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About BranchHill

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  • Birthday 05/29/1954

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  • Your Drum Corps Experience
    Fan, Volunteer, Writer
  • Your Favorite Corps
    Hopefully, the next one I see
  • Gender
  • Location
    Pensacola, FL and Horton, AL
  • Interests
    Reading, writing, baking, connoisseur of the Buffalo Wing and of bourbon, public radio. DCI/DCA/BOA/WGI. War Eagle! Musical interests far-exceed the reach of drum corps, but I only have drum corps to thank for opening my ears (and eyes) to so many genres. Collect nativities from around the world; "Some Children See Him."

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  1. I was just about ready to give up on this topic thread (thanks MINT for the comprehensive staff change list in another thread), when I read this story in The New Yorker on fans, and their potential for impact on the mediums they follow. Made me wonder about all of the folks here, come together, for a united cause. I read logical explanations of business models, of inclusion, of safety protocols, even some plausible, if unlikely, notions about desired music and show themes. I read that in Drum Corps International's latest post-season survey, Drum Corps Planet is mentioned as an information source. What if, I have been thinking, consensus was gained around some/any of these over-arching topics, and presented as entree to a DCI board seat? Representation. Official recognition of the minds, and efforts, expended here 365/24. To the article: “When it comes to stans (Eminem's moniker for stalker fans) and how they operate on social media, it’s crazy to witness,” .... “These people really think that they’re doing some due diligence by the (medium).” Are you? Are WE? Is our pastime, arm-chair quarterbacking, back seat driving, unsolicited advice, due diligence? Might it resonate if coalesced, and presented professionally? "Now that couch potatoes have social media, they have risen up and become active, opinionated participants. As a result, movie studios and TV showrunners have to cater to subsets of diehard devotees, who expect to have a say in how their favorite properties are handled." Us, too? More of this? Less of that? Eliminate. Add. Multiply. Can we? Could we? "Fandom ... "is born out of a mix of fascination and frustration. If you weren’t drawn to it on some level, you wouldn’t be a fan. But, if it fully satisfies you, you wouldn’t need to rewrite it, remake it, re-perform it.” That's why I'm a fan; that's why I have followed drum corps for 48 years. You, too? All of us? Together? “There’s a fine line to tread on how much you listen to fans, because fans aren’t always right, either. But there are certain things where you should listen to them, because they’re smarter than maybe the super-high-up execs are going to think.” Or ... as it played out at Comic-Con: “One of the things I think we all love about Comic-Con so much is the fact that we all accept each other,” (the speaker) said, to groans. “Think about it! We all accept each other’s fandoms. We all accept each other’s idiosyncrasies.” More groans. (Bold type is mine.) Coalesce. Emerge. Present as a unified DCP brigade? Possible? Even desired? Or ... do we just love flexing our ideas, our connections, our "knowledge base" to each other? I have been wondering about these things a lot of late. I'd love to see the "pros" here become our collective mouthpieces to the organizations that matter most.
  2. What absolute fun this has been, N.E. Brigand. Thank you, again, for extending our drum corps season a few more weeks!
  3. Each generation must get on the same old merry-go-round, only disguised in a fresh coat of paint. American journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and political activist, Katherine Anne Porter, had the best-selling novel of 1962. It pertains here: "Ship of Fools." And I am not talking about staff changes. I expect the top six corps, stable or with "lifts and tucks," to amaze. Nothing less than jaw-dropping (it is amazing when they do not, and more often than anyone wants to admit, they do not) will be acceptable. I hope for shows to challenge the top six who bewilder. From the Blue Knights and Stars, from the revival corps Cadets and Phantom. I look forward to innovations that delight from Mandarins and Crossmen. What I am excited about: the rest of the field that amazed this season in ways that we often don't witness from non-finalists and at least the top of the Open Class. Staff changes here matter the most. Annual fresh coats of paint help no corps, but that is often the route taken -- by choice, by circumstance -- among 13-25th place units. It's the rite of passage here. But think of it: last year's off-season musical chairs yielded Pacific Crest's triangulated triumph, the Trooper's gorgeous musical relaunch, Jersey Surf's water wonderland, and the Spartans' goosebump/smile inducing championship. Among others. So don't *yawn*, please, when I am excited about a recent James Logan High School alum taking over as guard caption head; nor *dismiss* a percussion section that will be lead by an up-and-coming indoor group's designers and educators. This roster; found, recruited, hired, and given space to grow will shape the activity's future. (Bless your hearts when long-time, top six staff begin to retire. It's coming, likely sooner than you can imagine.) Oh, and the single thing I am most excited about: the prospect of a 2020 summer season as scintillating, as sizzling, as this one! Amaze us: one and all.
