Drum Corps International
Spotlight of the Week: 2001 Blue Devils, 'Awayday Blue'
2001 Blue DevilsPhoto by: Drum Corps International

Spotlight of the Week: 2001 Blue Devils, 'Awayday Blue'

by Michael Boo

A tiebreaker rule was instituted for the 2001 Drum Corps International World Championships, after three of the five prior seasons ended in ties. (That rule has since been repealed.)

While there was a tie when the Finals scores were announced at Ralph Wilson Stadium near Buffalo, it was between the Blue Devils and the Cadets for second place. It was members of the Cavaliers who walked out of the stadium as the sole proprietor of the 2001 championship title.

Blue Devils’ “Awayday Blue,” featuring Adam Gorb’s “Awayday,” Donald Grantham’s “Fantasy Variations,” and Philip Wilby’s “Paganini Variations,” captured the Visual Performance and Brass caption awards.

Since 2000, Adam Gorb has been the head of the school of composition at England’s Royal Northern College of Music. He has won numerous composition awards in the U.S. and United Kindom and has extensively written for bands, orchestras, choirs, chamber ensembles, and dance troupes. Much of his repertoire is predominantly serious, but his 1996 “Awayday” is a jazzy, energetic piece for band that has been compared to some of the most spirited works of Leonard Bernstein.

Regarding “Awayday,” Gorb wrote the following:

In this six-minute curtain raiser, my inspiration has come from the great days of the American Musical Comedy. I have tried to express in a brief sonata form movement the exhilaration of “getting away from it all” for a few short hours on a festive Bank Holiday. Musically, the piece is homage to the great days of the Broadway musical with its irresistible brashness and irrepressible high spirits. If you can envisage George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, and James Bond travelling together at a hundred miles per hour in an open-top sports car, I think you'll get the idea.

The show started with a series of intense, short blasts from the horns as the color guard members spun flags shaded with red and purple. The guard costumes were comprised of solid yellow jackets in front, a variety of solid colors in back, multiple white stripes running down black pants, and straw-like hats, creating the look of vaudeville acts from the early 1900s. The music was breezy, giving the impression of letting one’s hair down on the holiday to which the composer referred.

Much of the last two-thirds of the show was dedicated to Donald Grantham’s 1998 “Fantasy Variations.” Grantham teaches composition at the University of Texas and went to France for two summers to study under Nadia Boulanger, the most famous composition teacher of the 20th Century. He has won numerous composition awards and has received prestigious fellowships and grants, as well as numerous commissions. This particular piece won two prestigious awards, the National Band Association/William Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest and the American Band Association/Ostwald Award.

The full title of the piece is “Fantasy Variations on George Gershwin’s Second Prelude,” based on a 1927 solo piano work by the famed American composer of Broadway hits and symphonic masterpieces. The prelude was part of Gershwin’s 1926 “Three Preludes,” three short works for solo piano that are considered prime early examples of the jazz influence on American classical music.

Under Grantham’s pen, the work borrows heavily from both segments of the original, but deconstructs the themes in such a manner that Gershwin’s hand in the melodies isn’t fully revealed until near the end of the piece, when all the fragments of Grantham’s deconstruction are brought together. Blue Devils’ rendition started with a reference to the main melody and led into a piano-like ditty in the mallet keyboards, interspersed with drum breaks.

2001 Blue Devils

The color guard members cut loose with a spirited vaudeville dance as the horns stood still and wailed on a hard-driving swing adaptation of the melody, accompanied by 10 additional drummers playing on horizontal bass drums. The main theme returned as the guard collapsed into a tight block and moved across the front sideline. The following section included another percussion feature, highlighted by orange flags and a series of brass outbursts that created a framework of the rhythmic melody that was so deconstructed; it would be difficult to pick out Gershwin’s original musical thoughts without a serious compositional analysis.

Toward the end of the show, many male members of the guard were paired with female members for a slow dance during a beautiful and soaring ballad from one of the 14 variations from Philip Wilby’s 1991 “Paganini Variations,” accompanied by flags largely the same color yellow as the fronts of the guard costumes. Wilby teaches a variety of courses at University of Leeds in England and is particularly known for his compositions for British brass band. His work was based on the “24th Caprice in A Minor,” the most famous of the 24 movements written sometime before 1810 by the famed violinist, Nicoló Paganini.

Wilby took Paganini’s famed melody and infused it with both historic and contemporary elements concurrently, creating a work that seems to have its stylistic feet in two different time periods at once. The movement the Blue Devils used cut straight to the heart of the Romanticism of Paganini’s time, infused with contemporary chords unknown until the 20th Century.

The show concluded with a recap of the very start of “Awayday,” ending with a celebration of the holiday away from home, making it quite difficult for fans to get excited about going back to the daily grind once the drum corps season was over.

For this week only, you can save on the DVD set that contains this complete Blue Devils performance, along with all finalists from the 2001 DCI World Championships.

Buy the 2001 World Championship DVD set.
(Available this week only for 20% off.)

Discount DVD offer ends Monday, November 9, 2015.
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.