Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than a quarter century and serves as a staff writer for various Drum Corps International print and Web 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, Ind.
Yesterday I wrote more about the shows on the field. Today, I'd like to reflect a little on each of the corps performing today at the World Class Semifinals.
Pacific Crest I remember hearing about Pacific Crest long before I ever saw the corps, because the management held firm to the original organizational plan to establish itself as a viable regional corps before heading out on any kind of extended tour, or the DCI World Championships. Although the corps first competed in 1994, solely in California, and occasionally went out of state after that, I didn't see them until PC came to the 2003 World Championships. The wait was worth it. The corps made the Semifinals that first year and lived up to the hype and expectations. They're always intense without apology and I hope they continue to come to the World Championships.
Troopers There are perhaps several reasons why Troopers became known as "America's Corps." They've held true to their long-established identity and they have never been wary of expressing old-fashioned patriotism. After the year off for restructuring, the corps has come back strong the past two seasons and it's a joy to see them back in Semifinals. But my personal favorite memory regarding the organization is about the corps' founder, Jim Jones. I knew Jim on a somewhat casual basis, and one day after Semifinals in Madison, I stopped at a convenience store across the street from the dorm I was staying with my roommate that year, Bob Abben, who was deeply involved in bringing out Suncoast Sound. Bob has been around drum corps for about 70 years. I told Jim and his wife Grace about Bob and said he'd be excited beyond belief if they accepted my invitation to drop by to eat the sandwiches they were buying. They agreed and I ran back to wake Bob up and tell him we would be having visitors, but I didn't tell him who the visitors would be. Bob grumbled, but obliged, and a couple minutes later, there was a knock on the door, I opened it, and to Bob's surprise, Jim and Grace Jones walked in. Bob exclaimed, "MISTER Jones!!!" and I sat in the corner and listened to two old-time drum corps fans talk about the really old days of drum corps. I'll never forget how Jim "made" the week for someone he didn't even know.
Spirit In 1977, I heard about this new corps out of Atlanta that was being sponsored by a television station. The corps placed 23rd that year and then picked up Jim Ott for 1977. For those not familiar with Jim, he had taught and arranged for the Blue Devils horn line, and he was a spectacular catch for the corps. In 1978, the horns came out with a level of power I had not previously heard, a wall of sound that made people in the stands stand up and scream as soon as they hit the high point in the opener fanfare of "Walk Him Up the Stairs." But it was the closer of "Let It Be Me" that generated tears due to its exquisite beauty. (I am not kidding you on this.) It was in the company front push of this piece that ears just about hurt. And yet, the sound was spectacularly pure and musical. When the corps hit the front in the World Championship Finals in Denver, something happened I haven't seen before or since. The entire audience stood up and stayed standing through the end of the show. The company front push was near the end, but the actual end wasn't for another minute. No one sat down. It was an amazing spectacle to witness. Sadly, Jim lost his life in a vehicle accident during the season in 1980. The entire drum corps community was in shock. At the Prelims contest (before Quarterfinals and Semifinals) in Birmingham, Ala. a few weeks later, fans in the back stands spent the entire day making slogans backfield, spelling out words by putting down various seats to create the messages of support for the corps on the field. (The seat bottoms were a different color than the seat backs.) These words changed for just about every corps in Prelims. Then a group spelled out "JIM OTT." It stayed up there for the entire remainder of Prelims and it was still up there for Finals and remained there as the last of the fans left the stadium for good.
Colts Under the direction of new DCI Hall of Fame inductee Greg Orwoll, the Colts have exceptionally strong ties to the community of Dubuque, not exactly a major metropolitan area by any stretch. In return, the community supports "Iowa's Ambassadors of Music" and takes great pride in the corps. I was ecstatic when the corps first made the World Championship Finals in 1993, after trying so hard to so many years to move up to the big show. I ran into Greg after Quarterfinals and asked him what the corps would be doing to prepare for its run in Semifinals the next day, and he told me that everyone was going out to see a movie. "A movie?" I asked. And then Greg told me it was a corps tradition and he didn't want the kids to think Semifinals was any different than any other show. And when the time came, the corps really did go to the movie rather than try to squeeze any extra tenths out of the show, amazing as the corps was right on the bubble for being in or out of Finals. And when the scores were announced during Semifinals, the Colts were the ONLY corps whose score went up from Quarterfinals.
Crossmen I'm so pleased to see Crossmen doing so well after the corps' move to Texas last year. When the corps first made Finals in 1977, there was no way to know they would become one of the activity's most popular corps. Along the way, they slipped out of Finals now and then, but they've always bounced back. They've even been as high as 6th place a couple times, in 1992 and 1997. In 1998, the corps had the longest capes I've ever seen on a marching organization. The massive, backwards facing block swirl near the beginning of the "Rhapsody for Jazz Band and Orchestra" opener was spectacular because the lengths of the capes made it appear as if the corps was moving on roller skates. Watch the video and see for yourself. My favorite Crossmen hit over the years, though, has to be "Birdland" in 1996 and 1997. Few popular tunes have seemed to be written specifically for a particular corps as this tune was.
