As the Drum Corps International World Championship returned to Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium in 2011, competition was particularly fierce among the corps falling below the top-12 finalists.
During the Semifinals competition at Lucas Oil Stadium, a 3.15 spread separated the 12th-place Spirit of Atlanta and 13th-place Glassmen, but only two tenths of a point between the Glassmen and 14th-place Troopers. While Glassmen finished 14th or 15th in all captions, Troopers’ caption placements were spread between 11th in Visual Ensemble and 18th in Percussion.
The Troopers came into the season with new uniforms sporting a vertical swooping yellow sash, with the color guard attired in long earth-colored pioneer dresses. But it was a long and narrow tarp the corps unfurled on the football field that ended up generating the most visual intrigue.
Stretching from the left 40-yard line on the front sideline to practically the upper right corner of the field, the winding tarp was colored to resemble a dirt path, the title character of the name of the show, “The Road Home.” It was said that the title referred to finding one’s way home no matter where one found oneself.
Church bells from a distant town rang out as the corps stood still at the start of the show, with the brass section entering to the chorale of “The Old Church,” the sixth song in “Prairie Songs” by Stephen Paulus, originally an eight-part a cappella work written for the Festival Choir of Madison, Wisconsin. Each of the songs was set to texts of Della B. Vik, a famed photographer and painter of scenes set in the Black Hills of South Dakota. “The Old Church” came to a wider public attention when sung at both the funerals of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.
The chorale segued into “China Gates,” a 1977 work written by minimalist composer John Adams for Sarah Cahill, then a 17-year-old pianist. The repetitive 8th notes in the mallet percussion were said by Adams to reference a steady rainfall.
The same type of steady 8th note figure was heard in the accompanying work, Marcelo Zarvos’ “Memory,” the third and final movement from the Brazilian pianist’s “Nepomuk’s Dances.” Zarvos, best known as a composer for more than 40 movies, wrote the frenetic and pulsating work in 2006 for “Light,” an album by the progressive string quartet ETHEL. The piece is based on a character from Thomas Mann’s mid-1940s novel, “Doktor Faustus.” If one were to consider “The Road Home” to be a journey through life, this piece was its chaotic midlife crisis.
More soundings of church bells witnessed the horns step across the banner for the first time, after more than six minutes into the show. The gorgeously sonorous third movement from Aaron Copland's “Four Piano Blues,” “Muted and Sensuous,” provided time for tender reflection. This particular piece was written in 1948, but other movements were written as far back as 1926. Copland didn’t assemble the works into a single collection until 1949, and dedicated the four short works to pianist William Kappell, who would die in a commercial airline crash just four years later at the age of 31. All the horns gathered on the path at the end, as the piece slowly evaporated into a bluesy haze.
The last three-and-a-half minutes of the Troopers’ production were performed to Edgar Mayer’s “Mama,” off the “Appalachia Waltz” album of 1996. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and fiddler Mark O’Connor joined bassist Mayer for an album of Americana music inspired by styles as disparate as bluegrass, jazz, and classical European music.
This was the piece that featured the corps’ famed “Infinity Chord,” so named because not only was it more than 20 seconds long, but the horns performed it in the sideways “8” form of an infinity symbol. Milking the chord for all it was worth, the drum major took his sabre out of its sheath and presented it above his head to the audience as the chord got even louder than one could imagine was possible.
Was the “Infinity Chord” a trick sustained with the help of amplified synthesizers? According to the corps’ staff, even though a synth was present, the effect was 99 percent pure brass, made possible by carefully choreographed staggered breathing by the horn players.
The brass section then spilled onto the path and followed it to the upper right corner in the goal zone, facing backfield as several of the corps’ traditional 11th Ohio Cavalry flags stepped out into a mini “sunburst,” announcing to all that everyone was home, safe and sound. While looking toward the future, the final effect was a genuinely tender acknowledgment of the corps’ past.
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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.