DCW On-Line: West Chester Review

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Blue Devils Return to West Chester for another win!

July 31, 2008 — West Chester PA . . . My first trip to this old stadium at West Chester University was in 1976, traveling with the Blue Devils, writing as a younger reporter for the Concord Transcript Newspaper. By the time I returned home, I had a new nickname, Clark Kent, and a new love for this West Coast corps.

Through the years, I have driven buses for them, served on show committees, done PR, worked at camps and developed a real love for the “Blue Crew”. So my spirits were high when I relived those early days and at the same time marveled at how far this corps had come since their first win back in the 1970s.

Only my meeting and marrying a Pennsylvania Crossmen girl has kept me from continuing to support this corps in California since we moved to this area to have our daughter Leighann who is now a fifth year Crossmen guard member.

So tonight they did not disappoint me with their "Constantly Risking Absurdity" show. My first thoughts were that I actually like this show more than the dark and foreboding show last year that won them a championship. Blue Devils used those dark wings with the guard in the beginning of the show last year that now remind me of the new “Batman” movie before it came out this year. Maybe they are truly ahead of their time?

Judging from the response of the crowd I was not alone in the general effect that the use of the tight rope walking poles added to the show. From walking the yard lines like a high wire act, to using them to form patterns on the field, this was one good idea that really works. Members running from one spot to another is also amusing and the guard work sometimes appears from the side that they are levitating.

There are some things, however, that take getting used to like the panel sash on the musicians’ uniform that gives the appearance of a dress from some angles. Back stage, many of the members have a new tradition of holding a lighted incense stick in their mouths as they come into the ready area. Whether this is to help breathing or just another crazy tradition is yet to be seen. Afterall, in the early days, we bus drivers had a tradition of always driving past a cemetery on the way to the show to guarantee a win! Burying the competition perhaps?

Well, tonight they placed first, with first’s in GE, all Visual captions, Brass and second in Music Ensemble and Percussion.

It seemed pretty clear as they announced the awards that it was Carolina Crown that was the World Class crowd favorite this evening. Their show, featuring ending pieces of music from many different composers, coupled with the power of the brass, seemed to add power to the tradition that a powerful horn line that play clean will win the show.

As mentioned in my Clifton article, the show seemed to be all about the horn line, but closer inspection reveals guard members whose show really adds the color of the production. While the brass line does not seem to move as much as The Cadets, for instance, they have the power to knock your socks off.

Overall, this is a well-thought-out show that could power its way to the top spot by the time they get to Bloomington. Second and first in Ensemble Music, Percussion, while second in GE, Brass and third in Visual Ensemble Total despite taking first in guard.

Crossmen – San Antonio, TX
DCW On-Line Photo by Dan Scafidi

This is the traditional home show for the Crossmen, but since they moved to Texas, it is still sponsored by YEA! and is one of three competitions that they now produce each year. The Cadets have made many changes in their show, including script re-writes and the addition of a little girl at the end.

I think that almost everyone has heard about the show by now and that it is a more theatrical take on the idiom. The corps still performs excellently and, despite the diversion of the stage and the script, they are no less an excellent corps than they usually are. The guard seems much more noticeable than they had in a past viewing. They are certainly putting forth an exceptional amount of guard work, but still they lack the sparkle that the other corps have on their guard uniforms. Cadets were third.

I spoke with Brian Hickman, executive director of the Glassmen, prior to their going on the field. They are very happy with the way their season is going and are hoping that they the can still move up. The 2008 Show of "Kar-ne-vel" is a crowd-pleaser all the way through. Broken into three parts — Life, Love and Passion — the show is a visual delight, including the bio-degradable balloons that are launched during the show.

Several pundits on Drum Corps Planet seemed concerned by the launch of those balloons not being environmentally responsible. Yet there was no shortage of smokers in front of the stadium partaking in what has been described as the number one environmental trash hazard in the world. So a few balloons in the air certainly were not a big worry and added greatly to a superb performance. Glassmen were fourth.

The Denver Blue Knights seem to have taken a page out of the Carolina Crown book for standing-still. Celebrating their 50th year as an organization, the Knights continue to entertain with some often obscure pieces of music. In recent years, many of the corps have taken on what some describe as "posing" for movement. Often done in ballads, the members are still technically moving without moving, and as long as it is not overdone, it can be a very effective part of a show. Yet it really does not add as much general effect appreciation to the audience as one might think. My personal favorite still remains "Amazing Grace" as a wonderful closer. The Blue Knights were fifth.

Everyone has their favorite corps in the activity, just like fans have their favorite drivers and teams in NASCAR! I’ve already described one of my two favorites and my first favorite is the Texas Crossmen. Why the Crossmen are one of my favorites is because it is a family thing for us. My wife marched in the corps in the first years, my daughter Leighann is now a fifth-year veteran with three to go and a rifle solo near the end the show, and I have volunteered as a driver for many years just for a chance to see my daughter in the summertime.

Having just come off tour with them, I am so impressed by everything I see there. Last year’s low placing in Pasadena never comes into picture at all with these kids. They are young in some sections, with many volunteer parents telling me that they had no idea at all what this activity was when the let their kids join.

They also have some real experienced sections like in the guard, many of whom march World Guard like Leighann does with Black Watch. Each day I saw great improvement, a flurry of new ideas being thrown out consider, and the ever-present, minute-by-minute cleaning process.

The musical book is a fascinating blend of musical style unique in its own way. Director Mark Chambers tells me that the show presents many new directions for the corps. He said that it points out that they are searching through the planets to find just the right spot — and they have found it in Planet X. They are happy to be who they are on Planet X. Perhaps the show will take it a step further next year with more outer space themes.

I will be working on an interview with Mark Chambers and also Executive Director Fred Morrison in an upcoming issue of Drum Corps World during the off-season. With lots of gimmics to add, including the spinning X’s, expect to see them pull out all the stops.

As a side note, the guard member on crutches who holds up the X on the final note of the show is Marisa who is the same girl who blew out her knee in the show in San Antonio and had to be carried from the field. You can’t keep a good Crossmen down I guess. They placed sixth.

By the way this was also the night that Thom Hannum and Erick Landis received their Crossmen Hall of Fame awards in front of the packed stadium. The Crossmen Alumni Association remains extremely active, constantly involving today’s kids in similar presentations and traditions throughout the year.

Jersey Surf – Mount Holly, NJ
DCW On-Line Photo by Pat Chagnon

Our only Open Class competitor this evening was the Jersey Surf from just across the Delaware River in Camden County, NJ. There were over 750 students attending the marching band camp at West Chester College that night and they gave one of the biggest ovations of the evening to the Jersey Surf.

This corps has slowly built a strong base which has become the envy of many former division II/III groups of the recent past. There has been talk that they might step into the World Class ring in the near future. Financially, that is a hard level to enter with the costs of touring escalating year after year. However, performance-wise, they are certainly ready to enter the big time with a super show, talented kids and very creative staff.

With Crossmen off to Texas, Jersey Surf is attracting many very talented kids and it really shows! Could they be this year’s Open Class winner in Bloomington? I think they have what it takes as long as they can keep up this performance level. Their opener of "How Far We’ve Come" says it all.

Good luck to all these fine corps in Bloomington and Happy Trails!

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Posted by on Thursday, August 21st, 2008. Filed under DCW On-Line.