  4. I am going to be a contrarian, both to myself and to the general consensus of this board. First to myself, and the 1980 championships. The Blue Devils' redo of its remarkable championship and record-scoring 1979 show was tepid in comparison; this was to be the Lancers' year! But nerves got to 27th, and the finals night performance was robotic, rote. IF ... the millions of "ifs" in the history of drum corps ... the judges had realized it, just possibly The Bridgemen won the night. And I was no fan of Bayonne, at the time. (Read my thoughts on it, here.) As for 1989, I cry a little every time I watch both Vanguard and Phantom. Kind of like watching the Blue teams at the top of this year's leaderboard. All four shows are championship caliber, if only. Vanguard's revival of "Phantom" was, as has been said here, a "monster." And to me, so far superior to the year before, there is simply no comparison. The dramatic through-line was clearer, and certainly the performance was at a higher level. So then to Phantom, and the signature Dvorak: It has always seemed to me that the luxuriousness of the production, and the music, came to a dead stop three-quarters of the way through, for a drum break. It killed the forward motion of the finale that followed. That has, for me, been the difference in the two. Kingsmen, 1974. Please.
  5. For me, the words that mean the most here are: Denise Bonfiglio, Corps Director. One of only 6 women in the DCI Hall of Fame; out of 130. Her father was an inaugural member. This is drum corps royalty come back to the Northeast. I hope that this relationship sticks, because it has the ability to erase memories and mentions of .... (As for the numbers 6 and 130; Women in DCI has a long way to go to even be on an even field. I continue to wish the effort -- no matter how it came to be formed -- godspeed.)
  6. Here the five that led the Devil-of-a-decade, at least for me: 5/ "E=mc2" (Carolina Crown 2013) Signature championship show. 4/ "Ghostlight" (Blue Devils 2019) Championship by a thousand cuts; chipping away to victory just as they did with "Ink." 3/ "Down Side Up" (Bluecoats 2016) When this drum corps phenomenon dominated the season, I was just sure it would have been at the top of this kind of list. 2/ "Babylon" (Santa Clara Vanguard 2018) Speaking of season-long domination. (Horn snap) 1/ "Felliniesque" (Blue Devils 2014) Drum corps of this era at its masterful peak! Either the first, or second, best drum corps production I have seen in 48 years. (Give me two more years to weigh in with a half-century of favorites. Please ; )
  7. ... and all along, I have thought it was Pacific Crest who received the short end of the judging stick. *SHRUG*
  8. My absolute favorite in all of this: N.E. Brigand's taking the time to roll out this meticulously researched and articulated list. Thank you! The list, I am sad to admit, underscores my waning knowledge of Open Class offerings over the entirety of the decade. I began to make up for it in the past three years, learning that some of the most precious jewels in the drum corps necklace shine on Monday and Tuesday of championship week. With my admission also comes an apology: if the methodology I have chosen to tackle this task leaves out obvious gems, I'd love to be told of those omissions, so I can catch up! I decided to take the place listings and offer up my favorite, and a second helping of mighty good shows at each competitive finish. As Mr. Crocker says: "In 25th place:" "Off the Grid," Seattle Cascades 2019. When I realized that this production, which the members thread-the-needle performing with such exuberance, would likely be the lowest-scoring of the World Class offerings, all I could do was smile. All is well in the drum corps world. (Spartans, 2018: "DaVinci's Workshop" was the type of show we have all grown to love from the Northeast Open Class powerhouse. What came next ... Whoa!) 24th place: "FantaSea," Jersey Surf, 2019. A lesson, it seems to me, in smart programming. Design what can be achieved, the rest will fall into place. As it did in this very fine, entertaining, voyage. (Genesis, 2018: "RetroVertigo." Another signature show and style that was upended just a year later.) 23rd place: "Corps Prayer," Pioneer, 2010. The last appearance in the Top 25 for a corps and its members, both current and alumni, who always deserved better than the denouement that lurked for years. Pioneer was, at its apex, one of the most vital, competitive, corps in the activity. I will choose to remember it well, especially iterations from late 70s and early 80s. (Mandarins, 2012: "Prophecy." And here they come!) 22nd place: "The Blue Hour," Oregon Crusaders, 2011. Watch it again, as a precursor for Pacific Crest's breakout 2019 show. Good staff, better performers, solid show. (Vanguard Cadets, 2012: "Heroes and Legends." Even with a greatest hits playlist, this show underscored that Open Class only means open to anything ... wonderful!) 