Jim Tabuchi, executive director and former member of the Mandarins, openly admits it.
His fellow former corps members — himself included, for that matter — are starting to get a little bit jealous.
Frankly, it’s not hard to see why. Watching their corps reach unprecedented new heights in all facets, understandably, brings out the envy in those who helped the organization get to this point.
“‘Yeah, I wish the corps was like that when I was marching, right?’” Tabuchi said, echoing the thoughts of his fellow alumni.
But of course, the most prominent sentiment pouring out of the Sacramento corps’ alumni base is an overwhelming sense of pride in watching the Mandarins put together their most impressive start to a season in corps history.
“Just being able to watch some of the Open Class corps and know that’s where we came from, back in my day, to make this kind of sound that we are today on the field,” Tabuchi said. “It was always a dream that we had when we were marching on the field with nine to 20 horns. And now to see and to hear what we’re doing on the field, it absolutely is a dream come true.”
From Tabuchi’s first days involved with the corps — as a lead trumpet in the early 1970s — to the present, the difference is night and day. The same could even be said for the corps’ current drum major, Jesus Alberto Muniz, who’s been around the Mandarins for five years, starting with the corps’ 21st-place finish in 2014.
“Words can’t really express how proud I am to be a part of this organization,” Muniz said. “And to have been a part of the entire process for making it from wherever we were in 2014 to now being genuine contenders in the game. I feel really proud to be here.”
From a competitive sense, the Mandarins have been historically successful for, essentially, the past 13 months. After earning 20th place in 2015 and jumping to 17th in 2016, the Sacramento corps was one of last season’s major surprises, finishing just shy of an inaugural trip to the DCI World Championship Finals.
According to Muniz, 2017’s close call not only “lit a fire” under those returning to the corps, but also attracted a talented group of auditionees to the Mandarins.
“Coming off of last season, it definitely brought in a whole new group of members who want to come in to be a part of this organization,” he said. “Because they feel this is the direction that the corps is going in, and they want to be a part of that process.”
As a result, the success story didn’t stop last August.
In just two weeks of the young 2018 campaign, the corps has already posted impressive numbers. Mandarins’ scores entering July are about four points higher than they were at this point a year ago, not to mention about 10 points higher than they were at this point two years ago.
In turn, the corps has found itself within historically close striking distance of the Blue Knights, an organization that has not only finished in DCI’s top 10 in all but two years since 2004, but has also earned a finalist position in 23 of the past 27 seasons.
Ultimately, though, Tabuchi and the Mandarins attribute what some would call “surprising” achievements to a long-term blueprint.
“I would say that, while it is a surprise to us, it really isn’t,” Tabuchi said. “The organization has been growing and it’s been based on an overarching strategy that we’ve had in place. Every year, we keep upgrading in one or two major areas. As an organization, we’ve continued to grow and expand, and become a better organization off the field, which then translates into us performing better on the field.”
Part of the most recent step in Mandarins’ gradual off-the-field improvement has been the addition of a brand-new team of creative designers that have helped put together a unique and exciting program for the corps’ 2018 season.
“Life Rite After,” the brainchild of newcomers like program director Ike Jackson and creative director Mario Ramirez, takes creative license to tell the epilogue story of the main character from Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring.”
Tabuchi, admittedly, can’t get enough of his corps’ “intensely-layered” 2018 production.
“Back in my day, right, I would’ve had a cassette tape, and I would’ve kept rewinding it and rewinding it because there’s something else that I wanted to hear,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of layering that happens, to the level where each individual out there is a character.”
While early success and notoriety is certainly exciting, Tabuchi and his corps know the DCI season lasts far longer than a couple of weeks, and it’s going to take serious drive in order to see this hot start extend to the rest of the 2018 season.
“There is no success in June,” Tabuchi said. “There’s no awards that go out in June. And we realize that. So, yeah, we’re off to a good start, and we want to continue the momentum.”
But for a corps that fell just shy of the top 12 a year ago, the foundation has already been laid for the Mandarins to have a shot at history in Indianapolis come mid-August.
“This is a group of people who want to make Finals,” Muniz said. “People who want to really work hard to put on a really good show that we can be proud of and that any alumni can be proud of. Something people in the audience can also be proud of, look at us, and say, ‘Wow, that’s the Mandarins.’"