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Livewire Q&A With George Hopkins

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Livewire Q&A With George Hopkins

October 10th, 2005

From the Editor of DCP's Livewire: Geoff Jones: Thank you all for your submissions!! We had a great response! A lot of the questions were similar, so if you don’t see yours answered below, it is because it was along the same line as another.

I’d like to thank George Hopkins for his participation!

If you have an idea for Livewire, or would like to give feedback, please feel free to email me at livewire@drumcorpsplanet.com

The Cadets won this year with a show that was; in your own words:

"telling a story". In that same vein, this brand of program...with its

emphasis on producing a storyline to follow, is nothing new, as Suncoast

Sound's 1988 production comes to mind.

Since we don't have "stage lights" (as you refer to as a need to

spotlight certain aspects of the show), it looks as if narration was key

in setting the tone for the show.

That said, do you see narration as a more literal way to "tell a story"?

And, furthermore, do you think that this somewhat robs the audience of

taking their own insights away from a production?

- Bawker

Dear Sir:

Narration is one of many tools that one might incorporate into a

marching music presentation. At times, it is my belief that vocal

direction can be of great assistance in assisting the audience in

understanding intent, time frame, or perhaps ... voice is just the added

ingredient in the creation of a spectacular moment.

In the case of the Cadets, the "Zone" commentary, added in mid-season,

was included in an effort to make clear to the audience that we were

portraying was not real, but related more to a dream. The music and the

voice hopefully assisted in communicating our intent.

As for narration in general, I think the use of such is up to the

creators.

Do they want the audience to create interpretations, do they want to be

clear as to their intent, is the voice, or the message conveyed through

the voice integral to the production?

That is something the design team needs to decide!

I offer no guarantees, not any grand insights. My guess --- in each case

the market (audience and adjudicators) will decide the success of any

venture.

On your blog earlier in the year, you lamented the fact that these are

different times than those of the shows of 1992, 1993, 1997 and

2000...insomuch that you felt that doing a show of that difficulty

wouldn't be rewarded by the judging community today.

Political references aside in that blog entry, the tendency to play it

"conservative" in order to get the rewards from the judges seems to be

the antithesis of the Cadets "relentless pursuit of the edge".

Speak to this, framed by your championship season: Is it a moot point

since the Cadets ended up winning, or one that you think is problematic

in programming shows now?

Do you feel that taking on something controversial...not in the sense of

amps, woodwinds, narration and so forth...but such as William Grant

Still's "Afro-American Symphony" and the themes it utilizes...is

creative suicide in the current DCI system?

- Bawker

Dear Sir,

These are different times, but then, I would say that each 4-5 years

corps and the philosophy of performance go through some sort of

evolution.

I am not sure of the time frame of the post in the blog, but, I would

say that in the past, there was more attention to "the what". The "how"

was forgiven from time to time. Let's say there was a higher threshold

of pain.

In recent years, and this is not the first time, performance became

king. Play well, march well, and spin well ... and you will score. As

for what you attempted, it would appear that this was not as important.

As for show topics, I would indeed offer that the more creative, the

greater the potential for competitive success. If shows involve

intellectual and emotional connections, then today, in this day and age,

the intellectual content is of great importance. Of course, we all want

to communicate with all, on every level but, if you need to choose ...

intellect is key!

Walking to the front sideline is not going to make it! Using tried and true tricks is not going to be rewarded - not at the level of the top corps.

You need to dream; you need to stretch; you need to create.

George,

It has been argued that you want drum corps to be marching band. You

have said that you would like to see woodwinds in drum corps. A few

years ago, your now famous "Drum Corps is Marching Band" quote came out.

Even though you used that to show that there really were differences

between the two activities, that statement has been used against you. I

understand the context in which is used, to explain how the "outside"

people view the activity. However, it does appear to me that you favor

proposals that would make drum corps into marching band, i.e. there

would be no instrumental differences between the two activities.

What is your vision for the activity that DCI runs? If there is no

instrumental differences between the two, would you still differentiate

drum corps from marching band, and if so, how, or would you consider

everything marching band at that point?

Thank you for your response.

- David Bassan

Dear Sir,

I believe that over time, corps will be held within society as the best

example of marching music within our country if not the world. I do not

believe that there will be a distinction between band and corps;

instead, I think that marching music will be an activity that grows from

the evolutionary similarity we are experiencing today.

Corps will over time, learn to measure success my new societal progress.

