The 1998 Drum Corps International World Championship was held in Orlando’s Citrus Bowl Stadium. It was the third consecutive year of DCI’s joint venture with Walt Disney World, with Epcot hosting a variety of special events.
Competitively, the Blue Devils slipped from first place in the Quarterfinals to second in Semifinals and third in Finals, ultimately finishing under the second-place Santa Clara Vanguard and first-place Cadets of Bergen County.
Glassmen placed fifth for the first of three times over four years, this after not placing in Finals two years earlier. The high placement meant the corps moved up in the ranks 12 times over the previous 13 years.
After a seventh-place finish the year before, The Cavaliers jumped into fourth with the corps’ production “Traditions for a New Era.” The show celebrated the corps’ 50th anniversary, in one visual effect by literally showing the “old guard” passing the torch (color guard equipment) to the “new guard.”
The production opened with Jay Kennedy’s “The Path Between the Mountains,” written in 1994. Kennedy, a longtime brass arranger for the Boston Crusaders, has written music for hundreds of television commercials and penned the fanfare heard when one opens up a DCI DVD. In 2007, he was elected to the DCI Hall of Fame for his efforts as a corps arranger, instructor, adjudicator, and judge administrator.
The corps started the show facing backfield, spread in a giant block formation from front to back and stretching between the five-yard lines. With only the front ensemble playing, the brass and battery percussion performed a sequence of geometrically evolving blocks and echelons before spinning around to hit the audience with a powerful opening fanfare.
At this point, the color guard, now encircling the brass, unveiled flags of solid vertical stripes of green, white, and black, the flag design that was utilized by the corps for many decades earlier. Corps prior to the formation of DCI and also in DCI’s earliest years used to have just one set of flags, the design of which was used for several seasons.
Further paying homage to the corps’ past, the first 80 seconds of the show—ending with the corps forming a company front—featured drill formations symmetrical to the 50-yard line, a common feature among corps until the early 1980s.
Color guard flags were then exchanged up front for deep blue flags with thin stripes hinting at the earlier colors, reflecting the corps’ evolution from being traditional to becoming one of DCI’s leading innovators. Drill formations also became mildly asymmetrical, harkening back to the 1980s when corps started to experiment with the newfound freedom of breaking away from strict symmetry. Forms became increasingly free form, and the music, increasingly brash and dynamic, seemed to proudly proclaim at once the corps’ storied past and its hopeful future.
Phillip Sparke, a British composer, composed the next two pieces. Each was extracted from “Dance Movements,” a four-movement band suite from 1996. “Molto Vivo (for the Woodwinds)” was a spry dance tune that served as a percussion feature.
Up front, color guard members in black versions of the unit’s traditional uniform (with hats) interacted with members dressed in black bodysuit-like costumes (without hats). This is where the “old guard” figuratively passed the keys to the corps to the “new guard,” with the horns moving into the type of rapid geometric transitions in the drill made famous by DCI Hall of Fame visual designer Steve Brubaker.
From the suite’s third movement, “Lento (for the Brass),” a chorale, featured muted soprano bugles and was extremely solemn and restrained up to when the corps faced forward for a big stationary blast of brass. White flags with a touch of green and golden intersecting arches reminded the audience this was the corps’ 50th anniversary.
The show ended with “Machine,” the fourth and final movement from William Bolcom’s “Symphony No. 5,” written in 1989. “Machine” is a loud and boisterous piece, full of clanging percussion and explosive brass. The title was appropriate for celebrating the corps’ golden anniversary, as The Cavaliers have long been known by the nickname, “The Green Machine.”
A number of members of the color guard were featured throughout this section playing cymbals to add to the clanging machine effect. A drum break allowed the brass players to march through the corps’ iconic squiggly “dragon” maneuver, brought back from “Variations on a Korean Folk Song,” performed in 1986 and 1987 in what was the corps’ first two DCI seasons finishing amongst the top three corps.
Some members of the guard continued to play the cymbals up until all picked up flags of shades of gold for a final company front maneuver by the brass. That led into the horns high-stepping over prone guard members in another visually iconic throwback, this one to 1981.
A series of rapidly repetitive brass staccatos on the same dissonant chord was akin to a jackhammer pounding the past 50 years into the collective memories of the audience, hammering away the remnants of the past to make way for the new corps to follow.
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.