DCW On-Line: Michigan City IN Review

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The Cavaliers host their 50th "Pageant of Drums"

July 3, 2010 — Michigan City, IN . . . The 50th “Pageant of Drums” show kicked off with a brief celebration honoring contributors to the show and also honoring the 50th anniversary of the 50-star United States flag — all very appropriate for a celebration of the Fourth of July weekend.  A stellar lineup awaited the capacity crowd on a perfect evening for drum corps.

Pre-recorded music and baby laughter heralded the pre-show for “Toy Souldier (sic)”.  Other than the pre-recorded elements, though, the show stayed on the traditional side, with the guard wearing regular corps uniforms and sporting matching flags, and drill that provided plenty of highlights.  The show opened with the corps in the far left corner of the field, led by “Drum Major Little Jeffrey.”

The “toy soldier” theme carried throughout the show from the opening stiff-legged march in “Procession of the Nobles” to a couple of instances of the corps “winding down” and then being “wound up” by Little Jeffrey using a toy soldier key.  The traditional brass-toned herald trumpets at the beginning of the show further emphasized the theme.  The guard carried the concept through with a mime section.

The guard work was in many ways the highlight of this performance and a highlight of the entire evening.  The opening uniforms and color-coordinated flags added a strong sense of cohesion.  They removed their jackets in “Overture to School for Scandal” to reveal dark pink shirts, bringing out a new set of flags to coordinate with the new colors.  Little Jeffrey’s antics became a distraction as the show progressed, but overall the guard drill was some of the most effective of the evening.  Flag work was particularly eye-catching and well-coordinated.

Brass was strong and smooth throughout, contributing to the theme of “Children’s Dance” by performing without shakos in that number.  The brass-toned trumpets were replaced with silver-toned instruments at the beginning of “Overture.”  Percussion was equally strong, with features consistently drawing applause from the fans.

Drill was also some of the best of the evening.  While not matching The Cavaliers’ for complexity or climactic moments, it was the cleanest of the competition and featured consistently readable formations, excellent spacing and accurate lines and arcs. 

This show had a couple of distracting factors — the pre-recorded music and baby laughter, and the show-long antics of "Little Jeffrey."  However, strong drill and musical sections, complemented with outstanding guard drill and execution, made for the most entertaining and complete show of the evening, as reflected victories in every sub-caption.  The Cadets continued their domination over The Cavaliers, recording their eighth victory over the “Green Machine” in as many meetings this season.

"Mad World" carried a military theme through much of the show, reflected in such details as multiple chants of "This is my rifle" and push-ups performed by the brass line.  The "mad" theme was reflected in the first flags used in the show, containing mad-looking faces against a red background and a "mad" shout to begin "Harrison’s Dream." 

The Cavaliers
Drum Corps World photo by Brett Owens

Typical of a Cavalier show, the drill and guard work were the highlights.  An early segment featured the introduction of the "mad face" flags by tossing them outward to a circle of waiting guard members — a high-impact visual treat.  Another real highlight saw the brass line sporting rifles along with the guard; while the brass line performed military-like gestures with the rifles, the guard spun their rifles and tossed them in exchanges, the visual climax of the show.  Fans responded enthusiastically.  In the closer, "Smile," the guard picked up face masks and performed mime motions in imitation of Charlie Chaplin, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Several nice trumpet solos highlighted a strong brass performance.  As with The Cadets, the brass played smoothly with no noticeable weaknesses.  In particular, the brass played multiple-line sections very well, with melodies and counter-lines receiving the right emphasis and complementing each other rather than competing.  Multiple percussion features consistently drew enthusiastic applause from the crowd. 

The drill was easily the most complex and breathtaking of the evening, but lacked the precision of The Cadets’ formations in terms of straight lines and spacing in the arcs.  Still, the crowd was captivated by several climactic drill moments, including especially the kaleidoscopic drill of "Dismantling Utopia."  This final number provided multiple musical and visual highlights, ending with an exciting block-to-diagonal formation that brought the fans quickly to their feet.

 “The Prayer Cycle” featured some of the most effective flag work of the evening, highlighted by breathtaking gold flags in "Epiphanies" and "We’re All Jungle Creatures."  The opening guard costumes carried the feel of Eastern prayer shawls, with colors matched by the flags carried in "Primacy of Number."  The overall effect was a pleasing visual coherence.

Musically, the show was performed well, but didn’t really take off until "Hope" in the middle.  Brass and percussion both had significant climaxes in this number, leading into a stronger second half.  Keyboards were used tastefully and didn’t detract significantly from the musical experience.

The drill was somewhat nondescript, though performed well.  Visually, the guard definitely carried this show with one of the highest-impact performances of the evening.  The Glassmen bested the Madison Scouts for the third time in their fifth head-to-head competition of the young season by less than a point.

Outside of the hosting Cavaliers, Madison was the crowd favorite tonight with their show comprised of music rom "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" and "Rhapsody in Blue."  The guard came out in period costumes representing workers of the 1920’s.  Guard drill further emphasized this theme in pantomiming workers with sledgehammers and other heavy tools.  Flag work was well-performed, but overall the guard had less visual impact than most of the other World Class guards in the show.

