The Beat – Vol. 4
Lately it has come to my attention that there has been some general discussion about the integrity of marching percussion. This discussion has focused around the use of body movement in marching percussion and the integrity of marching percussion as far as it relates to “cleanliness” and the overall use of body movement in design. In fact, there was quite a discussion at the DCI Winter meetings this past January in Orlando on the subject by several instructors, caption heads, directors and judges.
Since I am a student of marching percussion this topic interests me. I have followed marching percussion on the field, in solo and ensemble competitions and now indoors since 1960. I have seen countless innovations during this time. The introduction of tonal bass drums, double and triple bass drums, double, triple, quad, quint and now hex tenor drums, tonal hand cymbals, the first ever use of orchestras bells, a synthesizer, marching timpani, marching bells, xylophones and marimbas. The 14” and 13” snare drums and then of course percussion moving out of their “box” where they would march up and down the 50 yard line making 4 and 8 count turns as their risqué moves. All of this was going to be the end of marching percussion as we knew it and of course it has all just gotten better each and every time things have changed. It has made for more challenging times, more interesting performances and in my opinion more satisfaction when I watch, participate or work with marching percussion sections all across the world.
Recently I did some research into this phenomenon called body movement. I have been in contact with several judges, instructors and most important the performers. I asked them a number of questions and their answers, not mine, will make up the basis of this article. Of course I will give my opinion as well but for the most part I wanted to find out what this was all about, the impact it was having on our activity and was it the end of marching percussion as we know it today.
I wanted to know from judges if body movement had changed their perception of drum corps drumming. Answers were concise and to the point. “No, it hasn’t changed the perception of drum corps drumming but instead it has added another dimension to the performance, an added layer of responsibility in addition to the many skill sets already needed.” Another judge wrote, “It (body movement) has created an added degree of difficulty relative to sound and technique, both musically and visually as well as playabilty.” Finally it seems to be consensus that there is a “significant positive impact when music and movement demands are high and both are achieved.”
From the instructor side of things “body movements seem to be a growing trend. The recent surge in rewarding ‘simultaneous responsibility’ from a judging community perspective has greatly helped the popularity of asking performers to play and dance.” This means that groups are doing it well, being rewarded for doing it well and are going to continue to move in the direction of adding body movement to their programs. Asked if they were afraid that the precision of their performance would be hurt by the addition of body movement their answer was “Anything can be argued (and it has), that it takes away from the precision of drumming. Fast drills, listening environments, extreme endurance challenges and increasingly more difficult and experimental writing all make rudimental drumming as we know it more difficult.” Indeed, as you watch different percussion sections these days moving from end zone to end zone, sideline to sideline it never ceases to amaze me how difficult it must be to play in these space separations, sound vacuums, moving at warp speeds and still playing very demanding, difficult parts some of which I can’t even figure out! Now add another layer of responsibility into the mix making it that much more difficult seems incredible to say the least and wonderfully exciting at best which allows only for my interest in this activity in general to continue to grow.
The performers argue that there are virtues to marching in the “classic” verses the “body movement” line, however their perception of “classic” is not as us old timers know. Their “classic” is the aforementioned warp speed, extreme endurance, increasingly more difficult and experimental rudimental writing type of drum line that still exists today as the transition to “body movement” grows. Many performers in today’s DCI drum lines spend their winters marching and drumming in the independent World Drum Lines of WGI. These performers participate in “Las Vegas”-like stage shows written to marching and concert percussion, guitars and synthesizers. In these shows there are no limits to what the designers will ask the performers to do. “Limits in playing, notes, marching and above all ‘body movements’ are like laws” stated one performer I interviewed. “These limits, like laws, are made to be broken!” Interesting, no? In other words, these performers want to be pushed to the highest level of their ability on the floor at WGI and now on the field at DCI. Gone are the days where show designers can rest in the comfort of “classic”. Instead these designers now must adapt to the rewards waiting for them from the judges, the performers and of course the most important in all of this YOU the fan. Yes you heard me correctly……..”YOU THE FAN!”
You as a fan have tremendously affected how drum corps shows and for that matter indoor WGI drum lines shows are designed. By your acceptance of this wonderful phenomenon that we are witnessing today in drum corps ……… the introduction of body movement while playing and marching at incredible speeds……. YOU have encouraged and rewarded these designers and the performers with your cheers. If you don’t believe me you then simply do the following……..
Go to your 2007 CD recording of the Blue Devils at DCI and fast forward to minute 2:35. Listen to the crowd as they fall into silence as the Blue Devils drum line “snakes” it’s way through the horn line all the time playing fast crescendo decrescendo rolls. As they pull through the end of the horn line the crowd begins to understand what it has just seen and as they continue to pump their music and crab across the front side lines at a fast pace, the crowd reaching minute 2:55 goes absolutely wild with a huge roar of approval. As the roar subsides you all become mesmerized once again because you realize that it isn’t over yet. The kids are still going – this time they are in a captivating solo where the body movements, the music and the ensemble all culminate in perhaps one of the most loudest roars of approval in recent drum corps history. Not from me….. well, yes a little…….but from YOU, THE FAN! Your approval is undeniable. We should all recognize that we are seeing a change as we know it in marching percussion.
We should all relax and enjoy this moment in the history of drum corps. Just like all the other changes that came before it, this will only serve to make the activity better as well as make the performers, the ones who really matter here anyway, become better people in their lives.
I think one judge put it so very well. ”I think I enjoy things the most when groups are at the level of confident expressiveness where they are able to transcend notes and rhythms and create an aura of performance that just ‘Wows’ you. I really enjoy excellence as I bet we all do as children of this activity – however, without expressiveness and added layers of performance it can really be uninspiring.” And me judging from listening to your “roar of approval” on that 2007 DCI CD, I couldn’t agree with you the fans and you the judges more.
Thank you designers, thank you judges, thank you performers and thank you the fans for legitimizing the next phase of marching percussion, on the field, as we know it.