2011 DCW On-Line: Erie, Pennsylvania – Open Class

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by Kevin Gamin, Drum Corps World staff and Drum Corps Planet managing editor (kevingamin [at] gmail [dot] com)

The fight for the DCI Open Class championship got a lot more interesting after the scores were announced at the 2011 “Lake Erie Fanfare,” one of four seeding events for quarterfinals in just two days. The Oregon Crusaders, previously neck and neck with Blue Devils B all season, had yet to pass them. The OC finally took the top spot from BDB, ending the California corps’ undefeated streak for the 2011 season just in time for the final showdown in Michigan City. While the gap was close at 0.7, the Crusaders did take all captions except for Percussion, which went to Blue Devils B, and Color Guard, which went to Spartans, finishing third.

The Oregon Crusaders know how to be champions, having won the Division III title in 2004. They also came in second last year, so they know how to contend in Open Class. One thing the corps has not done in their competitive history, though, is beat Blue Devils B . . . until tonight. Putting on an inspired and powerful performance of “The Blue Hour,” the Portland corps defeated Blue Devils B for the first time in their history, ending an undefeated streak that stretched back to July 17 of last year.

The victory was well-deserved, as the Crusaders left everything on the field in their performance. What is especially impressive about tonight’s victory is that the corps exhibited so many different emotions and styles throughout, from the quiet and introspective Moonlight Sonata to the jazzy Blue Shades. The performance was also strong visually, as the corps utilized body movement along with traditional marching successfully. A large tarp of a blue moon on the left side of the field allowed for great staging of the guard and horn soloists. The Oregon Crusaders have been close competitively with Blue Devils B and Vanguard Cadets all season and now know they have what it takes to move ahead of these corps at just the right time.

Blue Devils B, Concord, CA, Drum Corps World photo by Francesca DeMello

Blue Devils B didn’t make it easy for the Oregon Crusaders, as their performance of “Synchronicity” was also of championship caliber. Featuring the music of Sting and the Police, Sara Bareilles, Scott McAllister and original music by John Meehan, BDB showed that pop music, whether it’s from the 1980s or current, can be sophisticated and entertaining on a drum corps field. The corps had that polished Blue Devils sound which fans have come to expect and featured all sections of the corps, starting with the drum line and pit to open the show with a killer feature before moving into the show’s titular song.

Kaleidoscope Heart had a very bluesy feel to it, a distinct style change from the opener which the corps handled with ease, while Murder by Numbers gave the corps a chance to get “down ‘n’ dirty” with a powerful jam session. The drum line has plenty of difficult body movement during their features, including leg swings reminiscent of their 2008 A corps brethren. Each section of the horn line gets their own chance to shine during the closer and they step up to the challenge eagerly.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Blue Devils show of any type without a killer color guard, which started out in hooded uniforms of various light colors that the members removed to reveal uniforms which matched the corps colors perfectly. If Blue Devils B has taught the drum corps world anything, it’s that they should not be counted out of the hunt until the final show.

Spartans, Nashua, NH, Drum Corps World photo by Pat Chagnon

Vampires are the new black in 2011 thanks to “Twilight,” “True Blood,” “The Vampire Diaries” and other works of fiction which have recently become popular. The Spartans are riding the wave of vamp popularity with their show titled “Midnight” and, in fact, utilize music from the “Twilight” movies in their show. Say what you will about the books and movies, the music, written by Carter Burwell, is worth listening to. Add in Key Poulan’s own compositions and arrangements, and you have a musical book for a great drum corps show.

The guard really works the vampire theme, coming onto the field with start 1980s hair styles and faces covered with black veils. The section has long been a strength of the Spartans and this season is no different, both in terms of performance and design. The color selection for the guard uniforms and flags is striking, with varying shades of pink, lavender and purple, all hinting at the red color of blood.

The horns and drums aren’t left behind in design, though, as they also are very solid and key to the high placement (and potential dark-horse status) of the corps. Whether the Spartans can pull an upset and move into the top three of Open Class this week is one of the many questions waiting to be answered.

Genesis came out of nowhere last year and made DCI Open Class Finals in their first season of existence. This year, they have moved to a whole new level, complete with new uniforms and a much more demanding and intricate show design. They are knocking on the door of Open Class’ top six. Mixing music from Key Poulan’s Scenes of a Psychotic Circus, originally written for DCA’s Bushwackers in 2009, and Send in the Clowns, as well as snippets from the circus standard Barnum & Bailey’s Favorite, the Texas corps takes us to a “Big Top After Dark,” where the circus isn’t all fun and frolic.

The horn line really shines throughout, exhibiting dynamic contrast, impressive technique and emotion from their first note to the last. The emotion really comes out during Clowns, as soloists do an excellent job expressing the wistfulness and even a little of the bitterness of the original song. The judges were also impressed by both the sound of the horns and the overall blend of the music performance, as the corps earned fourth place honors in Brass and third in Music Ensemble, as well as fourth in Music General Effect. Genesis is improving rapidly in a short time and, if they continue this trend, may be a contender for the title in the near future.

This is the year of Radiohead in drum corps, as both Bluecoats and 7th Regiment are playing Creep as part of their show. The New London, CT, corps however, goes further with Radiohead and, in one of the more interesting juxtapositions of musical selections, mixes their music with the music of Dave Brubeck. The result is “UnSquare,” a unique yet very entertaining show that has grown significantly since last year, both in size and in show design. With “square” in the show title, it’s not surprising that box formations and props/equipment would be put to use. It’s also appropriate that these squares reform into other shapes or dissolve entirely, befitting the show concept.

