DCW On-Line: Oswego IL Review

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Oswego returns Festival of Brass to DCI schedule with strong line-up

July 1, 2010 — Oswego, IL . . . After a year off the circuit in 2009, drum corps returned to Oswego for the 30th ?Festival of Brass? show.  The Cavaliers emerged victorious for the seventh consecutive year in Oswego, dating back to 2003, and for the 11th time in the last 12 events (they didn?t compete at this show in 2002).  In doing so, the ?Green Machine? also took their first victory of the 2010 season.

It?s a little difficult to pinpoint a solid theme for The Cavaliers? show, ?Mad World.?  Several ?mini-themes? seem to weave in and out in a tapestry that somewhat defies description.  The pre-show field entry was individualistic, some of the corps posing sitting or lying down, some of the corps standing — all of them scattered across the field.  The guard sports costumes abstractly resembling old-style military uniforms; this military feel was further accented by their chant of ?This is my rifle? (repeated later in the show) and by some of the corps members doing pushups.

The show?s title number featured a chorus — hard to tell if it was sung or pre-recorded — of ?Mad World.?  A feeling of insanity reigned as the guard introduced red flags with ?mad? faces in a very effective tossing sequence that drew applause from the crowd.  Readable formations and a couple of passages of stiff-legged marching highlighted the visual in this first number.
Harrison?s Dream opened with keyboards and a very effective rifle spin/toss drill.  A well-played trumpet passage was followed by a powerful percussion feature.  Drill was fast-paced in this number, highlighted by a nice tuba visual and closing with an attention-grabbing rifle performance that included both the guard and the brass section.  Fans cheered this innovative and well-syncrhonized drill.
Smile featured the guard in masks pantomiming in a way reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin, composer of the tune.  Brass was smooth and powerful in this number and very well-staged.  Dismantling Utopia featured the percussion section and ended with a predictable company front, but didn?t seem to provide the climax that the show really needed.
The Cavaliers have owned this event for over a decade and tonight was no exception.  Harrison?s Dream was a particular favorite with the crowd, especially in the innovative ending with the brass and guard.  Smile and Dismantling Utopia, however, failed to capitalize on the momentum built up in the first half of the show.  Execution was significantly better than a week ago and will undoubtedly continue to improve.  Look for significant additions to the second half of the show as the season progresses. 
Glassmen?s guard came out in new costumes tonight for ?The Prayer Cycle,? resembling Eastern-looking dresses and prayer shawls.  Brass was soft and smooth in the opener, Mercy, with some nice runs underneath the melody.  A mellophone solo toward the end drew applause from the crowd.  Primacy of Number started with a nice percussion feature and horn visual, and the guard sporting purple flags that went well with their costumes.  Drill was a little shaky in this number, as evidenced by a near-collision in the bass drum section.
Terminal opened with the bass drums and featured unique guard equipment resembling shallow-curved ?S?s? with circles on either end.  The guard used these to great advantage, ending with a nice toss to finish out the number.
Hope opened with chimes and handbells in the pit, as the guard brought out translucent silver/blue flags.  A mello/trumpet feature highlighted this number and the crescendo to the end brought the crowd in.  Percussion re-entered for Ephiphany.  The guard changed costumes and brought out gold flags, which they used to great effect.  The powerful music in this number contrasted nicely with Hope.  We?re All Jungle Creatures featured a nice arrangement and several highlight moments in the brass and guard sections, connecting solidly with the crowd.
Overall, this show made some of the most extensive and effective use of flags of the entire evening.  The guard added significant visual punch to the show throughout.  Musically, the show didn?t really begin to draw the crowd in until midway through, during Hope.  The second half, however, contained some very powerful music, drawing appreciative applause from the crowd at several points.
The Madison Scouts? show was one of the highlights of the evening, visually and musically.  Visually, Madison?s short-sleeve uniforms provided a unique appearance and the guard costumes helped to convey the 1920s period theme.  Consistently readable formations and well-executed drill made for one of the best visual presentations of the evening, while the recognizable music of Slaughter on Tenth Avenue and Rhapsody in Blue connected with the crowd.
Slaughter opened with the guard in the back sporting silver flags.  Brass was loud and powerful, supported well by the percussion.  A nicely-played mello solo highlighted the number.  The guard supported the ?workman? theme, using their rifles to mime workers with sledgehammers.  Guard drill with cymbals and a rifle toss making use of stands on the field further added to the visual appeal.  Fans responded enthusiastically to the drill, as well as to the music.

