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

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by Kevin Gamin, Drum Corps World staff and Drum Corps Planet managing editor

August 6, 2011 – Erie, PA . . . It was a weekend of upsets in Erie, PA. On Saturday evening, the Oregon Crusaders upset Blue Devils B, taking top honors at the “Lake Erie Fanfare’s” Open Class competition. The trend continued during a rain-shortened World Class show on Sunday night as the Glassmen moved ahead of the rest of the pack of corps fighting for the twelfth and final position at Lucas Oil Stadium in less than a week.

The show originally was to feature all non-Tournament of Champions World Class corps, with the exception of Pioneer, in a final showdown before DCI Championship. Unfortunately, rain would force the final three corps of the evening — Blue Knights, Madison Scouts and Boston Crusaders — to perform standstill encores as officials deemed the field too wet and unsafe for performances. In this sense, the weather provided the biggest upset of all.

The Glassmen, Toledo, OH, Drum Corps World photo by Jeff Hiott

The Glassmen have fought hard all summer to stay in contention for finals, but have spent most of the season behind Spirit of Atlanta and neck-in-neck with the Troopers for the thirteenth spot. Tonight, the Toledo, OH, corps’ performance of “My Mortal Beloved” was inspired as the corps made a statement that twelfth place won’t be settled until semifinals. Taking top honors in overall General Effect (tie), color guard, ensemble music and percussion, the Glassmen chose to go with their full show setup, including plumes and electronic equipment, something the Colts and Academy decided against.

It is possible that the decision to pull out all the stops in the threat of more inclement weather may have added some adrenaline for the members, as they left everything on the field. The only question is if Glassmen can maintain this momentum throughout the week.

Another corps with momentum is The Academy. Looking resplendent in their new uniforms, the design is unique and commanding and the Tempe, AZ, corps found themselves competing for a finalist position for the third time in the four years since they moved up from Open Class/Division II/III. Performing “RE,” the musical production put forth by the corps is very effective from first note to last. Lux Arumque is haunting and, when mixed with Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor, builds to a heart-wrenching climax. The guard is also strong this year, wearing colorful costumes that stand out and draw attention to the members, although they do that on their own with their performance. If The Academy can close the gap in General Effect and Visual, they may make history as Arizona’s first World Class finalist corps.

When Spirit reclaimed their full name, Spirit of Atlanta, this year, they did so with a horn line that wails as only a Spirit line can. Multiple times throughout the night the mellophones fired off giant unison notes that may have moved the stands back a foot or two from their sheer power. The show of “ATL Confidential” pays tribute to the classic film noir genre, complete with a sultry and suspicious lady in red, men in trenchcoats carrying guns and even a stop at a bar during Harlem Nocturne, during which barstools became percussion instruments and the horn line demonstrated why they took top brass honors. The drill also went a long way toward adding to the feel of the show, opening with a film projector formation, complete with rotating film reels, and also featuring lips on flags for the femme fatale and a dead body chalk outline during the closer of Death Hunt. Spirit has a fun, entertaining and talented corps this year and it’s easy to see why they’ve been at or near the top of the group vying for the twelfth position all season long.

The Troopers have been taking “The Road Home” on the road all summer in the hope that said road continues through to Saturday. The show features a very eclectic group of musical selections, although it stays true to the corps’ style as all are from American composers such as Aaron Copland, John Adams and Edgar Meyer. The brass line stands out as the strongest weapon in the Troop’s arsenal, many times filling the air with incredibly vibrant chords at all dynamic levels. This is brought home, if you will, near the end of the show when the brass holds a gigantic chord for what seems like forever. This gives the drum major the opportunity to turn to the crowd, unsheathe his sword and salute the crowd as only a Troopers DM can. This is the kind of moment fans want on a Saturday night. The only question is if the “Long Blue Line” can pull off an upset and make the finalist lineup.

The Colts were the first corps of the night to feel the effects of the weather. Coming onto the field without plumes due to rising winds and the possibility of rain, the corps was only able to set up in their opening formationt before show officials had them leave the field and head for shelter. Once the winds died down and a wave of rain passed through, the corps came back onto the field, now sans electronics, and proceeded to tell off Mother Nature with a very emotional and inspired performance of “Deception: The Jagged Edge.” If you’ve seen the movie “The Black Swan,” you already know the premise of the show, but that doesn’t take away from your enjoyment of the Colts’ performance. The show’s ballad, Debussy’s The Swan, showcased an incredible baritone soloist, a characteristic many corps in 2011 seem to have in abundance, much to the enjoyment of fans across the country. By the end of the show, with the horns in the back corner and the final notes coming from the pit, the crowd didn’t care whether the White Swan or the Black Swan had prevailed as they knew the Colts and the fans had won thanks to the incredible performance.

