In 2016, Bluecoats turned the drum corps activity upside-down with “Down Side Up,” and winning the corps’ very first World Championship title.
Blue Devils’ “As Dreams are Made On” honored the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with the Devils’ take on the master’s “The Tempest,” barely edging out Carolina Crown’s “Relentless,” a story of revenge and forgiveness in the Old West.
Finishing in fourth place, Santa Clara Vanguard explored the “Force of Nature” while the fifth-place Cavaliers’ “Propaganda” stayed current with references to the upcoming presidential election. In 11th place, The Academy launched a major charm offensive with the quirky love story of “Drum Corpse Bride.” The Arizona group became DCI’s 41st corps to become a World Class finalist, the first new corps to earn a spot in the Finals competition since 2002.
Ultimately achieving a seventh-place finish, Blue Knights performed “The Great Event,” an introspective and intellectually challenging production that pondered time, existence, and the courage to stay open to change. It was designed to celebrate how beautiful it is that we exist. According to corps director Mark Arnold, “'The Great Event' might be that moment where one chooses to change one’s outlook in the world from pessimism to optimism, to either live life with a positive attitude or be drawn down to the misery.”
At the beginning, music and images were quite jarring and unsettling. There were scenes from the Vietnam War and WWII, among other disturbing happenings. Over the course of the arc of the show, a transition transformed the proceedings from distress to “The Great Event,” whatever that meant to the individual viewer.
The show started with the corps members in the center of the field, bent over, in a circle around a mirror as eerie electronic sounds permeated the stadium. Their bodies collectively heaved as if a breathing organism before moving out of the formation to face the world.
The round tarp upon which they were standing had sucked the 45-yard lines into its gravitational pull, distorting and bending the lines. Heard over the atmospheric sounds was “Fratres,” a 1997 work composed by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt , who described the piece as akin to the ringing of bells.
Suddenly, without warning, the corps blasted into a brief violent snippet of Christopher Rouse’s “Gorgon,” a piece that explored the hideous beasts from Greek mythology. Blood red flags and the incredible dissonance of the music were indeed unsettling.
The next segment of the show was a medley of three pieces by Elliot Goldenthal. “Flight to the Wasteland” came from his score to the 2001 computer-animated science fiction film, “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.” The middle of the medley was “Adagio and Transfiguration” from the same film, followed by “Arrows of the Gods” from the 1999 motion picture, “Titus.”
More of “Fratres” showed up to transition into Leonard Cohen’s “The Great Event.” Cohen’s introspective piece is loaded with abstract, soul-searching poetic pensiveness. Among the lyrics to the piece were, “It’s going to happen very soon/The great event which will end the horror/Which will end the sorrow/Next Tuesday, when the sun goes down, I will play the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ backwards/This will reverse the effects of the world’s mad plunge into suffering…”
When those lyrics appeared in the show, the front ensemble and horns actually played the popular Beethoven piano sonata backward as the color guard members, stripped of the more formal long gowns they had worn to open the show, performed their drill formations in reverse.
Brass players ran back to the central round tarp to lie on the ground squirming as a lone guard member was tossed into the air from behind the mirror. She waved a fluorescent green banner skyward to usher in enlightenment and the end of hostilities, leading into Oliver Davis’ “Air Waltz,” composed in 2013.
The color guard costumes changed once again to bodysuits of different splotches of seemingly random colors, as if painters utilized the costumes to wipe off their brushes between dabbing into each new color.
The next piece in the corps’ repertoire, “Saturn,” came off singer-songwriter Ryan O’Neal’s “Atlas: Year One” album of 2014. According to the composer, the song is “about losing someone close and deeply loved,” but remembering, “the good they left behind in our lives.” The work reflected on O’Neal’s consideration that Saturn is our solar system’s most beautiful planet. Music was now consonant and euphorically uplifting, the mad plunge into suffering reversed.
Flags of triangular strips colored like the latest color guard costume change filled the field with happy hues. Narration finished off the show with two lines of the Cohen poem, stating, “It’s going to happen very soon/Oh what a lovely night that would be.”
Color guard performers gathered around the mirror atop the tarp at the center of the field as a lone figure, clad head-to-toe in a silver reflective material, ascended from behind the mirror to perhaps signal the beginning of a new era. Like so much of the show, the meaning was left to personal interpretation of what the production meant to each person in the audience.
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.