When corps come to town, we will invite the 30 music programs of the

area as our guests. There will be displays, there will be public service

announcements, there will be signage and there will be exhibitions. The

goal - to assist in the recruitment of many, many young people to

the music programs of high schools and middle schools across the

country.

The number of corps will not grow! They are too expensive to manage and

fuel costs will over time, make our current model impossible to

maintain. That said, a shift in what constitutes success will allow the

leaders of the activity to spread their wings, to align with the bands

of the world, to support the industry in keeping music alive and well

within the scholastic world and thus, over years, we will become

partners.

Does this mean that all corps will use saxophones? No. Does it mean someday they could? I would say ... if they would like to.

My view is simple. Do what you wish and let the market decide.

Use 30 flutes and it does not go well, chances are it will not be back.

Use 30 saxophones of the highest quality and generate a roar from the

crowd for the quality, the beauty and the musicianship ... good for you!

When will thus occur? Not sure but it will be years.

The tradition of corps is strong and deep and even those who join "like

it as it is".

Frankly, I love it!

But, we need to allow for all of humanity to taste the joy of this

activity. It is such a wonderful life experience, I just do not know how we can

leave someone on the outside looking in!

Who knows how this will go?

Less corps, and fewer positions will lead to greater competition for

positions. It may be that there is simply no room for anything besides

brass and percussion as the musical component?

I guess to summarize, I think there are changes coming but, I am not all

that sure instrumentation will be at the heart of the matter. There are

bigger issues and challenges that threaten our continued operation as

an entity.

It has been announced that you and the Cadets team will have more

involvement in the Crossmen design process this year than in the recent

past. Can you explain in more detail what your involvement will be and

what goals you and your team have in mind for the Crossmen?

- lbjazz

In the most recent past, I have kept my personal distance.

This year, I am working as hard as possible to pass what knowledge I

have regarding corps to the director and his team over the winter and

spring.

Training, coordination, discussion ...this is the basic input. Scott and

I will spend much time together, I will attend the camps, I will be on the phone with the team. However, be clear, Scott is the director. I am here to support, to

serve, and to offer assistance. I would like to see people like Marc, Gino, and Tom share their knowledge. Give opinions, give ideas, and support the team!

The Crossmen and Cadets are of the same family. We hope that this marriage can someday lead to two fabulous organizations. Even as I decided to step back, I still believed this as possible. Today, we look for yet THE solution.

My favorite part about the Cadets is that many shows seem to have a

beautiful ballad in the middle that creates very emotional and fantastic

drum corps moments. My favorite was in '93 when the hornline just lets

loose in the "Kings Go Off To War" show. Do you intend to create these

"ballad moments" each year, and if so, how do you go about picking the

songs. Keep up the great work! See you in Madison in 2006!

- Dan Hobl

Dan,

We do not always look for ballads, they tend to find us. It depends on the show, the source material and what we are looking to do.

I am guessing there will be a ballad of sorts this year, but one that is

unique in its interpretation and presentation. As for future years, it

does seem we go in cycles.

Thanks for the kind words.

Thanks for doing this!

Who judges Narration on the field? It's obviously part of Music

Ensemble and Music GE, and the "drum speak" is clearly part of the percussion

caption, but the opening narration of "The Zone" didn't seem to apply to any

particular field judge. Is it written into the judges sheets?

- Matthew Elcock

Hmmmm ...

Narration would be covered in effect. Did it make sense? Did it add to

the show?

I guess it could be covered by the ensemble sheet if it was too loud,

out of time, or something of the sort. As for performance on the field

... I would say it does not apply.

As for drum-speak, it could have and was a part of the percussion

commentaries. As in any "percussion" instrument, was it together, in time, in balance?

Did it work? My guess, drumspeak per say will not be all that prevalent in the years

to come. It is one of those novelty things!

Given that smaller pits were used as rationale for the amplification

rule, and pits have not really gotten smaller, how can you defend your

using this as a reason for amplification?

- Jeff Ream

Smaller pits were included in rationale for amplification, not

for all corps, but as a possibility, particularly for smaller corps. I

would not use this rationale to defend our use; indeed, I would not

defend our use of amplification at all. To use amplification was within

the rules and we have used such to the best of our ability. I hope we

did a respectful job of including amplification in our program

Because narration and amplified singing is not the smash success

people had claimed it would be....amongst fans of all ages.....is this

something you will continue to pursue?

