Cooling things down a bit was the 41-degree evening at the University of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. But warming things up was the Blue Devils’ first coed color guard and its sultry treatment of “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
The Cadets of Bergen County caught fire at the end of the season, finishing second to the Cavaliers after placing sixth at the Preview of Champions Prelims three weeks earlier. Both corps enjoyed their success at the expense of Star of Indiana, a corps that won the Quarterfinals in Madison, slipped to second in the Semifinals, and then fell to third in the Finals.
But the hottest corps of all was the Cavaliers. The Green Machine captured its first DCI title with its production, “Revolution and Triumph.”
Around the world the preceding year was huge for revolutions that brought freedom to millions. Just four days after the 1991 DCI World Championships Finals, hard-liners in the Soviet Union attempted to take control from Mikhail Gorbachev, who was instituting too many reforms in the opinion of some of the USSR’s top military brass. The crumbling of their plan opened the door for a remarkable number of revolutions that brought down communism in Russia and its former satellite nations. By the end of 1991, the former USSR was dissolved and all the former hostage republics were independent.
Those dramatic events were the catalyst for the Cavaliers’ show, which was full of conflict, tension and ultimate resolution.
The show started with Jack Stamp’s “Gavorkna Fanfare,” a work as intense as it was brief. Stamp, a university music professor, wrote the fanfare in 1991 for Eugene Corporon, at the time band director at the Cincinnati College/Conservatory of Music Wind Symphony. Corporon was one of Stamp’s conducting instructors at Michigan State University. He requested an opening piece for the 1991 College Band Directors National Association Conference.
“Gavorkna” is a nonsense word Corporon made up. The piece is brisk and flies by rapidly, fitting the theme of the show with its flurry of notes described as sounding as if a war is going on.
The rest of the production was dedicated to the music of Sir Malcolm Arnold, an English composer who took up the trumpet at the age of 12 after seeing Louis Armstrong perform in England. After he played trumpet professionally for more than a decade, he began to exclusively dedicate his life to composition. Among his prolific output was more than a hundred films, including “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. Not afraid of whimsy, he also wrote a full orchestral overture that featured three vacuum cleaners, a floor polisher, and four rifles.
The first Arnold piece in the program was the fourth and final movement to “Cornish Dances,” written in 1966 and notated, “Allegro ma non troppo” (Quickly, but not too much). The piece featured cinematic “cross-cutting,” alternating between an advancing marching brass band and the rest of the orchestra, each fighting for the right to be heard. Like his “English Dances” that followed in the Cavaliers’ show, Arnold didn’t utilize existing folk dance melodies, but instead wrote his own in the style of the region.
On the football field, the piece started with a single regimental drummer playing on a large field drum, followed by bass drummers turning their drums into Celtic Bodhrán drums, playing on one head of each drum with single wooden-lathed sticks. (Cornwall is a Celtic region, like Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.)
Next came the animated cheerfulness of the fourth movement from “English Dances, Set I” written in 1950 and notated, “Allegro risoluto” (Quickly and bold). This set was a result of Arnold’s publisher asking him to write a suite of dances in the fashion of Dvořák’s “Slavonic Dances.”
More than half the show was dedicated to “Peterloo Overture,” a 1968 work commissioned by Britain’s Trades Union Congress to commemorate the massacre of 15 protesting workers and the injuries of perhaps up to 700. On August 16, 1819, the British cavalry, with sabres drawn, charged into a Manchester crowd of more than 60,000 who were demanding political reform in protest of the harsh famine and chronic unemployment of the time.
The name “Peterloo” was given to the massacre in reference to the famous Battle of Waterloo just four years earlier. The Cavaliers’ staff had selected the piece long before they learned that the anniversary date of the crushing of the rebellion was the day after the 1992 DCI World Championships Finals.
The tranquility of the beginning of the piece represented the peacefulness of the English countryside that was about to experience unspeakable horror. The Cavaliers milked this with almost a whole minute of backfield playing prior to the intrusion of increasingly louder militaristic percussion that hinted at the terror to come. Sounds of dissonant clashing chords kept getting brasher and became relentlessly more obstinate, leading into the confrontation (two columns of opposing horn players crashing into each other) and ending with a sense of no resolve.
Out of that came a reprise of the original chorale, performed in a victorious fashion in recognition of the impact the deaths of the massacred workers had on changing the face of Britain forever.
Near the very end, color guard members sprinted across the field, carrying five giant, faded flags representing countries that had experienced revolutions. Most identifiable were the flags of the Czech Republic and a very faint flag of the stars and stripes. A sea of gigantic white and blood-red flags filled the back two-thirds of the field, reminding all that freedom is often only attained through the purity of purpose and the spilling of blood of countless martyrs.
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