DCW On-Line: West Des Moines IA Review

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Bluecoats top surging Cavaliers, while BK, Boston tie in West Des Moines

July 18, 2010 — West Des Moines, IA . . . The Drum Corps International tour was designed this summer to build mid-season excitement to the DCI Minnesota regional for the first big showdown between nearly all of the top corps. But when that event was cancelled with nine corps left to perform due to severe storms, that may have amplified the perceived importance of the West Des Moines ?Summer Showdown? for the seven competing corps the next night.
Ideal weather welcomed the corps and a modest crowd of some 1,250 fans to Valley Stadium, a large high school stadium with a new synthetic playing surface that was perfect for drum corps on this night. And the competition was keen, with the Bluecoats topping the surging Cavies by 0.9, the Blue Knights and Boston tying for third and the Troopers leaping past the Colts for fifth by just 0.7. T he show?s lone Open Class corps, the Colt Cadets, also received some added momentum as they broke 70 for the first time this summer, hitting 71 no less.

As for whether there was any more importance placed on the show because of the big rainout the day before, that was a subject of great debate.
?You know, the entire season was kind of up to the Minneapolis regional, everyone had their eyeballs on that night,? said George Wozniak, Bluecoats? brass co-caption head. ?It was the first time that all the corps were together, so everyone wants to know how they compare head-to-head. So I think emotionally, that was a big night and everyone was a little disappointed that we didn?t get to go on.
?So you try to recharge and create the same emotional sensations [tonight], but just depending on where you?re at, what?s going on that day and the venue and things like that, it?s difficult,? he continued. ?But we try and demand the same level of performance out of the group every night, no matter where we?re at. But I?m not going to lie, it?s difficult because they really wanted to go out there [in Minneapolis]. I think every team did that to show what they had.?
If the Bluecoats were suffering a letdown, they didn?t make it obvious to the enthusiastic and appreciate crowd, which was spellbound by ?Metropolis: The Future is Now.? The program builds emotionally as it literally rises from the horizon of lying members in a curved opening set to build into a shimmering skyscraper, filled with spinning silks, during the first impact of Hans Zimmer?s 160 BPM. From there, the performers literally race at 160 BPM with deft agility and musical clarity, eventually sauntering into a power chord that seemingly lasts forever as the ensemble flexes their ranks into an S-shaped form.
The music then fades away into a blend of New Age electronic sounds, which include a vocal accompaniment. And the use of those electronic enhancements is very much part of the Bluecoats? futuristic design tale. Electronic instruments, of course, made their DCI debut last season and the Bluecoats may be attempting to take the musical lead in how best to utilize them. The wonderfully warm flugelhorn solo in the Metropolis ballad is blended so seamlessly with the synthesized accompaniment that it sounded as if it was cut in a recording studio.
But the Bluecoats? special electronic musical blend is just one way this show embodies future drum corps design. While previous corps have played the song Ballet in Brass, the powerfully rich Bluecoats brass section performs a ?brass ballet,? replete with some fresh body sculpting moves. One moment finds brass members lifting their one leg to deftly balance themselves on the performer next to them while they continue to play. It?s movements like that which add to this show?s physical demands and futuristic complexity, making it both challenging to the performer and complex enough to carry the ?Coats to new competitive heights.
?It?s definitely been interesting learning different choreography that?s innovative to the activity, I think, because it just goes from little visuals to hip-hop dancing and stuff like that that Michael Rosales (choreographer) has brought in,? said Patrick Geren, the 21-year-old baritone player, soloist and horn sergeant of the Bluecoats. He?s from Dalton, GA. ?And it?s been a little bit of a challenge because people in the horn line, they don?t have dance experience like the color guard. So it?s kind of a process to get some of them to move their bodies into a certain position in a certain way — like doing chasses and crown plies and stuff like that.?
But while the Bluecoats maintained their first-place edge, The Cavaliers are slowly winning the hearts and minds of both the audience and the judging community with their disturbing ?Mad World? program, which portrays the power rifles have in an increasingly violent world. While they did not know it when they chose the theme, the corps? show strikes the right political theme during a summer when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Americans? fundamental right to bear arms cannot be violated by state and local governments — a long-sought victory for gun rights advocates.
In The Cavaliers? ?Mad World,? rifles are central to the theme, starting from the pre-show military-influenced audio narrative. And the rifles — or more appropriately, their color guard handlers, who are dressed in black Matrix-like costumes — steal the show. While their trademark wild visual design and incredibly fast tempos are present throughout much of the production, it?s the rifle-handling moments which are truly the most memorable, particularly the one in the percussion feature when then the brass members magically join the guard to spin rifles too while chanting ?This is my rifle!?
