Cavaliers percussion has a clear focus as 2023 hits final stretch
by Ashlee Woods
The night of July 22 was a night that the 2023 membership of The Cavaliers will never forget. Amongst a lineup of 20 World Class corps, the Rosemont, Illinois corps came out on top in the percussion caption at the first “regional” event of the summer.
The result in San Antonio came as a surprise, as it’s not typical for a corps that finishes eighth overall at the event to win a caption. However, the first-place finish at the tail end of July was just the manifestation of what The Cavaliers’ percussion staff has been preaching to the members— continue to work hard and the work will be noticed.
“Every single day, we’ve preached working hard and the payoff will eventually be there,” Cavaliers percussion caption manager Josh Brickey said. “It showed up big time that day.”
Members of the percussion section were excited after hearing about the result in San Antonio. The bus ride back to the corps’ housing site was full of celebration.
The Cavaliers' snare drum line performs July 22 at the DCI Southwestern Championship in San Antonio.
Even with some well-earned time off to relax and unwind in the Alamo City the following day, corps members were counting down the time until they could get back to the practice field to continue fine-tuning their craft.
“The reaction from everybody was, ‘We want to get back to work,’” Cavaliers snare drum section leader Garrett Irwin said. “We had a free day the day after and everyone was just itching to get back onto the field and get back to doing it again.”
The Green Machine’s 2023 production, “Where You’ll Find Me,” is an homage to the corps’ 75 years of history. With that came the challenge of repurposing nearly eight decades of percussion writing for a modern-day show.
This year’s percussion composition incorporates new ways to perform music and sounds that drew many people to The Cavaliers in the first place.
“It was a real opportunity for us to create a book that was not just about the rudiments,” Cavaliers percussion arranger Michael McIntosh said. “I'm sure everybody could say that about their labor of love. But, it's a real special thing to touch on things that emotionally affected you and drove your artistic choices as a performer and as a designer.”
Cavaliers bass drummers on the field of Center Parc Credit Union Stadium in Atlanta.
There are several easter eggs that point to different moments of The Cavaliers’ history. Whether it’s the use of instruments like guiro sticks and splash cymbals or repurposing an iconic musical stanza, every note of the percussion book written follows the percussion staff’s recent trend of creating a new sound with each production.
“One of the things that our front ensemble arranger Clif Walker prides himself on is always creating and introducing a new sound into our show every year,” Cavaliers front ensemble instructor Ashley Summerlin said.
Building the group of performers for this season’s production was just as important as the music on the page. The percussion staff wasn’t purely focused on recruiting the best performers. In fact, the staff was also focused on finding the members that fit the culture and identity of the organization.
“Our big goal is to keep developing a good culture around toughness, working, having a blue collar mentality and [to] just be good people,” Brickey said. “A lot of those guys are best friends and they enjoy being around each other every day and that was a big goal of ours.”
McIntosh mentioned that the connection between The Cavaliers and Rhythm X — a highly-competitive indoor percussion ensemble — has been beneficial for the corps this year.
Many of the members in the section have received a year-long education, which has played a huge role in how everyone performs.
“It’s just [about] getting used to playing next to each other and how we operate as people,” Irwin said.
Months of meticulous planning has produced some strong results in the percussion scoring caption as the 2023 DCI Tour reaches its last few days. The Cavaliers have consistently placed at the top of the percussion caption since early July.
The Cavaliers took first place in the percussion caption during the DCI Southeastern Championship in Atlanta, July 29.
Everything kicked into high gear when the Green Machine made its trek through the Lone Star State, as the corps placed first in percussion at every Texas event it performed at including the highly-competitive DCI Southwestern Championship presented by Fred J. Miller, Inc. The stretch of first-place finishes continued into Atlanta, where The Cavaliers earned another first-place percussion finish at the DCI Southeastern Championship presented by Ultimate Drill Book.
The success the Cavaliers’ percussion section has experienced this season can likely be attributed to several factors. But, McIntosh believes that the members are being rewarded for simply showing up to rehearsal every day and having a “blue-collar mentality.”
“The journey and the day-to-day, blue-collar work ethic is what I think the judges have been reacting to because we've been very consistent,” McIntosh said. “The judges are picking up on the ability for us to touch on some historical aspects of the program and then repurpose them in a way that’s relevant to 2023.”
The Cavaliers last took home the Fred Sanford Award for Best Percussion Performance at the 2011 DCI World Championships.
It’s been 12 years since The Cavaliers last won the Fred Sanford Best Percussion Performance Award. Earning the award for the first time since 2012 would be an incredible honor for the corps. The percussion section and staff is focusing on staying in the moment and keep building toward an on-field performance the corps can be proud of.
“They gel together really well,” Summerlin said. “They rehearse really well. We're just really proud of the progress that they've made so far this year and the potential of where they have to go the rest of this season.”
As much as the 2023 season has been about honoring the past, this season has also been about establishing a new identity. The Cavaliers’ staff hopes that “Where You’ll Find Me” is the foundation for the culture the corps strives to build for future performers.
“This is a real opportunity for us as a corps to define and redefine who we are for the next several years,” McIntosh said. “And that for me is a really exciting opportunity as an educator to help to make the corps better than when I found it.”
VIEW THE CAVALIERS' 2023 TOUR SCHEDULE