Madison Scouts When I was a marching corps member, the Madison Scouts were known for their programs designed to please the audience. But due to the corps' excellence, the shows also pleased the judges. Scouts won the first DCI World Championship I attended as a member of a competing corps. I hadn't even heard of DCI until I joined a corps after a friend dragged me to a rehearsal, but all I heard from this friend and others at the music college I attended was how spectacular the Madison horn line was. When I finally saw the corps, I understood why. With Jimmy Elvord as its instructor, the line was taught to drill through lead, all the time maintaining superior tone quality. It was a sound that rocked the stands and no one felt the same afterward. And the corps gave fans several musical moments they could hum as they left the stadium. Last Sunday, my corps, the Cavaliers, celebrated its 60th Anniversary reunion with a huge banquet. Long-time Madison corps director Bill Howard was there to honor Cavaliers' founder Don Warren for his six decades of service to drum corps. And then he presented Don with an original oil painting by a Scouts alum of various scenes from several of the most famous Cavaliers' visual moments, mentioning the special brotherhood the two corps have enjoyed for decades. In the corner of the painting was the image of the Cavaliers' drum major…shaking hands with the drum major of the Madison Scouts.
Glassmen My first memories of this corps were as a small, but spunky Class A-60 (later Division III) unit. This little organization hired this young alumnus of Madison Scouts to come in and build up the corps, an unknown, untested person who didn't even want the job, but agreed to accompany a friend of his to the interview. And thus Dan Acheson began his long and illustrious career being involved in the direction of the drum corps activity. Under Dan's watch, the corps moved up through its class into the next bigger class, and then it kept growing into what is now World Class. And in the 10 years he was director, the corps improved its competitive ranking every single year, a record not likely to ever be broken. In 1993, the corps made Finals for the first time in the "big boy" class, and now Glassmen are a staple of the drum corps community. My most interesting memory of the corps was showing up at the beach in Michigan City, Ind. to watch the horn line stand offshore and practice building up their lung capacity by playing into the water.
Boston Crusaders When Boston made the Division I Finals for the first time in 1999, I was almost as happy as my friend Bob Abben, whom I mentioned above. He remains a HUGE Boston fan and always made a point of showing up at the corps souvie booth, offering a larger bill, asking for the cheapest item they had and then telling them to keep the change. It was a small gesture of thanks for being so entertaining over the years and for sticking with their identity. Bob hasn't been able to come to the World Championships for years due to health reasons, but his tradition lives on. My fondest memory of the corps isn't from the recent years when they've been a Finalist powerhouse, (as high as 5th place in 2000 and tied for 5th in 2002), but from many years earlier. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the corps had some growing pains…or more accurate, a LACK of growing pains. The corps at one point had only 19 horns, but they were so good and so strong that Boston still made what we used to know as Associate Corps status, for corps among the top in the world who weren't finalists. This little horn line just melted people's hearts. They would form a little ball at the end of their closer, Stan Kenton's rather relaxed "Time for a Change," and walk toward the end of the field. And then they would turn around and knockyou're your socks with their trademark fanfare, "Conquest." And at that point, they were one of the largest corps on the field.
Blue Stars In 1975, I fell in love with the Blue Stars as a first-year marching member of a competing corps. I saw the corps rehearse in Park Ridge across the street from where my corps was rehearsing for the first show of the season. At the beginning of the season, they had only about 35 horns. Some members couldn't believe how small they were and wrote them off on the spot, a sad epilogue to a corps that placed 2nd at the first DCI World Championship in 1972 and 3rd in 1973. Of course, that night, the Blue Stars beat the Cavaliers and did so at every show during the season, picking up horn players throughout the season and finishing 5th at the DCI World Championships, topping many corps that were much larger. The corps marched a Bobby Hoffman visual program the year before he went to Bridgemen and re-invented that corps. The Blue Stars hit hard times in 1980 when it came in 13th at the World Championship Prelims, and after that, the corps slipped in size and stature until it became a Class A-60 corps (having less than 60 members) and slowly climbed back up through the ranks. The important thing here is that the organization was strong enough to sustain itself through decades of being out of the class of large corps. Today, as the corps is poised to make it into World Class Finals for the first time since 1979, it's impossible for me to not remember that spunky corps in 1975 and smile as the corps comes full circle into the top competitive echelon.