Much like some of The Cavaliers? championship programs earlier this decade, the show seems to be built around a visual theme, with the largely unfamiliar melodies providing the musical accompaniment. Yet Charlie Chaplin?s Smile is recognizable and may be the tune fans are found whistling as they leave the stadium. Regardless, the whole musical package is apparently connecting better across the board than it did earlier this season and it?s going to get much stronger if the weather cooperates more like it did on this night.
?We?ve actually had a number of shows canceled over the last week [Naperville, IL, and Omaha, NE, in addition to Minneapolis], so the members were really itching to get back in the uniform,? said Scott-Lee Atchison, brass caption head. ?Unfortunately, if you haven?t been performing on a regular basis with the uniforms on for a crowd, it can take a little bit of time to get back into the swing of things. So if we had a show tomorrow and the next day and the next day, that would be really helpful for us because it?s just like anything else, you?ve got to get used to performing. Just like (race) horses and how they?ve got to get used to running, it?s the same kind of thing.?
It?s definitely not the same kind of distant and dark Blue Knights since Marc Sylvester came in last season to lead the design team. He softened the image through last year?s ?Winter in the Colorado Rockies? program, starting by replacing the corps? traditional black plumes with white ones on the shakos, and now has guided it to the next fan-friendly level through this summer?s show, ?Europa.? In fact, the wonderfully warm music and colorfully stunning visual package make it a fan favorite.
While The Cavaliers have one tune you may find yourself humming, the Blue Knights have a whole program of them, starting with George Bizet?s Farandole, the powerfully moving Nimrod ballad from Edward Elgar?s Enigma Variations, and the Brahms closer. Throughout the program, the color guard displays its equipment-handling skill while evolving through a metamorphosis of color. The highlight has to be the rich royal blue outfits it unveils in the ballad, eventually accented by some of the Blue Knights? trademark hand-painted blue silks. Those silks prove that not all of BK?s hallmarks are gone.
But the trademark knee flex is only present during the drum major?s salute. And that?s just fine for fans, who thoroughly enjoy a program that appears to have no apparent weaknesses. It seems to be designed perfectly to fit the talent of this corps, which possesses a number of rookies who truly enjoy performing in the corps? new, more approachable image.
?For most of the people coming to see the show, it?s only one time they?ll get to see us — it?s only that one time they?ll get to see what we?re doing and see what we?re performing,? said Brett McQuat, a 17-year-old rookie trumpet player from Highlands Ranch, CO. ?So we want to connect to every person in the audience and we want to give them a chance to appreciate us. We want to make them clap, to make them like the show. And whether that be a big amount of people or just a small amount of people in a tiny stadium, they?re still the same people we?re trying to make appreciate us.?
The audience also enjoyed the corps that tied the Blue Knights tonight, the Boston Crusaders, who likewise take fans to Europe for a closer look at royalty in ?Thy Kingdom Come!? But while the two corps tied with their European-influenced shows, that?s where the similarities end.
Boston?s show is visually challenging and expansive, beginning as they enters the field from the left end zone in a processional to the prominent throne, staged down front just to the right of the 50, but features fewer familiar melodies. In fact, three of the six selections are originals composed by program coordinator and brass arranger Jay Kennedy. The Crusader brass is also challenged in a different way through the edgier compositions, which require more upper register work by the trumpets. But the brass section also displays its own warmly rich, softer side in the ballad, a uniquely arranged version of Sergei Rachmaninoff?s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.
The corps? theme this season is clear, building a show around the aforementioned huge throne. While the Blue Devils won last year?s championship performing skillfully on white lawn chairs, some members of the Crusaders perform on the much grander chair that would make Queen Elizabeth proud. It finds guard members spinning, drummers drumming and a wonderful brass duet playing atop the throne.
And while the featured prop is plenty big enough already, this program appears to have lots of room to grow in terms of musical impacts and intonation through the challenging music. It all adds up to a show that?s fitting of both royalty and BAC?s 70th anniversary.
Another corps writing new chapters to its proud history is the Troopers, who are trying to validate last year?s first finals berth in 23 years by repeating the feat. They knew it wasn?t going to be easy, particularly finishing in the twelfth and final spot a year ago. That?s what made them so ?Wanted? this year, both by rival corps who would love to bump them out of finals and a long blue line of new recruits who have made remote Casper, WY, home once again as a destination corps.
The Troopers find themselves right back in the thick of the finals chase this year with a corps that may be even more talented, performing a program that may be more complex. And the designers are now shaping it just right for the desired effect, which morphs the corps in the opposite direction of many clich├ęd drum corps shows — going from the lightness to the dark side. Along the way, they maintain the Troopers? unmistakable Americana sound, particularly in the stirring ballad, Aaron Copland?s Our Town Suite.