Madison Scouts
Drum Corps World photo by Brett Owens
Rhapsody opened with a nice trumpet solo accompanied by colorful flag work.  The 20 tubas broke into two groups of 10 for a back-and-forth melody, one of the many highlights of this number.  Several solos, powerful overall brass, and a diverse arrangement made Rhapsody one of the musical highlights of the evening.  Guard work with flags and sabers was extremely effective and well-synchronized.  
This show provided numerous highlights for the crowd and fans responded enthusiastically throughout.  Madison took the bronze competitively, but may well have won the gold in the hearts of the audience. 
The Colts took the field for their show, ?True Colors,? with black screens for the sideline and white guard uniforms.  The opener, Green, featured several nice formations and a well-balanced brass section.  The crowd applauded several times in response to brass features and nicely synchronized flag work.  Rifle and saber drill toward the end of the number, combined with a strong brass entry, brought appreciative responses from the audience.  
Alone in the Crowd and On- Man Show featured a guard soloist in a uniform stylistically matching the rest of the corps uniforms, but blue and white instead of red and black — a very effective device.  A percussion feature was highlighted by a cymbal player spinning on his finger, much to the delight of the crowd.  Low and high brass complemented each other well in this section, and flag and rifle work added significantly to the visual.
True Colors may well have been the emotional climax of the entire evening.  Many corps this year seem to have abandoned the traditional ballad, making this number stand out even more.  A very well-played trumpet duet drew appreciative applause from fans.  Appalachian Morning closed out the show with several nice brass features, and very effective flag and rifle work in the guard.
Overall, this show was one of the best balanced and most entertaining of the evening.  The tasteful use of keyboards proved that electronics can be added to a show in a way that doesn?t distract from the performance, but rather, rounds out the sound.  This show connected with the audience from beginning to end.
Performing for the first time in a week, Teal Sound made the best of the occasion with a four-plus point improvement over their previous score.  The pit on the left side resembled a rock band more than a drum corps, including two keyboards, two electric guitars and a drum set.  In the Presence of Enemies featured music by Dream Theater and Jordan Rudess.  The opener, Octovarium, featured a couple of sharp percussion passages, some very nice rifle and flag work, and a powerful, full-corps close that drew applause from the crowd.  
In the Presence of Enemies opened with the corps in a snaking formation that covered the entire field.  Effective staging of brass and percussion, and a particularly strong percussion feature highlighted this number musically.
The pace slowed a bit for Ra/Feed the Wheel, that opened with a nice tuba feature and closed with some strong brass runs.  Electric guitars overpowered the corps at one point during this piece, distracting from the overall feel.  A mellow number was highlighted by a nice mellophone solo and an effective brass passage with the horn players variously sitting or kneeling.  Guard work was not complete in this number.  
The ballad, Good Night Kiss, featured a nice sound that the crowd appreciated.  Percussion rejoined for the closer, The Running Free, which again was overpowered in spots by the electric guitars.  A brief passage from Strawberry Letter 23 lightened the tone a bit and a strong company front with well-synchronized flag work ended the show on a high note.
Pioneer took the field sporting several black screens used to hide clutter on the front sideline and in the pit — an effective staging device that seems to be popular with many corps this year.  ?The Corps Prayer? opened with a pre-show featuring the guard in choir-like uniforms, performing to Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.  Fans clapped in time to the music and applauded loudly as the tune closed.  The tempo stepped up for Make His Praise Glorious, a lively number highlighted by some of the best brass performance of the show.  
The guard doffed the choir robes for this number and performed saber and flag drill effectively.  A passage of spoken prayer connected well with the audience. Fans were again clapping in rhythm to the song and a strong finish brought excited applause from the crowd.
Brass took center stage for The Prayer, a slower, almost somber tune that opened with a very nice brass quintet.  The show closed with Old Hundredth (Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow), opened by a nice rifle drill and percussion feature, and a very strong brass entry.  Guard work in this number was not yet complete.
The fourth corps to perform for the evening, Pioneer was the first to really connect with the crowd.  As was true in Middleton four days ago, the recognizable music reached the fans, who responded by clapping in time and with significant applause throughout the show.
The Colt Cadets opened the competition with ?Sorcerer?s Revenge,? highlighted by The Sorcerer?s Apprentice and Night on Bald Mountain.  Several nice brass solos were sprinkled through the show, although soloists struggled a bit in Night.  Overall, brass performance was very strong and the show had an effective brass/percussion balance.  
Corps drill and formations were somewhat nondescript, but the flag work succeeded in adding significant visual impact to the show.  Musically, the production has improved significantly in the few days since the first performance in Middleton; the brass line in particular had a much more complete performance than previously.
 ?Fascinating Rhythms — the Music of George Gershwin? featured several well-known tunes, opening with An American in Paris and closing with Rhapsody in Blue for the Racine Scouts. Brass seemed uncertain in several parts of the show, especially when playing multiple lines. Nonetheless, the music has improved significantly from the previous week, with particularly strong passages in Strike up the Band and Rhapsody. 
Rhapsody in particular featured the musical highlight of the show, with a very nice marimba melody line morphing into the best brass passage.  Percussion was consistent throughout the show and particularly in Strike up the Band.  Considerable guard drill remains to be added and it?s not clear whether the pit will eventually have full uniforms or will continue to wear the black  t-shirts.

The Oswego show started slowly this year, with long pre-show announcements and multiple performances by a local dance group that had the crowd restless for the competition to begin.  This may have contributed to the audience?s lack of engagement early in the show; the crowd seemed to warm up as Pioneer performed and drew them in with familiar music and nice drill.  

Enthusiasm continued to build from that point, however, climaxing with anticipated and exciting performances by The Cavaliers and Madison Scouts.  A heartfelt ?welcome back? seemed to summarize the crowd?s appreciation for this year?s ?Festival of Brass.?

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Posted by on Sunday, August 8th, 2010. Filed under DCW On-Line.