Blue Knights I have long had a soft spot for the Blue Knights and I can't really explain why. I remember them as a non-finalist corps prior to their first appearance in Finals in 1991, and even when the corps wasn't making a big impression on fans, it was making an impression on me as a unit with a ton of potential. I particularly remember the George Zingali visual programs that were like playing with those little balls on the chain of pens that are attached to the counters at banks. Over the years, the corps has enthralled some people and has not so enthralled others. This is mostly due to the identity the corps has come to realize is its own province. The shows can be a tad intellectual at times, but darn it, that's who Blue Knights are. When they play that up, they hit home runs. No corps understands the power of angst like BK. Over the years, I've loved looking forward to the corps' hand-painted flags and its extreme use of body sculpting and intriguing body movement leaps, jumps and spins. There's an aura about the corps that speaks to something inside of me, and I trust it speaks to something inside more people than willingly admit it.
Bluecoats Ask anyone who has been around drum corps for a couple decades to name the top drum features of the past 20 years, and there's a darn good chance that Bluecoats' "Autumn Leaves" percussion feature will be very close to the top of the list. Played in 1987, 1988 and 1998, the feature highlighted a massive number of snare drummers, many whom played tenor drum up until that point. It was a veritable wall of snares. When the corps first made the Division I Finals in 1987, many were more than cheerful because the corps made us feel cheerful. Now the corps is a lot more sophisticated and has changed with the times, but the shows are still thematically programmed to induce cheerfulness. My favorite Bluecoats' show is the 1995 production, "Homefront" 1945," commemorating the 50th Anniversary of World War II. The corps proper was attired as soldiers in dress uniforms and the entire production was like walking into a time machine to experience the aura of what it was like when this nation acted as a single entity, united like never before to make the world a better place. I highly recommend you check out this show if you've never seen it.
Santa Clara Vanguard The only corps to appear in every DCI World Championship Finals, SCV is the corps in the 1970s that sewed up the use of the word "class." I heard that word used so often in describing the corps that I wondered if it could ever be safely used to describe anyone else. Back in the 1970s, Gail Royer's arrangements demonstrated that drum corps could explore the symphonic realm and bring to the field the best music ever written for any idiom. And the corps did so with aplomb. The horns were crisp and frequented the upper ranges of the sopranos as if it was normal territory. The drums, under the incredible Fred Sanford, totally changed the concept of drumming with Fred's astute sense of musical drumming, treating the drum line as a true percussion ensemble, something carried on years later by Ralph Hardimon. In 1976, I watched in amazement from the side of the field while the corps played Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," a major-length orchestral production in an era where selections were short and peppy. The corps ended the work in a down, introspective manner. I wondered, "Is that allowed?" And ever since, Vanguard has brought us music one would never expect to find on the field, such as the 1999 opener of "The Canyon" by Philip Glass. That particular piece was like pulling on taffy to get it to stretch well beyond where the strand should have broken. It kept all on the edge of their seats, wondering where it would go next. Again, I wondered how they could do something like that, and then I remembered once looking up the definition of the word, "Vanguard."
Santa Clara Vanguard
The Cadets Since 1982, this corps has re-invented what can be done on the field musically and visually. Along the way, the corps has made a lot of fans and has challenged many more to open their horizons, relentlessly pushing the envelope to the point that sometimes the envelope has pushed back. More recently, whether the corps and its director George Hopkins has pushed for amplification, narration…and coming next year…electronics, the corps has pushed for a continual evolution of the activity. The eyes and ears of the organization have been firmly focused on the future. Some things have worked out quite well…some haven't. But this is one corps that doesn't seem afraid to try something that might fail, a corps that relishes living outside its comfort zone. In 1991, the corps' show was titled, "The ABCs of American Music," featuring the music of Adams, Bernstein and Copland. The opener was John Adams' "Short Ride in a Fast Machine." The activity wasn't quite ready for something so minimalist in its harmonic vocabulary and rhythmic drive. Back then, I wrote for an independent drum corps publication and penned some humorous—albeit derisive—references about the show. A couple weeks after the article appeared, I received a box from George Hopkins containing the corps CD set, "The Corps of the '80s," a variety of other Cadets memorabilia and a mug that stated, "Best Friend of the Cadets." All I could say was, "The man is a genius." And I was won over.
Carolina Crown When Carolina Crown was first founded, there were no indications of the greatness the corps would go on to achieve. I was sent some promotional information about the corps and a photo of the corps playing its first performance, at a women's festival in Charlotte. The hand-written photo caption read, "More balloons than people," and that was absolutely correct. Some years prior to 1995, the year the corps first made Division I Finals, I had mentioned to someone that one day, this corps would be a finalist because it was making all the right moves. I was delighted to be proven correct and in its fifth season, we witnessed "Stormworks" with its brash brass and throbbing percussive intensity. But my favorite show might be the 1997 "Chess…And the Art of Strategy," one of the most brilliantly conceived visual productions I'd ever seen. Giant chess pieces moved around the field as if it was a chessboard. The corps' current horn sound can make me melt and now that Crown is so close to possibly receiving a medal, if not THE medal, it's hard to imagine that first performance when balloons tied to chairs in an outdoor venue outnumbered the bodies in those seats.
