Thursday, August 8, 2013

Drums Across Cajun Field - I

It was a night not unlike any late July night in Chicago. This was Lafayette, LA. Hot. Humid. With the hope for a breeze.

As we walked around the area surrounding Cajun Field, home of the University of Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns, my thoughts went back to a summer night in 1959 when my high school band traveled to Riverview Amusement Park in Chicago. At this time, there was nightly marching band competition, complete with judging in categories of: inspection (uniform, gloves, shoes cleaned or polished), marching precision, and playing.
I don’t remember our score or where we placed, but I do remember two things: my first and last roller coaster ride on The Bobs (“a terrifying white-knuckle hurdle into the unknown that a writer once called ‘a challenge to boyhood pride since the days of knickers’.") and the Phantom Regiment.
The Regiment made quite an impression—black uniforms with a bit of red trim, highly polished instruments, an outstanding drum line, and an approach that was “all business.” This drum and bugle corps (now called drum corps) from Rockford, IL, oozed professionalism. (Many years later, I would learn that the members were age 21 and younger and would put in many, many hours of rehearsal over the course of a year.)
So just catching glimpses of the last minute preparations of some of the eight drum corps competing in the Drums Across Cajun Field competition this evening was enough to touch those memories.
Today, there are 24 corps in the World Class category, one of three competitive classes, and 8 of these were competing one evening in late July here in Lafayette, LA. Each World Class corps can have up to 150 members, who are primarily college-age with some high school involvement. Most corps from this class follow an intensive tour schedule, traveling more than 10,000 miles over the course of the summer while performing at more than 35 sanctioned events. (A quick look at the competition calendar revealed that there must be about 100 different locations for similar competitions between late June and early August.)
(To get some idea of the expenses for such a schedule, the Phantom Regiment had a annual budget of well over half a million dollars in the late 90s.)
We joined a good-sized crowd to enjoy the evening's competition. We found seats near the top of the lower deck and enjoyed a significant aspect of this location near the refreshment stands--the wide corridor past the food and beverage locations had the effect of creating a wind tunnel. The cool breeze was most welcome.
The first marching ensemble in the Drums Across Cajun Field competition was from Sacramento, CA. Below are some photos, a brief bio of the corps, a brief outline of the judging categories, and the score the Mandarins earned for their performance.

The Mandarins organization was founded in 1963 as the Ye Wah Drum and Lyre Corps, created for the youth of the Sacramento Chinese community. One year later, the ensemble added bugles and a color guard, and took on its current name in 1967. Mandarins’ programs often focus on Asian influences; the program was entitled: "Destination America: Journey of the Paper Sons."

During the performance, the judges submit scored sheets, and each judge provides a tape of commentary for each corps, recorded live throughout each performance. The categories being judged are:

The "Visual Effect" judge sits in the stands and determines if the visual program is being “sold” to the audience. Are the drill formations, movements and evolutions and the choreography of the movement, dance and other maneuvers easy to “read” and do they create an emotional impact?

The "Music Effect" judge sits in the stands and considers how successfully the performers “sell” their musical program (the “book”) to the audience, including a consideration of the emotional impact of the presentation.
Walking among the performers (below) and viewing the performance from the press box are green-shirted judges.
Three "Field Visual" judges move around the field during a corps’ performance. They reward marchers for their ability to perform their drill formations and choreography while playing the music.

The "Visual Ensemble" judge sits in the stands to assess how well the corps members march during a performance and assesses how well the design team creates a show where the music and visual program work as a single entity.
In addition, there was a "Color Guard" judge, three "Brass" judges, an "Ensemble Music" judge, and three "Percussion Performance" judges on the field and one in the stands (judging the drum line [below]
and the front ensemble [below]} (Michael Boo, DCI Judging 101 at
Mandarins’ score: 72.25

Founded in 1963 as the Junior Dukes, the Colts were also known as the Legionnaires and Colt .45 before adopting the corps’ current name in 1976. Iowa’s governor has declared the Dubuque-based Colts as “Iowa’s Ambassadors of Music.” “Field of Dreams” was their program theme.

Throughout the evening, the precision of the crews and members of the front ensemble was quite impressive. In the span of about 15 minutes, the corps that had completed their program had loaded up the timpani, gongs, bass drums, and other percussion accessories and wheeled the xylophones out of the stadium.
At the same time, the next corps was performing the same functions in reverse.
Colts’ score: 75.70

The Troopers are the only competitive junior drum and bugle corps in the state of Wyoming. The corps, founded in 1957, represents the state of Wyoming in numerous performances and events during the year. The Division I corps is known for their long and storied history, and is often called “America’s Corps”.  "Magnificent 11" was the theme of the show.

The corps' disciplined close formation entrance into the stadium
After the corps was announced, the leader saluted the judges and the crowd and the performance began

The uniform design reflects America’s western military heritage with cues from the uniforms worn by the 11th Ohio Cavalry stationed in Casper.
I thought the corps' performance warranted a higher score than they received from the judges. Their rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" had the crowd on its feet at the conclusion of the program.
Troopers’ score: 76.85

The competition continues...after a break for some food.

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