The United States of America spent much time and effort preparing for and celebrating the nation’s Bicentennial. In doing the same, Drum Corps International sent its World Championships to Philadelphia, the “Birthplace of American Democracy,” in 1975 and 1976.
The 1976 Championships at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, built in 1895 and remaining the oldest operating football stadium in America, witnessed three corps (Seneca Optimists, Capitol Freelancers, and Guardsmen) make Finals for the first time, all finishing between 10th and 12th place. Blue Devils, at just six years of age, became the youngest corps to ever win the DCI title.
After fourth- and seventh-place finishes at DCI’s first two World Championships, the 27th Lancers plunged to 20th place in 1974 and then skyrocketed to fourth in 1975, ultimately finishing fifth in 1976.
1976 27th Lancers
The corps’ production started with William Walton’s “Crown Imperial,” performed for the fourth year in a row. Walton wrote the work in 1937 for what was supposed to be the coronation of the United Kingdom’s King Edward VIII, until Edward decided he was going to abdicate the throne to marry an American socialite not yet divorced from her second husband.
Drum corps audiences always erupted in applause as the corps performed its high-legged goose step soon after its start in the upper left corner of the field. As visual programs were still written with symmetrical drill formations during this time period, starting in the corner was about as asymmetrical as things could get.
When the corps got to the 50-yard line, the brass players maneuvered into a “27” and then momentarily kneeled for just four counts so no one would miss the form. Each of the horn players, minus the contra players, had small red banners attached to the instrument, adding a splash of color not previously witnessed on the field. At the end, the color guard members brought out double flags, first introduced by the corps in 1975. For years, the 27th Lancers guard was heralded for its spectacular quality and unparalleled innovation.
A half-minute percussion feature of “We’re Off to See the Wizard” was from the famed 1939 film classic, “The Wizard of Oz.” Harold Arlen wrote the music for the film, to which he also contributed “Over the Rainbow.” At the end of the feature, the rifles helped lead the transition into the full-corps production of “So You Want to See the Wizard” by spelling out “WIZ” with their rifles on the 50-yard line in the front of the field. The piece came from the soundtrack of the 1975 Broadway production, “The Wiz.”
1976 27th Lancers
The corps’ concert standstill piece, Paul Anka’s “Jubilation,” was written for Barbra Streisand’s 1974 studio album, “ButterFly,” coming out soon after her more successful “The Way We Were” soundtrack. In the album, Streisand covered standards as well as a number of modern works, including selections by Bob Marley, Paul Williams, Graham Nash, and David Bowie. Toward the end of the piece, the athletic rifle bearers spun their rifles while lying on the ground. The piece ended with a brief quote from the corps’ 1975 concert standstill piece, “Celebrate.”
“Spectrum Novum” was the name given by the corps to J. Robert Hanson’s “Fanfare Prelude: Oh How Shall I Receive Thee,” a 1973 work for concert band based on the hymn tune “St. Theodulph,” composed by W.H. Monk and Melchoir Teschner in 1615. The tune is better known as the church hymn, “All Glory, Laud and Honor.”
Corps drill designer Ralph Pace heard the piece performed by a Philadelphia high school band he was teaching and brought the music score to arranger James Wedge. Wedge, attempting to create a unique sound, arranged the piece in the key of A-flat, quite an unusual and stressful key for G bugles. He says he had the tuning slides on the corps’ horns lengthened in order for the brass players to play notes not commonly available on G bugles.
1976 27th Lancers
“Spectrum Novum” carried the corps off to the upper right of the field, where a percussion feature of “Sweet Georgia Brown” led into the start of “Danny Boy.”
The abbreviated closer of “Danny Boy” is the one song most synonymous to the 27th Lancers, heard nine times during the corps’ 15-year DCI history. It was set to the melody, “Londonderry Air,” collected by the Society for the Preservation and Publication of the Melodies of Ireland and published in the 1855 book, “The Ancient Music of Ireland.” One of the drill maneuvers corps fans always looked forward to was a giant rotating wheel of flags surrounding the pivoting company front of horns, with drums within the rotation.
Earlier in the season, the fifth-place corps placed beneath both the Seneca Optimists and Freelancers, two corps that would finish in 10th and 11th place, proving the adage that the season isn’t over until it’s over.
For this week only, you can save on the Legacy Collection DVD that contains this complete 27th Lancers performance.
Discount ends Monday, November 14, 2016.
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.