Blue Devils won its ninth DCI title with a “Casablanca” show and Santa Clara Vanguard, finishing in third, tied Blue Devils for first place in the Quarterfinals, despite their Bernstein-inspired show starting the season nine and a half points behind their California brethren.
Placing between the Devils and Vanguard were the Cadets of Bergen County with their production “Celebration,” based entirely on the music of British composer Philip Sparke. Originally, Sparke was mostly known in British brass band circles, resulting in a number of awards, honors, and commissions from brass band associations in western Europe, as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Most of the show was devoted to the three movements of Sparke’s “Year of the Dragon,” originally a 1984 commission for a championship Welsh brass band, later arranged by the composer for concert band. Sparke conceived the work as a virtuosic piece to display the talents of each of the band’s instrumental sections.
The first 20 seconds of the show commenced with the full corps in a semi-block triangle form up front, with the horns playing a continuous series of rapid eighth notes that should have stressed the joints of the players’ fingers. The color guard costuming was intentionally less theatrical than normal, and blended in more with what the corps proper was wearing. The guard members’ trousers featured stripes the same lime green color of their cummerbunds, which were identical in form to the golden cummerbunds worn by the brass and percussion sections.
At times, the fanfare nature of “Toccata” from “Year of the Dragon” proclaimed an almost William Walton British sensibility, most reminiscent of some of the Walton works drum corps fans had previously heard on the field, such as “Belshazzar’s Feast” and “Symphony No. 1.” Despite some intense moments of slingshot drill evolutions and intensely loud brassy statements, the music was somewhat more ceremonially restrained than the regal British pomp of the Walton’s “Henry V” and “Crown Imperial.”
A volley of drumbeats led into a low brass horn statement that reminded some of the opening notes to the theme from “Jaws.” As if playing with this notion, the accompanying drill form very much looked like the fin of a shark. This moved into a 9/8 time signature dance section, featuring the guard members wearing blue-plumed shakos and humorously pantomiming the performance of spinning maces.
The segment of “Year of the Dragon” that Sparke had titled “Interlude” was originally a chorale featuring a melancholy solo for trombone. For 50 seconds, the horns stood still to express the pensiveness of the music, letting the guard members convey all the visual emotion. At the end of “Interlude,” a lone mellophone played the final notes of the original trombone solo.
The closer mixed “Finale” from “Year of the Dragon” with the overture that gave title to the show. The color guard spun soft multi-tone green flags complimentary to their cummerbunds. Sparke’s own liner notes comment, “’Finale’ is a real tour-de-force for the band with a stream of rapid (16th notes) running throughout the movement. The main theme is heroic and march-like, but this is interspersed with lighter, more playful episodes.”
Sparke composed “Celebration” in 1991 not for a brass band, but for the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, under the direction of the esteemed Frederick Fennell. That recording was heard throughout the world and resulted in Sparke receiving several more commissions, including one in 1996 from the United States Air Force Band for the award-winning “Dance Movements,” of which two movements were performed by the Cavaliers in 1998.
A sudden burst of multi-hued gold flags at the advancing brass company front less than a minute from the end pushed the show into overdrive. The horns collapsed into a block that swirled within itself and then poured out into the corps’ trademark “Z-pull” maneuver that stretched the horn form out into one continuous line, half the musicians in a concave arc and the other half in a concave arc.
During this week, you can save on the Legacy Collection DVD that contains this complete Cadets performance, along with all finalists from the 1997 DCI World Championships.Buy the 1997 Legacy Collection DVD.
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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 a quarter century 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.