- Jeff Ream

Ummm... I was not aware of what makes or does not make a

smash success? I think for the Cadets, the two tools did assist us in

communicating to a higher degree. The inclusion of these tools made us

better. That said, if voice, or amplification, will, in our mind, make

the Cadets a better Cadets, we would use the tool(s) again!

Given that some directors want to raise the age limit in DCI to 25,

doesn't this go against the DCI charter of being a youth activity?

- Jeff Ream

Hmmmm ... I never heard anyone ask to raise the limit to 25. We

have asked for an extension of 6 months or so; just in line with the

norm for college aged graduation. Let's face it, many students go 5

years now, to 22 or so. But, I have not heard about 25. I doubt such

would pass.

-- George Hopkins

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GmenBari78    9
I believe that over time, corps will be held within society as the best

example of marching music within our country if not the world. I do not

believe that there will be a distinction between band and corps;

instead, I think that marching music will be an activity that grows from

the evolutionary similarity we are experiencing today.

Corps will over time, learn to measure success my new societal progress.

When corps come to town, we will invite the 30 music programs of the

area as our guests. There will be displays, there will be public service

announcements, there will be signage and there will be exhibitions. The

goal - to assist in the recruitment of many, many young people to

the music programs of high schools and middle schools across the

country.

The number of corps will not grow! They are too expensive to manage and

fuel costs will over time, make our current model impossible to

maintain. That said, a shift in what constitutes success will allow the

leaders of the activity to spread their wings, to align with the bands

of the world, to support the industry in keeping music alive and well

within the scholastic world and thus, over years, we will become

partners.

Does this mean that all corps will use saxophones? No. Does it mean someday they could? I would say ... if they would like to.

My view is simple. Do what you wish and let the market decide.

Use 30 flutes and it does not go well, chances are it will not be back.

Use 30 saxophones of the highest quality and generate a roar from the

crowd for the quality, the beauty and the musicianship ... good for you!

When will thus occur? Not sure but it will be years.

The tradition of corps is strong and deep and even those who join "like

it as it is".

Frankly, I love it!

But, we need to allow for all of humanity to taste the joy of this

activity. It is such a wonderful life experience, I just do not know how we can

leave someone on the outside looking in!

Who knows how this will go?

Less corps, and fewer positions will lead to greater competition for

positions. It may be that there is simply no room for anything besides

brass and percussion as the musical component?

I guess to summarize, I think there are changes coming but, I am not all

that sure instrumentation will be at the heart of the matter. There are

bigger issues and challenges that threaten our continued operation as

an entity.

This pretty much admits that the goal is merging band and corps, but still maintaining a distinction of class (Corps being the top-of-the-line, so to speak). I guess I'm confused about what he means by bringing corps to town to help with recruitment and music program building in the schools -- does he see this as the only future of corps, or as part of the future, and if just part then how much, no longer as much competition, if at all?

What are the bigger issues and challenges that threaten corps? He does not spell that out. I can guess at some -- money (fuel costs, etc) and recruitment (less and less music people in school) being the two biggest.

Thanks for doing this DCP, thanks to Hoppy for sharing his thoughts.

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Trevor    4

Mr.Hopkins,

Which corps from the 2005 season placing between 19-24 will have the best chance of making finals in the next five to seven years? Which corps out of that catergory would you like to see in finals?

Trevor Bailey

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jwillis35    3,401

I really enjoyed this. Thanks to George Hopkins and DCP for doing this, and thanks to those who asked questions.

I think many here on DCP will have a better idea of who George Hopkins is and why he wants or doesn't want certain things. I also encourage many of you to check out his interview with Dan Potter on the DCI Season Pass site which was recorded the day of finals.

To summarize how I feel about his comments on this thread, I would say the following:

1. I agree with him about the number of drum corps and their ability to expand. In this day and age you will simply not see the number of drum corps rise by a significant amount. Sure, there will always be a new kid on the block, but for every one of those we will likely lose 1 or 2 as well. None of this is DCI's fault but the result of our current economy and social structure. Without some serious corporate money or federal aid, you are not going to see 100 D1 corps anytime in the next 100 years.

2. When he speaks about drum corps coming to town and gathering band programs and students together for recruitment and important musical functions such as pushing scholastic music education, he is really speaking about a refinement of something that already sort of takes place. When a drum corps show is in town, we generally see many local band directors, band students, and even some full bands attending. The corps often times perform clinics several hours prior to the show, and in some cases one of the local music education organizations will be present to push recruiting in this direction. I think what he wants is something a bit more refined and open to the larger scholastic music world.

