Drum Corps International’s 20th anniversary World Championship in 1992 ended with a number of corps accomplishing firsts.
It was the first time as many as nine corps broke the 90-point threshold in the Finals competition, including the Blue Knights for the very first time. It was the first year Crossmen placed in the top-six and Blue Devils fielded a coed color guard. And it was the first time The Cavaliers won the World Championship title.
The 41 degrees Fahrenheit reading at Finals perhaps seemed colder for Star of Indiana, having placed first in Quarterfinals, second in Semifinals, and third in Finals. Cadets of Bergen County surged to second after placing sixth three weeks earlier at the Preview of Champions Prelims event. And for one of the most memorable on-field moments ever, Velvet Knights, just for the Finals competition, brought out a large prop shark that turned out to be an opera critic with a taste for Wagnerian divas.
DCI’s 20th anniversary was also the 25th anniversary of the creation of Santa Clara Vanguard, a corps that had been led by its founder since the day the group rose out of the ashes of the disbanded Sunnyvale Sparks. Gail Royer had announced his retirement prior to the beginning of the season and was honored at the Finals competition by both fans and other corps.
Vanguard’s entire seventh-place show was based on the music of “Fiddler on the Roof,” the hit 1964 musical by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. The corps previously played selections from the musical in every year between 1970 and 1975, then again in 1978, 1979, and 1982. But 1992 marked the first year the corps’ entire production came from “Fiddler.”
To help set the theme, color guard members dressed in simple black gowns with white headbands, and the brass players wore black fringes at the bottom front of their red uniforms, reminiscent of the traditional Jewish gartel, a ritual cloth prayer belt.
The original design of the show called for an ending with the melancholy piece “Anatevka,” named after the town abandoned at the end of the musical. The corps had plans to simply walk off the field, replicating the final act of the town’s inhabitants. But while putting the production together, the tune was eliminated and the show took on a different spin.
During the pre-season this author spoke on the phone with Gail Royer about the show and was told, “We’re going to need another truck for all the props we’ll be using.” He inferred the show was going to be a costumed spectacular, well beyond the pageantry the corps brought out in 1987 with its Russian-themed show. But, according to staff members, once “Anatevka” was cut from the repertoire, the show kept getting pared down to the point that there were no props and just one set of flags used by the color guard for the entire production, giving things a more retro look.
And as soon as the show opened with “Tradition,” it was clear this was old-fashioned drum corps. Most definitions of the word “vanguard” refer to being at the forefront of new developments or ideas. After years of being the very personification of that definition, that aforementioned retro look meant Santa Clara was now looking to the past.
Next the corps played “Sabbath Prayer,” a contemporized version of the traditional Jewish prayer. Vanguard milked the emotion of the piece for all it was worth, being careful to not peak its volume until near the end of the ballad, ending in a giant menorah formation, albeit with only seven branches instead of the normal nine.
“To Life” was interrupted by a short quote of “Hava Nagila” played by the mallet percussionists. At the end of the piece, the corps snuck in a couple bars of “If I Were a Rich Man,” also from the musical, before transitioning into “Chavaleh (Little Bird).” This piece was the expressive centerpiece of the show, which ended with a giant six-pointed Star of David drill formation which was also a design utilized on the color guard’s flags.
In the musical, “Tevye’s Dream” was about the main character waking from a bad dream and sharing the nightmare with his wife. This led directly into “Wedding Celebration and Bottle Dance,” the dance lifted from the scene in the musical and movie where four men at a wedding reception kneel down with bottles atop their heads, throw one leg out in front, pull themselves forward with that leg and repeat the procedure with the other leg.
The “Bottle Dance” was a big hit when the corps’ color guard premiered it at the end of its show in 1973, and it remained a hit when repeated in 1974, 1975, 1979 and 1982. In 1992, all 28 members of the guard did the dance as the fans wildly cheered. In the final moments of the visual program, the corps formed the initials, “SCV,” then rapidly evolved into a company front which pushed ahead toward the sideline.
During the following summer, a full 25 years ago from this week, corps founder and 25-year director of Santa Clara Vanguard Gail Royer passed away on June 17, one year from the week the 1992 Santa Clara Vanguard first took the field with the final show of his tenure.
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.