Drum Corps International celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2012, though perhaps no corps celebrated as happily as the Crossmen, who appeared in the Finals for the first time since 2004.
Blue Devils won its 15th DCI title with a show inspired by Dadaism, and added another undefeated season to its long list of accomplishments. Carolina Crown won the award for Best Brass Performance and tied the Devils for Best Visual Performance. The Blue Devils captured the top awards for General Effect, Percussion, and Color Guard outright.
Blue Knights finished the 2012 DCI Tour in 10th place with a show titled, “Avian,” performed entirely to the music of Igor Stravinsky’s famed “Firebird Suite,” the music that instantly made Stravinsky a household name in 1910.
Multitudes of symphonic music fans know and love “The Firebird,” and it’s been one of the most played orchestral works on the drum corps field. Yet, it almost didn’t come to be; the 27-year-old Stravinsky wasn’t asked to write the music for Sergei Diaghilev’s Parisian-based Ballets Russes until the first hired composer left after a disastrous encounter with the choreographer, followed by three other composers turning down the job.
Sergei Diaghilev was the most famous ballet impresario of his day, and he took quite a risk on Stravinsky to pen the music for the ballet company’s first production to feature original music. The success of both Stravinsky’s music and the ballet itself led to two additional commissions for the ballet that cemented Stravinsky’s reputation as the most important composer of the 20th Century; “Petroushka” and “The Rite of Spring.” The first of his Diaghilev ballets was based on a Russian fairy tale about the magical Firebird, a young prince, and a nasty ogre.
Blue Knights’ show designer, DCI Hall of Fame member Marc Sylvester, created a new storyline for the music, and named the show “Avian” for the fantasy world discovered by the corps’ bird people, dubbed the aVis! The aVis! discovered the planet Avian after escaping their home planet of Qul-en-Ahr, which was about to be destroyed by a massive meteor.
At the opening of the show, the aVis! were seen flocking to their nest on Qul-en-Ahr, situated in the lower right corner of the field. The priestess, identified by extra-tall head feathers, went to check out the environment. The rest of the guard members were in similar headdresses that were not nearly as tall or elaborate.
The melody of the “Firebird Finale” was heard in the mallets, amongst the ominous ringing of a bell that seemed to be issuing the warning of impending disaster. All members of the brass and color guard sections soon gathered in the center of the field, upon the spaceship. Visually, this vessel was showcased as a 25-yard-wide circle in the drill, comprised of three tight circles of brass surrounding a block of guard members.
The judged portion of the show opened to the ferocious music of “Infernal Dance,” accompanying the bird people’s ritual dance as their last gathering on their home planet. The drums entered the field from the upper right corner, representing the meteor that was about to destroy the planet. The color of the drums was the same lime green that accented the plumes of the corps members and was the same color seen on the vests and loincloths of the guard members. The same green accented the blue feathers of the guard’s feather headdresses. Underscoring the sci-fi theme, the first set of flags used in the production showcased a detail of the planet Saturn, prominently featuring the famous rings.
To the music of “Infernal Dance,” there was a sense of the spaceship taking off as the drums took center stage to destroy the old planet. That selection is the angriest movement in the ballet, so it especially fit a movement representing the fleeing from a soon-to-be doomed planet.
As the craft was on its way to the planet Avian, an otherworldly rendition was heard of the theme song melody to the original “Star Trek” television series. A clever drill formation depicted the spaceship bouncing off the planet’s surface.
After the priestess opened the door to the spacecraft, the guard members flew off the ship to start exploring the new planet. The cosmic jungle environment of Avian environment was seen in the abstract jungle flags, a variety of straight lines of foliage arranged in a haphazard manner, just as jungles aren’t laid out in neat and tidy rows of vegetation.
In the ballad, “Berceuse,” there was a sense of longing for what the aVis! left behind, and consequently, there was an intentional lack of emotional connection to the new planet. But as they explored the new surroundings, the blues and greens of the jungle changed to brighter colors of the new planet. These colors could also be seen as the brighter emotions the bird people began to feel for their new environment.
This introduced “Finale from The Firebird,” which saw the blue and green plumes of the shakos gradually change to a vivid red. The costumes of the members of the guard and the front ensemble sections also changed to red as the inhabitants started to embrace their new home. The new flags were especially vibrant, filled with the bright colors of jungle plants and wildlife.
The closing drill form in “Finale from The Firebird” appeared to be a bird with its wings spread wide. As one last bit of whimsy from Marc Sylvester, it was actually the symbol of the Pontiac Firebird sports car.