The 1993 Drum Corps International World Championship in Jackson, Mississippi, is perhaps best remembered for what happened at the top and the bottom of the Finals-night placements.
At the top, the Cadets of Bergen County picked up another World Championship win besting Star of Indiana by just a tenth of a point, in what turned out to be Star’s last DCI performance prior to morphing into the popular stage show “Blast!”
In 11th and 12th places were the Glassmen and Colts respectively, each becoming finalists for the first time after tying each other for 11th place in the Semifinals competition the day before. The Colts were able to knock Velvet Knights out of the Finals after being the only Semifinalist corps to see its score go up from the Quarterfinals.
For the second year in a row, the Cadets of Bergen County based its entire show on the music of concert band composer David Holsinger, following up its 1992 show “To Tame the Perilous Skies.” The color guard played the part of knights preparing for battle, dressed in colorful medieval costumes of regal blue, purple and maroon on the way to winning the High Auxiliary caption award. The corps also achieved top Visual and GE caption scores, including a perfect 10 in Percussion GE.
The show started with Holsinger’s “In the Spring At the Time When Kings Go Off to War,” which also served as the title of the Cadets’ production. The 1986 work is based on the Old Testament story of King David sending Joab into battle with the king’s men and the entire Israelite army. The piece earned Holsinger the 1986 American Bandmasters Association Ostwald Award for best new composition for band. The original work caught the chaos of battle with instrumentalists turning into vocalists and expressing grief and tragedy with ascending vocalized wailings, an effect the corps duplicated with its horns just seconds after the start of the show.
The color guard members performed a medieval-style dance before being sent to the battlefield, some carrying flags as pennants hoisted above a battle, with others carrying shields emblazoned with a coat of arms and “CBC” (for Cadets of Bergen County). At the front of the battlefield, a monarch ceremoniously knighted one of his subjects by tapping a sword on the kneeling person’s shoulder. Fully encircled by the guard, the horns and drums, in a rotating block, unleashed the first barrage of the work’s opening fanfare.
“In the Spring” then proceeded through a wide variety of quickly changing time signatures, intended by the composer to reflect the ever-changing landscape of battle. The furious abstraction of the melody reflected the horns and drums marching off to war, with the constantly mutating drill formations continually regrouping the warriors during the evolving battle.
Percussionists took a marching machine (a series of connected wooden pegs used to replicate the sound of the advance of soldiers) and rhythmically struck it against the shell of a concert bass drum. Color guard flags turned to solid purple, a color much associated with royalty, with the piece ending in a victorious acclamation that the first battle had been won.
The soul of the entire production was Holsinger’s “On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss,” written in 1989 and based on Bliss’ “It is Well With My Soul.” The work is the composer’s best-selling work and has been heard in several televised memorial performances, including one for President Ronald Reagan.
During the piece, the horn line congregated near the front of the field, with the drum line “hidden” backfield, as if they were drawing up their own battle plan. As the color guard members provided an emotional dance interpretation, the horns took over and passionately performed the soaring melody as an a cappella ensemble. It was one of the greatest moments ever delivered by a horn line, and its profound intensity and agonizingly beautiful sorrow left few untouched.
Holsinger’s “Ballet Sacra” evolved out of the peaceful repose, with percussionists re-entering in a totally unrelated tempo. Written in 1990 as a single long movement, the work drew upon liturgical texts from numerous faiths. Holsinger originally envisioned it to be a collaborative effort between a symphonic band and a dance company, which made it perfect for the drum corps field. Out of the initial chorale, five groupings of sword fights led up to an expected big hit, but instead, a mere “boop” from the front ensemble scattered all to the backfield. All playing was directed to the back stands as the new flags proclaimed the coming victory with images of a crown.
After regrouping, the corps re-entered the battlefield in triumph, amidst brass riffs flying in every direction. A brief reprise from the opener accompanied the rotation of a crown, originally performed by just the horn line. As the show sped up toward the end, the entire corps formed a much larger crown that disintegrated and re-appeared, knocking out the last bit of resistance and establishing the supremacy of the winning side.
For this week only, you can save on the Legacy Collection DVD that contains this complete Cadets performance, along with all finalists from the 1993 DCI World Championship.
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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.