The Crossmen have spent most of the season in the seventeenth spot, although still within striking distance of finals, a testament to the strength of the World Class corps this year. While the Texas corps has been in the placement bracket for the past few years, it was a completely different attitude and show design from Bones in 2011. Chuck Naffier and Lee Beddis returned as the music show designers, together again for the first time since 2003, and the show theme of “Renewal” was completely appropriate as the corps seemed to be experiencing a return to the “Crossmen groove” which got fans’ feet tapping for years. The show could be considered a “throwback”, as it features plenty of jazz (the music of Nando Lauria) and pop music (Blood, Sweat & Tears; Leonard Cohen), as well as excellent soloists throughout. The drum line really took to the Beddis book, leading to head bobbing in the crowd, even from non-drummers. Once the corps hit their trademark Maltese cross in the closer, there was no doubt the Crossmen had truly renewed themselves and are going to be a corps to watch in 2012.

Mahler is a difficult composer to pull off on a drum corps field, which may explain why only three corps have attempted to do so since 1986. Pacific Crest became corps number 4 this year, performing part of Mahler’s Symphony #5 in their program, “Push, Pull, Twist, Turn.” The show is unique from a musical design standpoint. Afterall, how often do you follow up Mahler with Danny Elfman? Pacific Crest does so and also demonstrates how successful a regional World Class tour can be as the corps is very strong in terms of performance level. This is noticeable in the opener, Lauds, by Ron Nelson, which has many difficult harmonies for the horn line to perform at both high and low volumes. The Mahler has a much more reverent feel and, for most of the piece, features the horns playing backfield with a trumpet duet up front. The percussion shines during the latter half of the show, with killer bass rolls and a clean accelarando which starts with a lone snare, adding players as the speed increases. The guard has their shining moments as well, with the weapons line showing their stuff while integrated into the percussion’s drill during the drum feature. The show ends rather abruptly, but with the corps in your face, so you don’t mind at all.

What was most surprising about the Mandarins’ performance tonight was how quickly it passed and how immersed the fans were in the show. As the performing members will tell you, that is the sign of a great show and the Mandarins definitely had one tonight. This year’s show theme moved the focus from the Far East to the Middle East, specifically the story of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. The guard’s uniform design fully fit the theme while still blending in with the corps proper. Trumpets are really strong, exhibiting great sound and power while also displaying great accuracy on attacks and releases, giving their sound a razor-edge precision. The horn line as a whole, though, exhibited great balance and blend throughout the section, with no individual players playing the “hero” and outplaying the rest of the line. T he Mandarins have fun with this show and their performance is like saying “open sesame,” opening the door between the corps and the fans, and making that special connection which occurs with a great show.

Teal Sound made the move to World Class last year. This year they show that they belong there, building on last year’s successes with 2011’s “Sinvitation 7.” The show combines original music from Chuck Naffier with popular selections by Pink Floyd and Dire Straits to cover each of the seven deadly sins. Teal is not afraid to use the electronic instrumentation rules to their full advantage, utilizing an electronic violin throughout. It featured an electronic wind Instrument during the Lust. The EWI gave the impression of a snake charmer’s instrument, befitting the theme of the selection. The brass and percussion also give strong performances, especially during the opener, Judith. The guard is very fun to watch and personifies each of the sins throughout the show, having fun while doing it, which is how any true sinner would be. With the passionate subject material, it’s not surprising Teal Sound threw down a very aggressive show.

It was only a matter of time, but Lady Gaga has made it to the drum corps field. Thanks go to Jersey Surf as they perform the hit single Bad Romance as part of their “Pedal Tones” production. This is not the only popular tune in the show as Seal’s Kiss From a Rose also makes an appearance, featuring yet another stellar baritone soloist tonight. The production also features popular music from another century as Bizet’s “Carmen” is interwoven throughout. The show theme contains both references to love as well as to the rose as a symbol of that love, so it is only appropriate that the corps throws in some tango action to their performance, using both Piazzola’s Libertango and Tango de Roxanne from “Moulin Rouge.” The result of this musical mingling is a very accessible and entertaining show which fits in the Jersey Surf mould. Another reference to roses is the guard uniforms themselves, striking green outfits resembling rose stems.

The Cascades, Seattle, WA, Drum Corps World photo by Pat Chagnon

The Cascades have made the PVC tubing industry very happy, using these tubes to build many cubes as part of their “Pandora, A Dark Gift” show. The cubes start as one giant one in the middle of the field, with the center box featuring fabric woven in a way that allows corps members to step inside and reach out, either with their instruments to cause a neat effect of seeing only horn bells on the outside of the box or with their arms and hands to grab the Pandora character at the end of the show as she struggles to free herself from the box she herself opened. The new uniforms for the Cascades are striking, especially the neon green plumes, something the average fan may not believe if they don’t see the plumes in action. Also striking is the use of Evanescence’s My Immortal as the ballad, a selection that serves the Cascades well. The horns have a powerful sound, another testament to the depth of junior corps in 2011. While the Cascades are at the lower end of World Class placements, they are by no means a weak corps and are definitely worth seeing and hearing.

Posted by on Sunday, August 21st, 2011. Filed under DCW On-Line, FrontPage Feature.