The 1983 Drum Corps International World Championship was held the furthest south it’s ever been, as drum corps marched through Miami’s Orange Bowl Stadium which is now the site of Major League Baseball’s Marlins Park.
Suncoast Sound earned a spot as a top-12 finalist for the first time in the corps’ fifth season, as the point spread in the Finals competition between first- and 12th-place corps was an astounding 20.65 points. It’s an impressive record that still stands today. In comparison, the point spread between first and 12th in 2016 was just 12.85 points.
The Garfield Cadets became the first corps from the East to win the DCI title in 1983, featuring a new style of drill by George Zingali that was akin to watching droplets of water move around, or watching the results of someone playing with one of those small chains that are attached to pens at a bank. Indeed, Zingali stated those were two methods he utilized to get ideas for his new type of “flex-drill.”
Before winning the title, the Cadets had to get past a tie for second place in the Prelims competition with the Blue Devils, both corps placing under Santa Clara Vanguard. Garfield’s Finals-night win in 1983 was the first in a line of three consecutive DCI World Championship titles. The 1983 first-place finish was even more impressive considering the corps had been all the way down in 16th place as recently as 1979.
The first three minutes of the Cadets’ show featured Ron Nelson’s “Rocky Point Holiday,” brought back from the corps’ 1982 production. The piece was written during a 1969 vacation the composer took with his family to the seaside resort of Rocky Point, Rhode Island, an area just south of Providence that until 1995 was home to a major amusement park. Much of the joy of visiting the amusement park can be heard in the piece, which was commissioned by the University of Minnesota Band for a tour of Russia.
Sparks flew as the corps got underway with mellophone players laying down a continuous volley of up-and-down runs that sounded as if the line never had to take a breath. During the piece, Zingali often snuck the flags into various formations of horns and percussion, having the members pass through intervals as small as two steps.
The end of the piece brought audiences the first “Z-pull,” an instant-hit Cadets maneuver that saw the middle line of a tight “Z” in the horns pivot and invert upon itself as the form opened up to the sides. Though that might sound tame today, at the time it was downright radical to see it performed.
The rest of the program was dedicated to “Selections from Mass,” seven movements extracted from the 32 parts of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass,” originally subtitled “A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers.” Jacqueline Kennedy, widow of President John F. Kennedy, commissioned the work for the September 1971 opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington. Bernstein had originally planned on writing a traditional mass, but ended up playing off the counter-cultural influences of theatrical productions such as the 1970 Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
The Cadets’ “Selections from Mass” arrangement started with a short percussion rendition of “In nomine Patris,” the 5/4 time signature piece that served as part six, “Second Introit,” in the original production. This segued into “Almighty Father,” the reverent “Prayer for the congregation” that originally was part seven to “Mass.” Jumping to part 29, “Sanctus,” the Cadets’ color guard members utilized fringed white embroidered shawls and pink and white collapsible Chinese paper lanterns, props that were far more lyrically subtle than anything they had previously utilized as equipment.
“Sanctus” segued into a half minute of “Agnus Dei,” part 30 of “Mass,” somewhat more intense and nearly verging on getting just a little bit angry. The mood quickly changed with “God Said,” the lightly comical “Gospel-Sermon” that in part 19 of the original production told of man’s arrogance as he twisted the word of the Lord to serve his own self-interests.
For a brief concert standstill number, the corps reverted to “De Profundis,” but as performed in the part 26 “Offertory” of the original, with the brass section added to what had just been the percussion in the opening to the show. A very mellow “A Simple Song,” part two in the original, was the emotional core of the show, rising in intensity through what was essentially a soft ballad to tug at the heartstrings of the audience.
The show ended with a reprise of the main theme of “Rocky Point Holiday,” adding one more “Z-pull” for good measure. Five long multi-hued fabric banners were introduced at the upper left of the final teardrop formation, as if to present five exclamation marks (held down by cymbal players as the bottom dots) to the end of what many consider to be one of the most important shows in the evolution of Drum Corps International’s early years.
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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.