DCW On-Line: Amherst OH Review

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Citations top Open Class field at new Amherst, OH, DCI competition

July 25, 2009 – Amherst, OH . . . Yet again this season, the weather threatened to wreak havoc on the 2009 drum corps season.  This time, it was the first-ever “Amherst Drum Corps Showcase,” a DCI Open Class competition which had already moved locations from Buffalo, NY, to neighboring Jamestown, then again to Amherst. 

Fortunately, while rehearsals during the day were cut short due to rain, the skies cleared in time for the show to run without any problems.  The Citations did not have any problems, either, as they convincingly took top honors tonight, including all General Effect and Visual captions.

Capital Regiment (2nd) and Raiders (3rd) split the Music captions and finished just two tenths apart.  Spirit of Newark, Les Stentors and Blue Saints rounded out an excellent night of performances.

The Citations brought some serious Latin flare tonight, performing their “Portraits of Desire” program.  The show features tangos, Chick Corea, a Latin arrangement of “Nights in White Satin” and even a little Don McLean for the ballad.  With such an eclectic range of music to perform, it takes a talented group of musicians to put it on the field and communicate the show to the fans. Citations have such a group. 

The show is very entertaining for the fans, but full of demand on the performers.  The guard is very strong and integrated into the show perfectly, including a male/female pairing during some of the tango moments of the show.  The horns, which came in second tonight, are very balanced and rise up to the challenge of the musical book.  The percussion book is weaker than the brass, which may be an issue as this is a show that looks to challenge Blue Devils B and Vanguard Cadets for the top spot in Indianapolis.

Citations, Burlington, MA
Photo by Pat Chagnon
Courtesy of Drum Corps World

Capital Regiment performed unusually early, coming on second and sandwiched between two corps that, combined, had less than half the horns Capital marched.  The contrast in sound was immediately apparent as Cap Reg’s 40-plus horns performed their 2009 production, “The Storm” aggressively.  The drum line, as well, played very intensely, earning top honors for the night.  The drummers also multi-tasked during the ballad, augmenting the small guard of seven members by taking up flags and joining in the guard work while back field. 

The show uses extensive use of synthesizers, starting with a crash of thunder as the drum major salutes fans before the start of the show and continuing with sound effects and augmentation of the musical book. 

A great moment from the show came near the end as the drum major, conducting the final notes of the performance, looked back over his shoulder and flashed a giant smile at the fans, clearly enjoying himself as much as the crowd and the performers were.

The Raiders are another Open Class corps that takes advantage of the new electronics rules for 2009, incorporating recorded narration about immigrants and their hardships as they journey to the New World.  The program this year, titled “The Isle of Hope,” refers to Ellis Island where many European immigrants took their first steps into the United States and their new lives. 

The horn line, the best of the night, performed with a wonderful warm and balanced sound on music that reflected both a European flair and an American flavor.  The corps marches very well, showing great posture individually as well as great spacing between members in the drill. 

The guard, dressed in immigrant outfits and featured prominently throughout the show, had some of the best use of color in show flags of the night.  It is very possible that Raiders can make the top 6 in Open Class this year.

One of the reasons for the switch to multi-key horns in 2000 was the opportunity for corps to borrow or rent instruments from local school band programs, helping smaller or newer corps reduce expenses as they built their programs.  Legends from Kalamazoo, MI, are an example of putting that practice into use, as a significant number of horn players carried brass-colored horns which came from such a situation.  The corps, in their second year of DCI competition, have stepped up the difficulty of their program design, featuring music from Maurice Ravel’s “Daphnis et Chloe.”  Drum corps fans will recognize the music as the same used by Santa Clara Vanguard in 2007. 

The music starts very ominously, with tympani and mallet percussion rolls softly rising from the pit, but the intensity builds quickly as the horns and drums join in.  The guard uniform is a unique combination of camouflage and sequins, which is interesting to see on a green-colored football field. 

The musical book is very challenging and, as a result, there are still performance issues with the brass and percussion which will be worked on right up until the final performance.  The question at this time is which performance will be the last, as Legends are in the hunt for the final spot in the top 12 of Open Class.

On the drum major’s podium for Spirit of Newark, there is a quote for the fans to read pertaining to the theme of the show, “The WHITE Show.”  The quote states, ‘Here is St. Raymond, the archangel ‘sent to Earth to save a lost soul’.”  Newark is a small corps, but they have a big heart and, for just nine horns, a big sound. 

The guard, with just five members, knows how to perform and were fun to watch, either on equipment or as they acted out the "good vs. evil" theme of the show.  What was really entertaining about the show came at the end, as the drum major donned 3D glasses, then left the podium to fight for the "soul" of one of the guard members with another member, dressed in red and wearing devil horns.  The drum major, conveniently in a white uniform, won the fight, leaving the "devil" to take the podium and finish conducting the show.

Drum corps members often refer to "putting on the Superman suit" when it comes time to don the uniform.  This year’s edition of Les Stentors takes a more literal interpretation of this phrase as the color guard members literally wear superhero outfits for their show featuring music from “The Incredibles.”  Another corps with a small horn line (9 members), Quebec’s only junior corps still in existence, also featured a versatile drum line that split their time between playing in the pit and marching on the field. 

Like Spirit of Newark, Les Stentors’ horns put out a lot of sound for such a small group, but also play with balance and blend.  One of the trumpet players has definite chops and wasn’t afraid to belt out some high notes, yet still played within the ensemble, showing great control along with range. 

At one point during the show, the guard changed to black robes and black flags save for one member, who was surrounded by the "evil-doers" and carried away, reminding us that even superheros can’t win every time.  Les Stentors, however, are definite winners with this show.

After taking two years off, the Blue Saints returned to the field for the first time tonight, adding another Canadian representative to the activity.  The corps is small this year, with eight horns, three guard, 13 drummers and a drum major.  As this number is below the 30-member minimum to compete in DCI, the Saints filled the remaining five positions with an honor guard, a rare but welcome sight for a DCI corps. 

The corps performed a difficult program of Cirque du Soleil music, a tall order for such a small group, especially one as young as the Blue Saints.  One special moment of the performance was when one of the snare drummers came off the field and served as drum major for the second musical piece of the show.  What was special about this moment was that the snare drummer is deaf, but gave one of the most intense performances of the night, both on snare and on the podium.  The Blue Saints are a great reason to show up early at Open Class quarterfinals in August.

You may discuss this review on the DCP Forums. We’d love to hear your feedback.

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Posted by on Monday, August 10th, 2009. Filed under DCW On-Line.