In Minneapolis, both the Troopers? musical and visual clarity were dramatically sharper than what they had shown on the DCI Fan Network just one week earlier at ?Drums Along the Rockies.? Yet in tonight?s show, the visual element seemed to lack some of the same precision, particularly the equipment work and some ragged edges on sets.
Maybe some performance inconsistencies are to be expected from this rather diverse program, which has greater depth than a year ago and features a repertoire ranging from selections by rock?s Bon Jovi, Radiohead?s Johnny Greenwood and the aforementioned Copland. And the fact that the show isn?t yet clean also displays that the Troopers still have more room for improvement and potential scoring growth ahead.
?We?re right on target with what we?re doing and the numbers are the numbers and whatever. But we?re on target with our program,? said the Troopers? director, Fred Morris. ?And these kids are working unbelievably hard to maintain what they?ve done. But the program is much more difficult than last year?s, musically. The drill is really, really hard compared with anything we?ve ever done here. And I think the crowd?s liking it and we?re getting some favorable comments from the judges. So it?s just like everybody else, just keep cleaning and building your program.?
Morris reports that they?re not yet done building either, with a new secret ending scheduled to be in place following the DCI Atlanta Southeastern Championship show at the end of the month.
The Colts have also begun the process of literally adding more effect to their ?True Colors? program in the forms of added splashes of colors to members? uniforms and equipment. While the program is not necessarily a show about color, but rather, the colors of each individual?s human spirit, that theme is being portrayed now through colors that correspond to the musical colors. But before they get to those colors, the corps? leadership has opted to return the ?Red Team? back to its true colors, replacing the white plumes on their red shakos with the red ones they?ve worn since unveiling those uniforms in 2007.
Once the performers turn around for their opening set in Michael Torke?s Green opener, they display a new corresponding florescent green piece of fabric mounted to the right shoulder of the uniform, with the color guard also spinning corresponding green-colored equipment.
Jeff Beal?s One Man Show is when the corps begins showcasing individual colors, starting with a featured color guard dancer dressed in a blue replica of the Colts? uniform. As the music progresses, other individual members appear, displaying the same royal blue accents to their equipment, also covering the bells of horns or individual drums.
Orange is the featured color for the program?s powerful title song, True Colors, with the color guard spinning colorful corresponding silks. As they segue into Paul Haley?s Appalachian Morning, the guard changes to silks that highlight all the colors they used — green, pink and blue — against an orange field. They eventually change to shimmering silver and white silks for the climax, no doubt signifying that we?re all still basically the same in spite of our different colors.
While the program is once again distinctly the Colts, it?s suffering now from some individual error and glaring holes in the brass section. The program may also lack the musical depth to carry the Colts back into finals for the first time since 2007. But there?s still time left to see if the Colts true colors come shining through after all.
Colt Cadets
Drum Corps World photo by Ron Walloch
Even if the Colts come up short on World Class finals, the Colt Cadets may still make it a historic season for the organization as they appear to be positioned well to make Open Class finals for first time with ?Sorcerer?s Revenge.? While Director Vicki Schaffer continues to insist the corps membership is still young in age, the ensemble sure comes off looking and sounding more mature than any corps the Colt Cadets have previously put on the field.
And this program seems to be designed for the age and talent level of the membership, with a theme that should play well with the release of the blockbuster ?Sorcerer?s Apprentice? motion picture. Each section is quite capable — a product of an increasing number of returnees and the staff?s educational efforts according to Schaffer — and highlighted throughout. The theme is also easy to follow through the familiar melodies.
Yet at times, the youth of the membership still shows, particularly Saturday afternoon in the heat and humidity at the University of Minnesota?s larger TCF Bank Stadium. While the Colt Cadets seemed to have a bit of big stadium stage fright on that day — causing some tempo maintenance and projection problems — they seemed to be magically corrected on this night, like they went away with the wave of the Sorcerer?s wand. But it wasn?t magic at all, but rather, just some greater confidence in front of the home state crowd.
?It?s a little easier to generate some momentum and excitement [being a home show],? Schaffer said. ?We always try and find something that generates some of that enthusiasm. I mean, yesterday in the mammoth stadium, going on at 2:00, the sun?s overhead and in the kids? eyes, so tonight it becomes a little easier when the sun?s not in their eyes. I?d say the sun and the angle on their eyes affects their performance more than the stands and the fans in some ways. It just makes it easier to control and perform for the people they?re performing for.?
On this perfect night for a drum corps show, it seemed as if everyone did their best to connect with the audience and move forward the night after the big DCI Minnesota disappointment.

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Posted by on Monday, August 9th, 2010. Filed under DCW On-Line.