Thursday, August 15, 2013

Drums Across Cajun Field - II

We continue with photos of three more drum corps that appeared at the Drums Across Cajun Field competition in late July in Lafayette, LA. A brief bio and score of each of the bands is followed by a comparison between drum corps and marching bands (circa 1960s).

Founded in 1964, Blue Stars, La Crosse, WI, earned the silver medal at the very first Drum Corps International World Championship in 1972, finishing just 0.65 of a point away from winning the inaugural event.

Their show tonight was entitled “Voodoo: I Put A Spell on You”.
Blue Stars score: 78.45

Founded in 1976, Spirit of Atlanta (GA) quickly rose to prominence, finishing in sixth place in only the corps’ second season. Well known during its formative years for a huge brass sound and performances of Southern Blues, Spirit became one of the first DCI corps to partner with an educational institution and was known for several years as Spirit from Jacksonville State University. The organization has since returned to its Georgia roots, once again taking its original Spirit of Atlanta name in 2010.

“Speakeasy” was the Spirit’s show’s theme.
Spirit of Atlanta score: 80.25

Madison Scouts, from Madison, WI, is one of two all-male drum corps. It was founded in 1938 by a group of Madison businessmen who decided their city should have a scout drum and bugle corps. Often referred to as just “Madison” or “the Scouts”, the corps has often been known for delivering fiery Latin-themed shows. Madison Scouts won the DCI World Championship in 1975 and 1988, and is one of the oldest continually operating drum corps competing in Drum Corps International events.

They commemorated their 75-year history with the theme: “Corps of Brothers: 75 Years of Survival”.
Madison Scouts score: 84.60

Watching the Drum Corps International (DCI) competition at Cajun Field in Lafayette, LA, I thought about the comparisons between marching bands and drum corps when performing on a football field.
First of all, in a marching band are the brass, drums, and woodwinds; in a corps ensemble, it is drums and bell-front brass instruments (as in drum and bugle corps) on the field and
other percussion instruments (xylophones, gongs, chimes, tambourines, crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, bass drum, and most keyboards) located in the “pit” or space between the 35 yard lines and off the playing field.
While both corps and marching bands march on a football field, the marching bands of the 60s at Big Ten universities used yard lines whenever possible, marching to a specific point then making a sharp right angle turn before moving into the designated position in a formation depicting some object, word, or number.

In contrast, members of a corps are not “bound” by yard lines, but move smoothly into abstract or geometric designs. (During some of the shows in this competition tonight, there were some dance routines and en masse activities.) Moving in formations that are curved and playing with their horns facing either left or right is in contrast to our marching style when I was a member of the University of Iowa Marching Band (in 1962-64). (And if you’ve ever had the opportunity to watch a halftime show by the Stanford University marching band, you know that "organized disorder" can be the only rule for this band.)

Also, regarding marching styles, a corps marches in a smooth military style (or six steps over five yards); we marched with a high-step style involving lifting the knee with the thigh parallel to the ground and the toe pointed downward (covering five yards with eight steps). (We could accurately march five yards blindfolded on a football field; marching on a street with a military style stride in a parade, we were, well, …not quite as precise.)

Other components of a corps ensemble are the "color guard," which spin flags, rifles, sabres, and may also incorporate dance into their routines.

All of these flags, rifles, sabres, and other equipment are "stored" along the sidelines behind panels which relate to the corps' program's theme, e.g., the Speakeasy theme (below).
Other visual elements unique to the corps style involve the use of props, backdrops, and even costuming—with the purpose of adding more theatrical elements to the show.
More and more the corps seem to be including the band members in the dance routines and dramatic presentations.

Corps prepare a single show (between 10 and 11½ minutes in length) for the summer. This focus on a single show takes advantage of the large amount of time (possibly 35 shows over two months) needed to hone and refine a modern drum corps program, with a momentum that continues to build toward the last performance of the season – championships in early August.

In a typical football season, our university marching band would prepare five or six shows, sometimes with only one week to put one together.

Man, that was great fun.

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