Drum Corps International
Spotlight of the Week: 2013 Blue Knights
2013 Blue KnightsPhoto by: Drum Corps International

Spotlight of the Week: 2013 Blue Knights

by Michael Boo

Until Carolina Crown won the 2013 Drum Corps International World Championship title with its production “E=mc2,” DCI hadn't had a new World Class champion since 1996, the longest period ever between first-time winners.

The defending champion Blue Devils finished in second with their centenary re-imagination of Igor Stravinsky's pivotal “Rite of Spring,” capturing the corps' sixth consecutive Best Color Guard caption award.

The Cadets' tribute to the music of Samuel Barber captured third place, edging Santa Clara Vanguard's “Les Miz” show by only a tenth of a point. Madison Scouts celebrated its 75th anniversary with an emotional rendition of the corps' song, “You'll Never Walk Alone.” Blue Stars returned to the Finals competition after falling out of the show the prior year, knocking the Crossmen to 13th and also barely edging the Troopers.

2013 Blue Knights 2013 Blue Knights

Blue Knights' 10th-place “NoBeginningNoEnd” production visually explored the infinite nature of circles. The shape was seen interlocking in the drill formations, emblazoned on large flags, created in the air by the tails of spinning half-circle flags, and imprinted on the costumes of the color guard members. The multi-colored flags utilized all 135 colors on the flag supplier's color wheel, with 78 colors seen in the opening flags alone. One had to look really close at each flag to realize it quite subtly varied from the flag next to it.

The circular effect on the guard costumes was especially subtle: When the performers faced to the side, the teal bands on the costumes appeared to be straight; but when they faced forward, it appeared as if the half-circles were forming full circles when combined with the costumes of the adjacent guard members.

An auditory focal point throughout the show was snippets of “Everything is Round,” an original poem penned by Tommy Keenum, the corps' artistic director.

2013 Blue Knights 2013 Blue Knights

Kicking things off, “NoBeginningNoEnd” opened with a lone baritone horn playing snippets of the melody of Pat Metheny Group's “First Circle,” accompanying a pair of color guard members. Starting separate from each other, the male guard member danced inside a circle formed by brass players lying on the field as Keenum's poem was recited.

The battery percussion performers advanced out of the lower right tunnel of Lucas Oil Stadium, surround by a circle of color guard members, as another corps member dragged a giant inflated blue ball onto the field.

The drumming led into “This Bitter Earth,” performed mostly by the front ensemble mallet keyboards, in addition to a long-tone backdrop in the brass. Each segment of horns entering the field did so in either segments of circles or complete circles as the piece headed toward a potently loud conclusion. Rhythm and blues singer Dinah Washington popularized the 1960 Clyde Otis work, but the musical sample used by the corps was specially created for the production.

2013 Blue Knights 2013 Blue Knights

Next was “Circle One” by corps arrangers Jay Bocook and Ralph Hardimon, loosely based on minimalist pioneer Steve Reich's “Eight Lines” of 1979, a 5/4 composition that in its original form evolves at a snail's pace. Blue Knights started their arrangement in the more common time signature of 3/4 and though inspired by the Reich piece, was anything but minimalistic in nature.

Color guard flags utilized to accent this tune were of wildly different colors, creating a color wheel on the bright end of the spectrum. The work then switched to a 5/4 meter, with motifs from the Reich piece superimposed on “First Circle.” This led to a climax of brass players in ray formations that surrounded a block of colorful flags. The effervescent pulsation of the flags lassoed the eyes of the audience, allowing audience members to look nowhere else.

The final work in the show was a return to the earlier-introduced jazz-fusion “First Circle” piece written by guitarist Pat Metheny and keyboardist Lyle Mays of the Pat Metheny Group. The selection Blue Knights utilized of the composition was inspired by the treatment given the work by Bob Curnow's L.A. Big Band album, “The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays,” released in 1985.

2013 Blue Knights 2013 Blue Knights

Despite the colors of the guard costumes not changing throughout the production, the look of the performers suddenly popped at this point with the females donning long and billowing teal skirts. A pastel version of the earlier color wheel was introduced in the flags, so subtle, one had to really focus to notice. For the statement of the a cappella secondary melody of “First Circle,” the brass players knelt down in 10 small circles organized in a triangular block that replicated the motif of the corps' well-known white-dot logo.

Next, five percussionists gathered on and around a podium to deliver a hip and complex tambourine feature. This highlight always seemed to attract the attention of the on-field percussion judge, likely not because that judge expected to find anything wrong, but because it was such an engaging feature to witness up close.

The brass players proceeded to form four interlocking circles and rotated them through each other during a robust statement of the main melody, prior to a final fanfare push to the front.

The show ended with the horns forming a tight series of concentric circles around the giant blue ball, with ending flags largely of a vibrant orange matching the vivaciousness of the closing tune. The slow transition from the darkness of “This Bitter Earth” was now complete, with joy and optimism pushing away any sense of gloom.




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.

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