3. Finally, I think that many of you can see that his vision is much more open to bringing drum corps to "All" people vs. a closed approach based on old traditions and dated methods which may have no place or power in today's world view. When he speaks about drum corps and marching band, I don't believe he is saying he wants drum corps to be marching bands, but he makes it clear that the lines have been blurred. This symptom did not just appear because of a proposal for woodwinds or amps, or anything else. It appeared because the societal conditions are ripe with change, and in many ways have forced that change on the activity. Much like any standard for excellence, you either conform or you fall behind. I think this is a good way to look at his theories on the modern drum and bugle corps. He clearly wants all kids involved in music to experience the joys of drum corps, and yet he knows how this activity is perceived by many in the educational field, so he desires to bring the activity to them and to use marketing strategies that are suitable.

Many of us, myself included, feel this activity simply cannot be for everyone. Yet, I am lying to myself if I think drum corps will expand based on its old traditions and dated methods of fund raising and marketing. But I still see the activity as an elite musical calling for the best and hardest working students. George sees it as something that can be marketed to the masses and that can minister to all music educators and their students in a broad number of ways, not just competitive.

I do agree with him that fund raising is also one of the biggest hurdles now and in the future. As he said in his interview with Dan Potter, many drum corps are only a bad bingo game away from real trouble.

Jonathan

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JimF-LowBari    910

"The number of corps will not grow! They are too expensive to manage and

fuel costs will over time, make our current model impossible to

maintain. That said, a shift in what constitutes success will allow the

leaders of the activity to spread their wings, to align with the bands

of the world, to support the industry in keeping music alive and well

within the scholastic world and thus, over years, we will become

partners."

I'm also confused with the "align with the bands of the world". Right now DCI is trying to market to the HS band members. But these would not be the bands who would be able to financially support corps. Anyone who follows GHs blog or other talks have any idea what bands he is alluding to?

As for "number of corps will not grow", wonder what kind of corps he had in mind. The full 128 member full touring group or Div II/III smaller local type.

Also after reading jwillis response I wonder what will be the make up of the crowd (or "masses") will be in the stands. From what I can tell, the newer fans will be the type to be able to enjoy the more complex type of show that needs narration to explain. Having more complex shows to showcase the talent of the members would not be a way to attract less musically inclined fans.

Thanks for posting this (other) George.

Edited by JimF-xWSMBari

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BamRam    1

Thank you DCP for providing a mechanism for drum corps fans to interact with the decision makers within DCI. And thank you Mr. Hopkins for your accessiblity to the fans. I have a tremendous amount of respect for you because of your willingness to publicly debate ideas about the future of drum corps and to defend your positions within the drum corps community.

Mr Hopkins - I hope that you and others understand that the comments and disagreements which I have with some of your positions are intended as counter arguments in the debate over the past/present/future of drum corps and are not intended to be personal in nature.

I believe that most of us know and understand the restrictions and limitations placed upon drum corps' by the veterans rule committees in the pre-DCI era. It was an era, in the eyes of the corps', that severely limited the creativity of instructional staffs and stunted the development of "national" corps. But, in return, there were many, many local corps' providing music education and discipline to a large number of youths across the country.

DCI itself was created as an alternative to the VFW/AL view of drum corps. And, in the free market, drum corps prospered. But only to a point. While the VFW/AL provided drum corps managment with little or no input, DCI gave most of the input to the best corps' in the activity. That is, the DCI Board of Directors (BOD). This has created it's own problems. We can debate the reasons, but it's quite clear that the number of active corps' is significantly lower than in the pre-DCI era. Certainly, some were lost due to economics (gas prices, for example) while others were lost due to poor management. But it's also true that the decisions of the DCI BoD and rule committees over the last 30+ years has also contributed to the decline in corps' and the decline in overall participation within the activity. But, in return, the corps' that do survive have advanced the difficulty and artistry of drum corps almost beyond comprehension.

Your comments clearly exhibit the schizophrenia of the problem. You stated, "The number of corps will not grow! They are too expensive to manage and fuel costs will over time, make our current model impossible to maintain." Then later you state, "But, we need to allow for all of humanity to taste the joy of this activity. It is such a wonderful life experience, I just do not know how we can leave someone on the outside looking in!" You want as many people as possible to "taste the joy of this activity" and yet you admit that "The number of corps will not grow".

It's impossible to expand the joy of this activity without expanding the number of corps! Why? Because the "joy" comes from the experiences of the youths within the corps' themselves and the interaction between the performers and the audience.

