Drum Corps International
The DCI.org interview: Scott Chandler

The DCI.org interview: Scott Chandler

by Drum Corps International

Blue Devils program coordinator/choreographer Scott Chandler, whose challenging choreography catapulted that corps to a championship this past summer, is truly one of the great minds of 21st century drum corps. The California resident (you can read a full bio of Chandler HERE) sat down recently for a wide-ranging DCI.org interview. "I work in every season now, so my entire year is marching band into winter guard into drum corps (including the Japanese drum corps season). Playing the piano is my therapy," Chandler said.

Scott Chandler and pooch Bogie
DCI.org: How did you get your start choreographing drum corps? Do you have any anecdotes about how you got started? Did you have any other career aspirations at any point? Chandler: I was a theatre major at Jacksonville State University although, to be honest, I think I actually went there just to be in the marching band. At that time there were members from many of the top DCI corps involved with the Marching Southerners, including the Madison Scouts. After watching the PBS broadcast in 1977 I knew that Madison was the place I wanted to perform. There were several guys from the rifle line at JSU that year, including Tam Easterwood. Tam would not only become my best friend, but be the one person to say, "You have to go to Madison." My parents didn't want me going all the way to Madison, Wisconsin, and more or less, told me no. But when I called my dad from auditions and told him that Sal (Salas) had offered me a spot, he just said, "Well, I guess you really want to do this!"
I think they knew it was in my blood. OK, so I didn't exactly answer your real question. My first time being hired as a full-time color guard instructor/choreographer had a bit of a twist also. Donald Angelica had hooked me up with Garfield so I started there teaching the rifle line in the winter of 1982, but when the caption head position at the Bridgemen opened up, Donald encouraged me to go there. I think he knew I was itching to try my own thing. Even though I knew Garfield was really onto something, I mean you could just feel it, they had so much creative momentum. But I think I had some discovering to do and the Bridgemen were such an incredible place to develop creatively, and maybe learn some tough choreographic lessons without causing anyone too much trouble. There was a lot of freedom there, and incredible people that I will always be grateful to for giving me a shot. I was studying dance in NYC at the time so both paths were running parallel. DCI.org:What would you consider your "formative drum corps moment?" Chandler: I couldn't even begin to single out an isolated moment. I mean those "formative moments" are a constant. I'll give you a quick list from when I was first starting. Jim Gladsen teaching me how to throw a triple on rifle in high school, and showing me a film of the Troopers. Sal Salas's choreography for Krupke with Scouts. Sal's incredible instinct for communication. The first WGI. When I saw what Stanley Knaub, the godfather of dance in color guard, was doing -- I knew there was a place for me. Bobby Hoffman's encouragement to give the idea a chance. Dennis Delucia's ability to instill competitive excellence no matter what the musical genre. Frank Dorritte's insight into music. Conversations with Donald Angelica, George Olivero or Shirlee Whitcomb. Mickey Kelley's understanding of pacing and detail. Mike Turner's commitment to style and technique. Tam's sense of musicality and space, and ultimately how equipment could be as sensitive as any movement phrase -- and the combination of the two generating an even higher level of communication. From being a sponge around people like Donald, or Michael Cesario or George Zingali -- the sense that drum corps was its own brand of theatre. Not a wannabe Broadway or film, but that as you take in the related arts, you ultimately apply your history and your discoveries to the medium at hand. Drum Corps is who and what we are. We don't have to try and be anything else, but by embracing the "theatrical event," we expand the potential of what music and motion can be. That kind of intrinsic understanding is inspiring. And it doesn't exclude any of our greatest drum corps moments -- it simply defines them. I should stop because this list could go on and on. DCI.org: How do you start the process of choreographing? Walk us through the entire process. Chandler: Although I know it's been done, I have yet to start any choreography without the music. Even during the conceptual part of the process, you're always hearing music. In certain instances, I'll figure out the counts or study the score. But, more often than not, it's improvising to the music. Put the music on and see where it takes you. Get a feel for the character of the music then begin to fine tune the interpretation. This part of the process happens alone at times, but more often with the performers present. I can get an immediate idea of how the performers are adapting, interpreting and enjoying the choreography. As they begin to make the choreography their own, I can react to their strengths, the ensemble feel if you will, and get direction from their particular personality. All the while you're thinking of the character behind the piece, the mechanics of the music, and the staging or drill. It sounds complicated, but it's actually my favorite time. Once I learned to react to the performers, I began to enjoy it much more. I still try to challenge them constantly, but thinking of the process as a collaboration takes the pressure off. And there's nothing like those moments when I do something and I can hear a positive reaction from the performers. DCI.org: How closely do you work with the other designers? Chandler: As program coordinator I get the opportunity to work with all the designers at the Blue Devils. They're all such specialists in their disciplines that I think I'm just there to connect the pieces. Hopefully, I'm keeping the initial idea of the program and its ability to communicate on track. It's great for me personally, because through the brainstorming, questions and fine tuning, I'm learning so much about the visual and musical side of what we do. DCI.org: What other choreographers/drill designers do you admire?

