Drum Corps International
The Year that wasn't supposed to be

The Year that wasn't supposed to be

by Michael Boo

Mike Watier was the color guard caption head for Les Étoiles from 1996 to1997. We weren't supposed to be good. We weren't supposed to be competitive. We weren't supposed to be the talk of DCI. And yet we were. A little background: In 1995, L'Insolite and Les Étoiles merged to become, well, Les Étoiles. Although this "new" corps fielded one of the largest corps Quebec had seen in awhile (over110 members), the usual problems associated with mergers soon took over -- differing philosophies, transportation logistics and member/staff experience made for one tough summer. Yet, Les Étoiles was still able to pull off a third-place finish in Division II Finals at DCI World Championships that summer and finished 23rd in Open Class. Fast-forward to May of 1996, my first year with Les Étoiles. Imagine my surprise to walk into my first rehearsal to see only nine guard people had shown up. Ummm, weren't there like a bazillion guard people last year? Are they coming later? Are these the alternates? What's going on here? And that's when I had a little chat with the new director. After taking a little walk with him to see the other sections of the corps (including a drum line with two snares, and a horn line consisting of maybe 20 horns) we sat down to discuss the plan for Les Étoiles in 1996. You see, 1996 was going to be a rebuilding year for Les Étoiles. 1995 had been rough on the members and on the management. The members that had chosen to return did so because they loved the corps and the people they were with. And the volunteers, management and staff had decided that the goal was to have a fun summer, and make sure that the kids had a great drum corps experience while doing so. Wow, that plan seemed so simple, and yet so hard at the same time. Really, how do you give these kids a great product that they can have fun with and rebuild the corps image without necessarily being competitive? Quite a challenge lay ahead. We were eventually able to round up 36 horns, 19 drums, 12 guard members and one drum major (68 members in total). And, as we had started really late that year, we also decided to write an easier show that the members would be comfortable with and that the audience would enjoy. So off we were on tour in our bright green school buses (yep, school buses), with a fun show and no real competitive goals in mind. And that's when it started happening. We started winning most of the shows we were in. Judges seemed to really like the product we had on the field, audiences were digging the show and the kids were really enjoying performing it; not bad for a rebuilding year! We spent the summer methodically cleaning the show. Since rehearsal time was very limited and our buses broke down more often than a guest on "Oprah," we had built a cleaning schedule that was to be followed to a "T" until DCI World Championships. Basically, we divided the show into blocks and then subdivided those blocks into practice hours left until DCI. We were cleaning the very last part of the show on the morning of DCI prelims. The one golden rule was: No section was to deviate from the schedule. You worked on what was to be cleaned that day, because we could never come back to it. We knew it, and we made sure the kids knew it too, and you know what? It worked REALLY well. DCI World Championships Week: We had lost to Pioneer and Dimension during the summer, and had heard that Nite Express was also very good. But at this point, we knew that we had a great shot at Division II finals, and that's all that mattered. We came into DCI week hoping to make Division II & III Finals and ended up second place at prelims. That was so much more than we had expected. The staff decided that the best thing to do going into finals was to stay as relaxed as possible. After all, we had more than surpassed our goals, and no matter what happened that night; we were a DCI Division II finalist that had picked up a lot of new fans along the way. So what do you do to relax when you're in Florida? Go to the beach, of course! We practiced for about two hours the day of Finals, decided against a run-through so that the best show wouldn't be left on a practice field, and spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach before heading out to Orlando for Division II Finals. The night that wasn't supposed to be: The corps was on fire from the first note that night. The kids were relaxed, confident and had nothing to lose. You can tell just by looking at the video how connected those kids were with each other. They had stuck it out when everyone else had deserted the corps, spent the summer touring in school buses (that more often than not needed to be pushed to start) and did it all for the love of drum corps, since it was clear from the start that 1996 was not about being competitive. Retreat: The only thing that can be said about that night is that the last thing anyone from the 1996 corps remembers is the announcer saying, "In second place, The P ..." That's all it took. We knew that we had won -- unbelievable, incredible and surreal. The rest of the week: OK, now we REALLY had nothing left to prove, so back to the beach the next day, and no rehearsal beforehand. The corps had decided as a whole to just warm up outside of the stadium before doing open class prelims. After all, we had just won Division II and we were in Florida. Why not enjoy it? And it happened again. With only 68 members who had spent the day at the beach, Les Étoiles ended up in 15th place and was going to compete in semifinals the next day. Now that REALLY wasn't supposed to happen. Funny tidbit: As we approached the stadium in our two school buses for semifinals and headed towards the lot for "competing corps" buses, we were refused entry. The person handling parking simply did not believe that we were a top-17 corps. After a looonnngggggg talk with him and three or four other DCI people, we were finally allowed to park with the big boys. There's just something funny about parking two bright green school buses along side Santa Clara's fleet, to say nothing about warming up next to rifle lines that were bigger than our entire color guard. And the rest, as they say, is history. Les Étoiles remained in 15th place that night and became the first Division II corps to crack the top 17. Another funny Tidbit: The show title that year was "Iron Will." And the 1996 edition of Les Étoiles certainly did have one!
 
Michael Boo has been involved with drum and bugle corps since 1975, when he marched his first of three seasons with the Cavaliers.

He has a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in music theory and composition.
   
He has written about the drum corps activity for over a quarter century for publications such as Drum Corps World, and presently is involved in a variety of projects for Drum Corps International, including souvenir program books, CD liner notes, DCI Update and Web articles, and other endeavors. Michael currently writes music for a variety of idioms, is a church handbell and vocal choir director, an assistant director of a community band, and a licensed Realtor in the state of Indiana. His other writing projects are for numerous publications, and he has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating. His hobbies include TaeKwonDo and hiking the Indiana Dunes. But more than anything, Michael is proud to love drum corps and to be a part of the activity in some small way, chronicling various facets of each season for the enjoyment of others.

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