But hasn't this schizophrenia been created or at least amplified by DCI itself? Decisions made by the BoD over the years have only exacerbated the financial problems caused by external pressures (fuel prices and insurance for example). Personally, I could care less about the debates which in the past have engulfed drum corps (2 valves, 3 valves, pits, Bb vs G, amplification, etc). None of these issues make drum corp be "drum corps". But these decisions directly led to the loss of many corps'. Over the last three decades many corps directors had to make lose-lose decisions. Buy the necessities such as fuel and insurance but maintain fiscal responsibility by not buying new equipment. Or, buy the necessities and lose fiscal responsibility by buying equipment they couldn't afford. Either decision was wrong. If they didn't buy the new horns, pit equipment, amplifiers, etc. they couldn't remain competitive on the sheets and lost members to the "big" corps'. If they did buy the new equipment they couldn't remain financially stable. In either case, the only responsible solution for many directors was to fold the corps'. And, thereby, reduce the availability of the drum corps "joy" to many local youths. I'm not suggesting that there should have been no instrumentation growth and modernization within the activity. But I am suggesting that these decisions and more importantly, the timing of these decisions should have been made with an eye toward the greater good of ALL the corps'.

So, in essence, I agree with you that "our current model (is) impossible to maintain". But I disagree that the solution is to make a "shift in what constitutes success" and "allow the leaders of the activity to spread their wings". In fact, I'd argue that this solution is exactly what has exacerbated the problems.

I'm not in a position to make decisions regarding the direction of drum corps. But I do know that the decisions made by an extremely small number of people (i.e. DCI BoD, rules committees) has had a tremendous impact on who and what this activity has become in the past 30+ years. Those decisions have impacted the definition of success on the sheets, the instrumentation, the touring costs, and a whole host of others. I hope and pray that those decisions were made with the best intentions of all competing corps'. But quite frankly, when I look at the impact of past decisions and your views about the future of this activity I'm disheartened.

Personally, I'd like to see a middle ground. A model in which some power is vested in the activities "leaders" who have consistently been on the cutting edge of the activity; pushing, pulling and expanding the very essence of "drum corps". But also a model which can throttle back the "leaders" by allowing for greater input from the rest of the drum corps community. This way ALL corps' can have a better chance at remaining financially viable and thereby provide more "joy". I'm not a political scientist and don't know how to create this type of system. But, IMO, this should be the solution that the drum corps community should be working towards.

Again, Mr. Hopkins, I'm not trying to be disrectful to you or anyone else. I'm just trying to verbalize my frustration with the direction and evolution of this activity that everyone here on DCP loves.

Best Regards

Edited by BamRam

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It appears to me that Mr. Hopkins' vision is having a few big fish in a small pond. In other words, a handful of superbands that go around the country "educating" the country on the "joys" of marching band. Who benefits from this? Maybe public school music departments. Maybe the handful of kids who don't consider learning a second instrument like I did. Maybe organizations like YEA! who is a private organization looking to become profitable businesses. Who knows, but if his vision comes true, there will NEVER be 25 D1 corps again.

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Jeff Ream    7,775

well he did once state he envisioned a super division.

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George    0
It appears to me that Mr. Hopkins' vision is having a few big fish in a small pond. In other words, a handful of superbands that go around the country "educating" the country on the "joys" of marching band. Who benefits from this? Maybe public school music departments. Maybe the handful of kids who don't consider learning a second instrument like I did. Maybe organizations like YEA! who is a private organization looking to become profitable businesses. Who knows, but if his vision comes true, there will NEVER be 25 D1 corps again.

David

Clearly you are passionate about drum corps - that parts great.

But honestly - your cynicism and negative is a bit too much to stomach at some points.

What makes you think YEA! is a "private organization looking to become a profitable business"?? This is a complete misrepresentation of the facts of reality. YEA!, like any other drum corps entity I might add, struggles day to day just to pay the basic bills, field next year, meet the payroll (which probably should be a LOT more if the individuals involved were actually compensated relative to their dedication, talents & hours worked), etc... Now you throw gas prices on top of this and the equation gets even more upside down.

Also - I was at finals this year and Division I was the strongest lineup in at least 15 years in that division.

Ok - that said:

THANKS HOPKINS for taking some time to reply to our questions and interact with us drum corps net nuts - much appreciated.

George

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GmenBari78    9
[big snip]

Best Regards

Well said!

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