selections in its 1975 production on “Fiddler on the Roof,” the 1964 musical by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. A popular selection for the California corps, Santa Clara played selections from the musical every year between 1970 and 1975, and again in 1978, 1979, 1982, and 1992.
“To Life” served as the show’s concert production, based on the song the Jewish people of the Ukrainian town of Anatevka joyfully sang while toasting their futures, despite being forced by authorities to leave their community. Next came the upbeat “If I Were a Rich Man,” written in the style of Yiddish klezmer music.
A percussion feature simply referred to as “the clock solo” evolved out of “Rich Man.” The melody, heard in the mallets and timpani, was based on the pattern popularized by the Big Ben clock tower bells in London. This segued into one minute of the solemn “Sabbath Prayer,” which transitioned into the beautiful “Chava Ballet,” also known as “Chavaleh (Little Bird),” the next to last piece in the musical.
A tag ending to the show is perhaps the best known and loved routine in Santa Clara Vanguard’s storied history, the “Bottle Dance.” The signature maneuver featured 10 color guard members interlocking their arms, descending to the field, then moving forward while alternately kicking out their legs. While later renditions would incorporate more members of the guard, 10 members was enough to work the audience into a tizzy, proving that no one cares you can’t walk on water as long as you can walk on your knees.
Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than 35 years 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, Indiana.