The DCI World Championships went as far south as they’ve ever been before in 1983, heading to Miami’s Orange Bowl Stadium, an edifice opened in 1937 and torn down in 2008 to make way for Major League Baseball’s Marlins Park.
Fans most likely remember the season for the crowning of the Garfield Cadets as DCI’s first Champion from the East, and for the mesmerizing flex-drill introduced to the group and to the drum corps activity by future DCI Hall of Fame drill writer George Zingali.
Two records remain in tact from the 1983 Finals. First, the Bridgemen earned a spot in the Finals (in 11th place) after scoring just 47.15 points in the corps’ first show of the season. Second, the spread between the first- and 12th-place corps was a whopping 20.65 points. In comparison, the spread between first and 12th at the 2015 DCI World Championship Finals was 12.625 points.
That 12th place corps was the Sky Ryders, a six-time DCI finalist from Kansas that popped into the top 12 one year earlier. The corps competed at the inaugural DCI World Championship in 1972, placing 20th, but didn’t return until 1977.
The Sky Ryders were particularly known for playing music that catered to the audience, anchored by a horn line that was loud and articulate. The production opened with horn arranger Larry Kirchner’s swinging jazz rendition of “Home on the Range,” an arrangement that got him a Grammy nomination.
“Home on the Range” is one of the best-known classic western songs. The song started its life as a poem titled “My Western Home,” written in 1872 by Kansas resident Brewster Higley, an ear, nose, and throat doctor. The poem was published the next year in a Kansas paper as “Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam.” It was quite an appropriate song for the Sky Ryders to perform as— unknown to many—it’s the official state song of Kansas.
A double-tonguing soprano bugle feature was just one of the times the Sky Ryders’ brass section was prominently exposed. At the end, a trademark move by the corps’ color guard section featured half the rifle spinners jumping over the others. As the front rifles were thrown high into the air, the back rifles (now in front) then somersaulted as the others caught the tossed rifles.
The next two musical selections returned from the corps’ 1982 show. “Quien Sabe (Who Knows)” was the fourth of 12 selections off the Stan Kenton Orchestra’s 1956 album, “Cuban Fire!” a groundbreaking album featuring Latin jazz and Latin percussion in a way previously not explored by big bands. Johnny Richards wrote the work for six Latin percussionists.
The Richards piece segued into a segment from “La Virgin de la Macarena,” a Paso Doble written by Monterde Bernardino Bautista that is sometimes known as “The Bullfighter’s Song.” The origins of this work are somewhat obscure, but it came to prominence when popularized by the great trumpet virtuoso Rafael Méndez. Sky Ryders’ soprano buglers delighted fans with some high-note screaming, in addition to another impressive double-tonguing segment pulled off by an octet of players.
Next came a percussion feature based on the theme to the Warner Bros. television cartoon series, “The Road Runner Show,” which first aired in 1966. The composer of the song was Barbara Cameron, a popular radio show singer in the 1940s. She also provided the famous “beep-beep” sound for the cartoon. Toward the end, the entire color guard section was spinning rifles one directly behind another, giving the impression of one person spinning two rifles.
“Here’s That Rainy Day,” previously performed by the corps in 1979, 1980, and 1981, served as the ballad closer. Composed by Johnny Burke and James Van Heusen, the piece was sung by Dolores Gray in “Carnival in Flanders,” a 1953 musical based on a 1934 French comedy film. The corps’ rendition was based on the arrangement done for the Stan Kenton Orchestra by Dee Barton, heard on the “Live at Redlands University” album of 1970.
Closing things out, the ballad segued into the corps’ theme song of “Over the Rainbow,” written by Harold Arlen and Edgar “Yip” Harburg for Judy Garland in the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz.”
During the Sky Ryders’ big company front push forward, the group unveiled a 10-yard-wide rainbow prop backdrop at the back of the field, behind which dozens of balloons were released into the air during the final counts of the show.
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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.