Drum Corps International
Spotlight of the Week: 2011 Madison Scouts, 'New York Morning'
Photo by: Drum Corps International

Spotlight of the Week: 2011 Madison Scouts, 'New York Morning'

by Drum Corps International

The Cadets won all three nights of competition at the 2011 DCI World Championships in Indianapolis, grabbing their 10th DCI title despite starting the season as far back as fourth place. After that first show, the eventual 3rd place Cavaliers turned things (and members) upside-down and won their next 22 shows in a row. Blue Devils snuck in between those other two corps and Carolina Crown—even after winning its first show of the season and picking up rock star groupies all season long—had to settle for 4th place.

The 10th-place Madison Scouts commemorated the 10th anniversary of the stunning attack on the World Trade Center with "New York Morning." It was a concept that, in development, would require the utmost in sensitivity. The corps' artistic director James Mason and members of his Tony Award-winning production of "Blast!" witnessed the towers falling from their housing site across the Hudson River from Manhattan. He carried that unforgettable memory into the planning stages for this Madison Scouts production.

Starting the show, the mallet players in the front ensemble percussion section sounded an ominous chord. Then a lone tuba played a snippet of the melody from Richard Rodgers' "Oh! What a Beautiful Morning" from the 1943 Broadway musical, "Oklahoma." The color guard members, dressed in Wall Street business suits, were reading reproduced copies of the New York Times from September 11, 2001.

At the end of the tuba solo, the corps had coalesced into an outline of the Manhattan skyline, with the twin towers prominently featured. As the towers tipped to the left, as if caught in the swirling winds that immediately followed their real world collapse, a rousing horn fanfare began with the first sustained note of "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," the ballet within the 1936 Broadway musical "On Your Toes" that formed much of the corps' 2010 show. The fanfare developed the main melody of Leonard Bernstein's "New York, New York" from the 1944 Broadway musical, "On the Town."

The conclusion of the production's intro segment saw the horns form a giant "M" that looked much like the suspension cables in that famous photo of the Brooklyn Bridge after the 9/11 attacks. That photo showed thousands of NYC workers crossing the bridge, the smoldering remnants of the World Trade Center in the background and a proud, defiant American flag flying over one of the bridge's stone towers.


As the show itself commenced, a lone police siren wailed. It would soon not be so lonely. The guard members dropped their copies of the New York Times to pick up bright yellow flags emblazoned with arcs of different shades of gold, reflecting the brightness of the sun on a morning that started out quite glorious. The corps the played a jazz rendition of "New York, New York," full of the vitality that permeated the optimism of Wall Street as it revved up the financial engine that was to propel America to greatness for another day.

Brass players formed a double curving swirling line that looked reminiscent of a river's bending and then half formed the rays of the sun, perhaps alluding to the Hudson River and the beauty of the day thus far. The outline of the skyline from earlier in the show returned, though not an exact copy, and then it tipped to the right, whereas earlier it had tipped to the left. On that fateful day, thousands of people caught up in the smoke and ash had no idea which direction they were really heading.

A more mournful rendition of "Oh! What a Beautiful Morning," expressed by a baritone soloist, opened the next segment. The piece then slipped into a foreboding minor key and the entire demeanor of the show turned dark as corps arranger Robert W. Smith's "Beautiful Mourning and Requiem" took over. Snippets of the Richard Rodgers piece were twisted into almost unrecognizable forms, just as the steel columns of the World Trade Center were about to do the same. Standing still, a violently cataclysmic surge of dissonance swept across the field from left to right and back again.


2011 Madison Scouts
The members of the corps then quickly ran across the entire field as if trying to escape the terror. Bright flags of red, orange and other colors of flames came out as the horns pulled into a company front and unleashed an intense and panicked statement of "Oh! What a Beautiful Morning," delivering the news that the morning was now anything but beautiful.

A drum feature of intense confusion led into a scattered drill formation that put the horns into a block that poured out toward the front of the field, referencing both the collapse of the towers and the people inside running down the staircases. The ending form after this segment looked like an apple (The Big Apple) with the core missing, as if the heart of the city was cut out of the soul of the people.

A lone heartbeat led into the "Requiem" section of the piece, the beginning loosely inspired by "Taps." The piece was reworked from Robert W. Smith's 1984 original composition of the same name for Suncoast Sound's emotional Vietnam tribute show. Smith had commented that since 1984, he had not allowed any group to use the emotionally charged piece, but felt it was finally the right time to bring it back. The work is tinged with a sense of grief, with a glimmer of hope trying to peek through. For this part of the show, the members removed their hats and were now seen as individuals fighting through the aftermath, reminding us there were thousands of individual stories after 9/11.

2011 Madison Scouts
The indomitable spirit of New Yorkers returned stronger to the ever-intensifying sounds of "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, Shawn Carter, Angela Hunte, Janet Sewell-Ulepic, Al Shuckburgh, Burt Keynes and Sylvia Robinson. The use of multiple surdo drums (large Brazilian drums popular in samba music) out on the field kept a beat throughout. The Empire State Building was seen on the color guard members' flags. The melody and treatment by the corps was magnificently uplifting and never failed to pull the audience members out of their seats before the show was over.

Many wonder why the 2011 DCI World Championship DVDs didn't include both the audio and video for the corps' "Empire State of Mind" closer, except for the final few seconds that were tagged on to the song. Brass arranger Robert W. Smith explained the corps was unable to get "sync rights" for the piece, and the reason wasn't clear until the 10th anniversary day of 9/11.

According to Smith, "State Farm Insurance knew well in advance that on 9/11/11, they were going to put out a nationwide television commercial using 'Empire State of Mind' as the central statement. It was in the best interest of the company to obtain exclusivity and they paid a lot of money to get it." Corps management decided the music was more important than the video, and so one of the most emotional musical statements of recent years was preserved for fans to enjoy.

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, Ind.