The music featured several highlights and really drew the crowd into the show.  Effective use of moveable stands, some resembling scaffolds, accented soloists and other brass features.  Well-played solos were sprinkled throughout "Slaughter," drawing applause from the crowd.  An innovative arrangement of "Rhapsody," including a bluesy opening and a nice back-and-forth passage between two sets of 10 tubas, provided a fresh musical experience from and old standby tune.

Drill featured some of the most readable formations of the evening, creating a strong visual program.  A percussion feature in "Rhapsody" that included a fast-paced beater-like drill provided a particular highlight for the show and drew an excited response from the crowd.  Overall, this was a strong show with still plenty of room to grow — a show that should contend for finals this year.

"True Colors" started off with a strong whole-corps entry and kept the audience engaged throughout with an excellent visual program and some of the best music of the evening.  Guard work was some of the most effective, with flags adding plenty of color to the visual.  "Alone in the Crowd" and "One-Man Show" featured a guard soloist outfitted in a uniform with the same design, but different colors, as the corps uniforms, a very nice visual effect.  Six cymbals added significantly to the visual package.

In a year when many corps seem to be eschewing the traditional ballad, the Colts’ "True Colors" made for an extremely effective, emotional tune that clearly connected with the audience.  Other highlights included a nice melody in "One-Man Show" and a percussion feature in "Appalachian Morning" that again drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd.

Several readable formations added to the visual impact of the show, but the drill lacked the precision of some of the other corps.  A fast-paced, side-to-side drill provided an exciting conclusion to the show.  Overall, this production was definitely a crowd favorite and brought some of the best audience response during the show at multiple points.

"In the Presence of Enemies" opened with a nice field entry from two lines on the left-hand side of the field.  Guard work was not yet complete, particularly in "Good Night Kiss."  Overall, however, flags added nice visual points to the show.  Effective staging of the guard and several nice cymbal drills further enhanced the visual effect.  Formations and drill were effective overall and particularly so in the final formation. 

The pit came out in different uniforms from the rest of the corps.  The left side of the pit resembled a rock band more than a drum corps, with two keyboards, two electric guitars and a drum set.  The electric guitars were occasionally overpowering, especially in "Ra/Feed the Wheel" and "Running Free," and detracted from the overall musical effect.  Brass phased a bit in "Ra," but performed well overall, particularly in the mellow "Good Night Kiss."  An excerpt from "Strawberry Letter 23" included in the closer provided a nice brass highlight.

The Colt Cadets notched their fifth Open Class victory in as many appearances with “Sorcerers’ Revenge.”  Significant brass improvement in "Unravelling" and "For Good" contributed to a more consistent brass performance throughout.  Trumpets in "Unravelling" and "Sorcerer’s Apprentice" and low brass in "Night on Bald Mountain" provided particular musical highlights.  Percussion was strong throughout, with an especially nice section in the closer and a powerful bass drum feature in "For Good." 

The show featured some of the most extensive flag work of the evening, adding significantly to a nice visual package.  Formations were generally readable throughout and the final side-to-side drill and attack on the front sideline in a company front provided a strong closing punch. 

Legends took the field for the first time in the 2010 season with their show, "Ruins."  Drill was performed well, but the formations were not as readable as the Colt Cadets.  Flag work added nice visual effect.  Musically, a couple of the solos were a little problematic, but overall the show was played well.  The music was less familiar than the Colt Cadets; this, combined with the less impactful visual package, resulted in a somewhat lesser response from the crowd.  However, the performance overall was solid, all the more impressive as a first performance of the season.

The Blue Saints also performed for the first time in the 2010 season, featuring music by Danny Elfman.  Brass was uncertain at the beginning, particularly in the solos, but picked up steam as the show progressed.  "Theme from Beetlejuice" highlighted the brass performance.  As often happens with small brass lines, the 10-person section was often overpowered by the 10-person percussion line, sometimes resulting in the melody being lost a bit.  Guard work was missing in much of this first performance.  The late start to the season made a noticeable difference in this show, but both music and drill promised improvement to come.

Michigan City is definitely an A-list show.  One of the best high-school venues (if not the best) in the Midwest, the physical environment is great for drum corps.  Plenty of nearby restaurants, close areas for corps to practice and the Lake Michigan beach just a few minutes down the road make this a great place to spend the day getting geared up for the competition. 

The show itself is as well-run as any and extremely fan-friendly.  One example is the handling of the announcements and celebration of the show’s anniversary.  At many shows, this would have been a 10- to 15-minute ordeal, delaying the beginning of the show.  At Michigan City, a very brief presentation at the beginning was followed by historical highlights given between the corps’ performances, keeping the emphasis on the corps.

An enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd contributed to the drum corps atmosphere.  The staging of souvenir stands and the convenience of the concessions and restrooms further contributed to the entire experience.  As always, many kudos to show organizers who understand the elements that make a great drum corps experience.

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

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Posted by on Sunday, July 18th, 2010. Filed under DCW On-Line.