In 2011, Open Class corps were to hold both their World Championship Prelims and Finals competitions at Michigan City’s Ames Field for the first time. However, a rain-obsessed Mother Nature had other ideas during the first day’s event, so all 18 corps were rescheduled to perform the following day.
Blue Devils B snared the Open Class title, a corps that had won its first 11 shows before losing one to Oregon Crusaders. BDB won the awards for Best General Effect and Best Percussion. The second-place Oregon Crusaders took the honors for Best Brass while the third-place Vanguard Cadets captured the award for Best Visual Ensemble. Spartans took fourth place and also won the trophy for Best Color Guard.
Vanguard Cadets’ 2011 production “Balance” was entirely based on an original suite titled “Balancing Acts,” co-written by brass arranger Key Poulan, battery percussion arranger Murray Gusseck, and front ensemble arranger Nate Bourg. The musical inspiration for the show was based on the concept of Chi (Qi), believed in Southeast Asian cultures to be the energy of life that circulates through the body of all living plants and animals. The original musical suite explored this principle, focusing mostly on the essential elements of balance and harmony with all living things.
Although there were not-so-subtle hints of darkness and pulsating rhythms that seemed to threaten the delicate balance of the tranquil Chi, those moments did not detract from the overall spiritually uplifting essence of the production. Rather, they were programmed to add intrigue to the principle of Chi that is easily misunderstood in Western society as being exclusively peaceful.
Chi is so crucial to the Southeast Asian concept of life that it is not even regarded as a principle in the Western sense, but is merely an elemental part of daily existence. As life wouldn’t exist without the balance of Chi, one of the literal translations of the word is “air,” the most essential element of living.
The ongoing narration throughout Vanguard’s program was akin to a travelogue through life à la Deepak Chopra, starting with the pre-drum major salute comment, “The key to happiness lies in a lifelong search for balance.”
The opener of “Symmetry” featured symmetrical drill formations, opening with a big fanfare that was straight-ahead drum corps. Horn players balanced on one foot while playing, moving the other foot around in various positions to emphasize that they were attached to the ground for a prolonged period by one foot.
“Equilibrium” began with an extended snare drum feature, with some individual percussionists leaning back or to the side while being supported by members of the color guard. Other guard members balanced in various positions, such as on one foot and even in handstands.
Various Southeast Asian sounds were heard in the front ensemble, including a variety of small gongs and Taiko drums. These were never the focus of the musical presentation, but rather provided a subtle coloration that gently flowed through the production, much like Chi itself flowing through the body. One was only aware of these sounds if one consciously thought about it.
“Harmony” was the most soothing segment of the show, with brass chords gently floating over the field in a moment of repose that was as relaxing for the members as it was the audience. Some members of the color guard performed graceful Tai Chi-inspired movements while standing atop short balance beams floating inches off the ground, connecting the concept with the audience as this is what many think of when they hear the mention of “Chi.”
Early in “Equality,” some members of the color guard spun flags while lying prone on balance beams. Sections of horns entered individually, and trumpet players briefly performed at an angle with both feet on the beams, fighting the gravitational urge to slip off as guard members held up one end of each beam. After that, the announcer proclaimed, “True happiness is found in balance.”
The show ended with a final loud statement that recalled various musical themes from earlier in the show.
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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.