Chandler: Let me just say that I admire anyone who is willing to put their creative efforts on the line. In color guard, we're seeing a lot of new faces emerge. There's a wealth of talent surfacing right now and it's going to be exciting to watch the growth. DCI.org: What happens when a drum corps choreographer makes a big design mistake? Chandler: Jay Murphy, the visual designer for the Blue Devils, says you never stop working on the program. So if there's a mistake, you do your best to correct the problem. I spend a lot of time on the road studying the audience, trying to gauge their reactions. Of course, I spend a lot of time with the performers and their reactions are so important. You can tell if they're inspired by a part or a move, or if they're not. It makes a huge difference. So, big design mistakes? You do your best to solve the problem quickly and efficiently.

DCI.org: What advice would you give to young people who aspire to design and choreograph drum corps shows? Chandler: Participate and explore. I knew when I was marching in Scouts that I wanted to teach. From that point on, everything had something to do with that goal. Anyone I could talk to, anything related that I could read, or study, or observe. It all became connected in a sort of independent study. If you want to design or choreograph you have to be open to the teachers around you. Form your own ideas and opinions, but don't be so stubborn. Be willing to grow and learn. And try to understand, however painful it might be, that not everyone will like what you do. If you're diligent, you'll begin to understand the partnership between yourself, the performers and the audience. DCI.org: Who is your favorite collaborator/partner in crime? Chandler: I collaborate with a lot of incredible people now, but the time that Tam Easterwood and I spent working on projects will always be special. Our time at Spirit of Atlanta was really intense, creative and fun. Our gut instincts really lined up and we were always thinking about the job. It just enveloped us to the point that we were stylistically and musically in sync. And together with Sal, we seemed to be always moving forward and laughed a lot! DCI.org: What first attracted you to the drum corps activity? Chandler: I was the kid in elementary school going to watch the high school band practice every day in the fall. I used to take my brother's gym bag, throw in some clothes and pretend like I was going away to band camp -- in the backyard. So when I found out that there was this thing called drum corps that traveled and competed, I felt like the pig who found the mud. Are you kidding? Music, marching and an audience? Then there were guys in color guard? Wow. I think it was always about communication. Communicating an idea, expressing emotion. I hope I'm helping young performers experience that now. There is nothing like it. DCI.org: Do you have any favorite road anecdotes from your many years in drum corps? Chandler: The first drum corps show I ever saw "live" was from the field with Madison. I was so amazed at everything, and I remember coming off the field at one show and literally stopping in my tracks to watch the corps that followed our performance. Needless to say, one of the vets took me by the collar back to where the corps was circled up, which was where I was supposed to be. Interestingly enough, that vet was Todd Ryan, who is also with the Blue Devils now. Even more interesting -- the corps I was so intent on watching? The Blue Devils. DCI.org: What has been your favorite corps performance ever? Chandler: My age-out performance in Montreal with the Madison Scouts will always be special. Spirit of Atlanta's 1986 finals performance was incredibly emotional. And, as of this year, the Blue Devils' encore performance was extraordinary. I watched from the field and got so caught up in the performers exuberance. They were incredible. DCI.org: How do you keep yourself choreographically current? What do you watch for ideas? Chandler: First of all, I try to stay active. I don't only mean from a movement standpoint, but musically and visually also. Secondly, I try to stay in touch with the related arts as much as possible. Art, theatre, dance, film, the fashion industry. I can be a bit of a magazine addict. I'm fortunate to know a lot of talented people, and the conversation alone can keep you on your toes. Ideas are everywhere --I mean look, Jay found the concept for this year's program in the New Yorker. I just try to stay alert, active, and open to the possibilities. DCI.org: Any ideas for which direction the Blue Devils will head visually in 2004? Chandler: That all depends on the concept and the music. I couldn't even begin to speculate. The one thing I am sure of is that we are committed to showcasing the performers' talents in the best possible way. DCI.org: Describe what you think a Blue Devils' show will look in 2015. Chandler: Let me put it this way. When I was performing, we tossed a "five" on rifle. That's toss, it goes five rotations, and you catch. This past summer in the Blue Devils, there were performers throwing "sevens" and "eights." I'm constantly amazed at the skills performers are bringing to the show. I'm scared to think of a skill base in 2015.

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