Of course, you can’t do a show titled “UnSquare” without Brubeck’s classic Unsquare Dance. 7th Regiment jazzes out on the piece before picking up the tempo and rocking a reprise of Creep. The mix of Brubeck and Radiohead is different, inspired and very entertaining.

Another corps that has come out of nowhere in recent years is Music City. Barely missing finals during their inaugural season two years ago, the Nashville corps is now full-size and preparing to mark their second finals appearance in a row. The show, “Let’s Dance!”, seems to have influences from both the junior corps world with the electronics and amped vocals used, to the all-age world, with two prop stages in the backfield and music selections chosen to ensure the audiences’ toes are tapping throughout.

With a full horn line comes a full sound and Music City definitely delivers in this department. The show is light-hearted all the way through, including their rendition of Jai Ho, which is very faithful to the original, and especially during the closer, featuring snippets of Russian Sailors’ Dance, Mexican Hat Dance, ABBA’s Dancing Queen, Roll Out the Barrels, AND the Can-Can.

The guard, also full-size, wears varying costumes inspired by a variety of dance forms. There are also two featured guard members who change costumes throughout, including a 1950s poodle skirt costume, which is really cute. Empire Statesmen founder Vince Bruni would approve of this show and the audience most definitely did, judging from the ovation at the end.

Legends is a corps that is looking up, almost literally, with this year’s show, “Skyscapes.” While the show only features one musical piece which focuses on the sky, Eric Whitacre’s Cloudburst, the theme is clear throughout the production. They play Cloudburst backfield, while coming onto the field and it’s a great effect to start the show along with the rain sticks the pit uses during this moment. Midway through, the center snare changes his shako plume from the standard black the corps wears to a yellow sunshine one. The rest of the corps follows suit, adding a nice touch of color and showing a unique way depicting the sun rising.

The guard, with only three members, does everything they can to convey the theme, including unfurling yellow sun flags at the end which they bring together to form a full sun in front of the corps. The group is solid in all sections, musically and visually, and will easily make finals this year, which is well-deserved.

The primary color of the Raiders’ uniform is blue, so it’s fitting that the corps focuses on this color for their 2011 program, “Bluecentric.” Every musical selection in this show features the word blue in the title, including Blue Shades and Blue Rondo a la Turk, both performed by multiple corps tonight. The show features recorded narration, utilized at the beginning of some selections and prior to major musical moments, describing various shades of blue and the emotions they represent.

The guard embodies the theme with uniforms of various blue hues. The music is predominately jazzy, with some appropriate blues moments throughout and the horn line does a great job performing these styles of music. With the fight for the twelfth Open Class spot in finals appearing to be between the Raiders and Colt Cadets, it remains to be seen whether or not the corps will be feeling blue come finals night.

Open Class definitely has an international feel to it as the first three corps of the night were from countries other than the United States. Les Stentors from Quebec was one of those corps and, like many of the Open Class corps that performed tonight, are having a very strong season. The sound of the horn line was especially impressive, as they exhibited a high level of balance and blend compared to previous years. There were some nice visual moments during the show, too, including a horn line crab step movement across the field.

Les Stentors also has fun during their show, at one point dancing and chanting in French during a percussion break. The flags in the guard were very creative, making use of abstract designs of flowers and the fleur de lis, as well as pastel and neon colors. Even though Les Stentors likely won’t make finals this year, they make a very strong case for buying the DCI Quarterfinals audio and video recordings.

If there’s a corps demonstrating heart and determination in 2011, it would have to be the Blue Saints. This corps, at 31 members just barely clearing the minimum DCI membership requirement, performs with only six horn players, the smallest section in the corps. What’s impressive about those players, however, is that they all contribute to the performance and all play to the crowd in the stands.

The show, “Stranded,” is a fun take on “Lost,” minus the mystique and the Smoke Monster, as the guard portrays passengers on an “Air CanCorps” plane which crashes on an island. Two of the guard members – they appear to be the two youngest members — are more like featured actors as they don’t use any equipment and act out the roles of two kids stuck on the island. This is the strongest Blue Saints corps since they came back in 2007 and it’s good to see them improving.

This is not Jubal’s first trip to the United States, with their last visit coming in 2006, but it may be their most special trip. The corps is celebrating their 100th year of existence and their show, “Back to the Future,” is rife with celebration of their history, even during their pre-show. Theyt come onto the field marching to recordings of some of their past show highlights, at one point forming the number 100 while high mark-timing in a very old-school fashion. The show itself opens with a statement of Over the Rainbow, a signature Jubal song that they opened or closed with for most of the 1980s.

The show also features Happy Birthday, complete with inflatable birthday cake and helium balloons, which the guard releases into the air. It is not all retrospective, though, as Gordon Goodwin’s Count Bubba gives them a chance to swing and jam, two things Jubal is good at. The closer, Remembrance, fits the show well and will be familiar to drum corps fans as the Madison Scouts played it in 1988 and 1990. The show is full of energy from beginning to end and, if the scores are any indication, Jubal may have a Tuesday night performance in store for them.

Posted by on Monday, August 8th, 2011. Filed under DCW On-Line, FrontPage Feature.