Phantom Regiment Several years ago, I postponed a Caribbean vacation to speak at the corps' banquet, the year my friend David St. Angel was scheduled to retire as director. (I say, "scheduled," because events conspired to bring him back for a short interim stint awhile later.) We weren't always friends. A few years earlier, I had written something in a humor column I used to do for Drum Corps World that he took offense at…or at least I was led to believe so. I had written something that was a smart aleck attempt at humor…about the corps wanting to drive its buses over Niagara Falls after a placement lower than expected at the World Championships outside of Buffalo. David accosted me at the DCI Annual Meeting, with a number of other corps directors looking on. He stated, "So, you think our buses going over Niagara Falls would be funny?" I stammered. He continued, "So, you think it would be funny to see a bunch of helmets and bodies floating downriver?" By then, I was petrified. I didn't know David yet, but I kind of feared him because he seemed so gruff. And then he picked up a nail file that just happened to be sitting on a table next to him, (and it turns out it wasn't planted there), handed it to me, (I didn't know what to do except take it), turned around, threw up his arms, (remember other directors are watching this in the hallway), and proclaimed, "Why don't you do it [stab me in the back] right now, while others are watching?" I wanted to go "poof" and disappear. And then I saw his shoulders throbbing up and down and he couldn't hold it in any longer as he convulsed in laughter. He had "gotten me" but good, and I had to respect that. I've always wondered if the corps picked up on that demeanor. It seems so right for Phantom.
The Cavaliers If it wasn't for the Cavaliers, I might not know about drum corps. That chance encounter with the corps when my college friend practically kidnapped me and dragged me, kicking and screaming to rehearsal, changed my life. The three years I marched in the corps are still incredibly vivid in my memory. Back then; the corps was not in the thick of competition. The years of 1975, 1976 and 1977 were challenging years for the organization, even though we made the World Finals all three years. Years later, the corps became a contender and became known for its symphonic sound and wildly progressing geometric drill evolutions. In this year, the 60th anniversary of the corps' founding by 19-year-old scoutmaster Donald W. Warren, the corps is firmly entrenched in an identity that is uniquely its own. One expects to see certain things happen in a Cavalier drill and to hear a style of music that makes one's ears pivot forward to catch all the nuances. A quarter century ago, (I can't believe I just wrote that), I composed an original opener for the corps' 35th anniversary called "Jade." It was one year before the corps turned purely symphonic. The piece worked so well, no one has asked me to do anything since. I have the honor of marching tonight in the corps' anniversary corps, comprised entirely of members who marched with the Cavaliers since its inception. In fact, EVERY single year of the corps' 60-year existence is represented on the field, which is amazing. And the man who played the single tenor solo in "Sing, Sing, Sing" in 1957 is playing it again tonight. We are doing this as an 80th birthday tribute to Don Warren, who retires this year after being the corps' only president ever and who turns 80 on Aug. 19. Thank you, Don, for everything.
Blue Devils I don't know if there's enough Internet to go around for me to write everything I love about this corps. In 1975, I was able to see the corps from atop the stadium in Hershey, Pa., and I was hooked by the savvy and finesse exhibited on the field. Then, in 1976, the first year the corps won the DCI title, (after being a drum and bugle corps since only 1970), I remember standing outside the stadium in Stillwater, Minn. when the sopranos took the theme of the "Channel One Suite" ballad up an octave, or maybe two. My jaw dropped. And it has been dropping ever since. I used to hang out with the corps at their World Championships housing sites and observe how they were taught and how they rehearsed as professional musicians. I was astounded at the quality of rehearsal techniques, particularly from the horn line. Wayne Downey, in my opinion, is one of our activity's true treasures. His horn lines have continuously thrilled us with brass pyrotechnics and a quality that leaves no question to why the line has won more brass trophies than any other. I always look forward to what he'll come up with next. Somehow, I got to know two people who were essential to the organization and I become their friend, and they became my friends. "Ma" Doebler had a "Swiss Army knife" of responsibilities for the corps, and for some reason, she kind of adopted me after I aged out of drum corps. I miss knowing she's no longer around, as I also miss Jerry Seawright, longtime director and one of the classiest people I've ever known. I believe people like that, who have made such a substantial contribution to the activity, never really leave us. All they touched carry on their work and deeds. It's comforting to know the people they directly influenced are still influencing us. Now, if you forgive me, I've got to go get dressed in uniform to perform with the Cavaliers Anniversary Corps.