When it was learned the new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis would not be ready in time for the 2008 Drum Corps International World Championships, the event was moved to Indiana University's Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.
The finale was one of the most memorable in DCI's history. After placing third in Quarterfinals and second in Semifinals, Phantom Regiment topped the Blue Devils by 0.025 points to win the title with a show that had thousands of audience members yelling, “I am Spartacus” during the corps' Finals performance.
By placing first and second in the Semifinals, Blue Devils and Regiment pushed The Cavaliers into third during the corps' 60th anniversary season. Carolina Crown finished in fourth, one place above The Cadets, concluding a season that saw Crown beat its fellow east coast competitor for the first time in history.
The Blue Devils' 2008 production, “Constantly Risking Absurdity,” was based on a poem of the same name by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who helped popularize the work of American Beat Generation poets. The work is the 15th poem in his 1958 book, “A Coney Island of the Mind: Poems,” that included some poems written to be performed with jazz accompaniment.
In discussing the poem, poet Jamie Lee Hamann stated, “Ferlinghetti takes the reader along for the ride. The reader stands next to the acrobat and sees his struggles and feels his emotions, and throughout realizes that the acrobat is the poet.” Likewise, the corps attempted to bring the audience into the daring process of the creative process involved in putting a show on the field.
Prior to the start of the show, members of the color guard utilized long white poles to mimic balancing on tightropes, carefully walking atop the yard lines. The members of the horn line were compressed into a tight block in the upper right corner of the field, playing a short snippet of the introduction of J.S. Bach's “Toccata and Fugue in D minor.”
With the drum line's tenors and regular snare drums set on the turf, 13 drummers opened the show on piccolo snare drums, shallow-shelled drums that produce a high-pitch sound.
This led into a segment titled, “Line Six: the poet like an acrobat,” exploring creativity as an entity that is safe only if it remains earthbound. The musical accompaniment was “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” written by Stephen Sondheim for the 1979 musical, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”
A highlight of this segment was when the tenor drum assemblies were carried laterally by two color guard members each as the drums were played. Then the guard members held up the drums perpendicular to the field and walked in a tight circle with the drummers inside the circle, following along while playing the drums.
“Line Six …” continued with “Phrygian Gates,” a 1977-1978 work by minimalist composer John Adams. The work was written in the Phrygian and Lydian modes, inspired by ancient Greek music. A mode is sort of like a musical scale, but with unique intervals between each degree of the particular mode, giving each a unique character. Continuing the theme, members of the horn line joined in balancing atop the yard lines, swaying as if struggling to maintain their balance.
Also in this segment was J.S. Bach's “2-part Invention in D minor,” the fourth such work in a mid-1600s collection of short piano inventions featuring two voices overlapping and imitating each other. Gordon Goodwin arranged the Bach piece for his 2001 album, “Swingin' for the Fences,” the debut for his 18-piece Big Phat Band jazz orchestra.
Horn line members picked up the long poles from the field and carried them to the color guard members during a percussion break, with the “Sweeney Todd” piece returning to finish off the first segment of the show.
The segment titled, “Line Fifteen: and other high theatrics,” which originally captured the thrill of writing without a net, opened with a short front ensemble rendition of “Pianos,” the first movement from Danny Elfman's “Serenada Schizophrana.” Elfman, lead singer and songwriter for the new wave rock band Oingo Boingo between 1974 and 1995, wrote the work in 2004 as his first major classical composition.
Michel Legrand's lovely ballad “I Will Wait for You” came from the 1964 movie, “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” the romantic musical film that made Catherine Deneuve famous. Legrand, a French composer, conductor, and jazz pianist, has written more than 200 film and television scores. This work was frequently interrupted by the Elfman piece, featuring the bass drummers spinning their drums around a special harness axis that allowed the drums to rotate at a rapid speed. By now the long white poles were set up on the field in six asterisk shapes.
“Line Twenty-Five: where beauty stands and waits” continued the Legrand ballad without interruption from “Pianos.” The brass players formed a giant asterisk minus one of the eight legs, perhaps waiting for the other to show up. The ballad ended with the color guard members taking the long poles and forming a stick figure of an acrobat perilously balanced atop an unseen tightrope, adding a circular hoop for the head.
A drum break featured the battery percussionists play a complex pattern while throwing out their legs left and right as if attempting to regain their balance on a tightrope. This led into “Line Thirty-Two: spread-eagled in the empty lot of existence.” This was performed to Ennio Morricone's “The Untouchables,” a 1987 Brian De Palma gangster movie set in Chicago that starred Kevin Costner, Robert DeNiro, and Sean Connery.
During the build up to the heroic conclusion, the brass players and percussionists formed a sideways rendition of the acrobat that was created on the field with the long poles, collapsing the form as they pushed right up to the front sideline of the field.
Amidst the front ensemble percussion, the horns released their last ounce of energy upon the ears of an ecstatic audience.
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.