21st place" "Song of the Siren," Legends, 2019. An exotic tale as old as the seas themselves. I couldn't take my eyes off this show. (Pacific Crest, 2017. "Golden State of Mind." California was dreamin' and dreamy, in this easy to love coast-to-coast tour.) 20th place: "Sinvitation 7," Teal Sound, 2011. The corps' last championship appearance, before the truncated season to follow. An out-of-the-box musical mashup of "sin." (Mandarins, 2015. "Resurrection." When the Asian culture esthetic was the centerpiece of the corps, it moved us all. The corps' last thematic offering of the sort. To be remembered well.) 19th place: "Experiment X," Spartans, 2019. The winner and cham-PEEN! For all of the wonder of this spectacular production, I was hooked at the first phrases of the opening's "Balkan Dance." The rest was drum corps gravy. (Blue Devils B, 2018. "The Other Side." Devils' magic, in only a slightly different veneer. Just when you thought you knew what was coming ... MAGIC!) 18th place: "Off the Wall," Vanguard Cadets, 2018. Loose. In the groove. Of the moment drum corps. A gold medal moment, at that. (Troopers, 2019. "Beyond Boundaries." This show was not a threat to any competitor, save for the organization's brand, which is, after all, the most precious of all. The rebranding worked; a beautiful score, well-played. But for my enthusiasm here, it will all come down to 2020. Space Troopers likely will not hold up for a second year. Storm Troopers? State Troopers? ; ) 17th place: "Full Circle," Crossmen, 2010. When the X-Men excel, the corps has a vibe. This had a vibe. "First Circle," in its umpteenth iteration, was singularly effective. (Madison Scouts, 2019. "Majestic." The end of a majestic drum corps era. To a monumental new one!) 16th place: "Forging An Icon," Spirit of Atlanta, 2010. Perhaps the most under appreciated Spriit show ever! Not by me, though. ( Colts, 2011. "Deception.". Oftentimes, the Dubuque corps can seem as provincial as its hometown. For me, this show broke through like a jagged edge.) 15th place: The Academy, since the corps owned half a decade's worth of fifteenth-place finishes. "Academic," 2018 was a level grade up, what with the theme from "The Imitation Game" right off the desks. "(RE)," 2011 was the corps' vanity fair brand at the time, but I will admit that I'm a honk for "Mary Poppins." And "Feed the Birds," from 2015's "Step in Time" takes musical flight for me, often. 14th place: I would have loved to have seen both of these shows on Saturday night. "Everglow," Pacific Crest, 2019. No one was prepared for the scrumptious wonderfulness that this show brought to the field. Perhaps even, the judges? (Colts, 2015. "... and a Shot Rings Out," I love this dinner theater-style murder mystery! This was well beyond the usual drum corps realm.) 13th place: Finalists in every way, except final placement: "Inside the Ink," Mandarins, 2017 and "Knock," Spirit of Atlanta, 2018." There are another fifteen or more shows that I could have included on this list. Thanks, again, N.E. Brigand for the memories.
  9. I'm a fifth-place kind of guy: a solid performer, gets the job done, can inspire. Probably why I love fifth place drum corps shows so much. I have for almost 50 years; including this past decade's competitive ascendent/descendent productions and shows. The best thing about fifth place -- fifteenth, twenty-fifth -- somebody loves them. The best part of being a fan: it's our prerogative to love what we do and wonder in fury or amazement how our personal favorites landed where they did. Here are some of my fifth-place favorites; each one landed right where it should have: my heart. The Kilties 1973 outing was my first time to steam at a corps' fifth-place ranking. What's not to love when you hear "Roundabout," the legendary "Eli's Comin'," and the corps' trademark "Auld Lang Syne"? I only saw the Troopers' championship runner-up show on film, so The Long Blue Line's '74 recanting of much of it would have to suffice. Fifth place. Long-form musical arrangements got a mighty good early airing with the Blue Star's wonderful 1975 show that included the symphonic "Canzona," music by "Chicago," and Billy Joel's namesake, "The Legend of Billy the Kid." "Spartacus," the first, 1981 Phantom Regiment. And not only in retrospect. Madison had quite a fifth-place run in the 80s with some of the corps' most adventurous choices: "Strawberry Soup," the "Colas Breugnon Overture," and music from the Broadway smash "Cats." (Hold that thought.) The fifth-place eighties sported such signature shows as the original "Planets" by the Cavaliers in 1985 and its seminal "Firebird" in 1988. (Not that other, strange, gasping-for-air "Firebird" from 1997.) The signature sound of Suncoast Sound was on spectacular field-wide display with its highest placement for Stan Kenton's "Adventures in Time." (And that, just a year after its sixth-place original symphonic travelogue "Florida Suite.") I have always thought that the Cadet's 1989 "Les Miz" was under-rated, but that was a tough year to stand out from the top two. The Scouts again, 1993, with the exuberant "City of Angels," an approach that I thought the corps might take for a while: musical theater (See "Cats," above). Santa Clara's undulating "La Mer" should be on everyone's best list. Vanguard's "Ballet for Martha" was a fifth-place phenomenon in 2009, as was Boston's 2000 "RED." Before I weigh in on this decade just past, I have to go ahead and put it out there: my personal favorite fifth-place show in DCI history. I watched it just a few minutes ago, as I pondered this post: "Imago" by the 2001 Glassmen. The extended solo that was woven throughout the show is pure brass hypnotism. Ahhh ... ________________________________________ So to the 2010's, and the stellar top-to-bottom fifth-place finishers. I'll top my list with: Third/Fifth: The Cavaliers' "Wrong Side of the Tracks" 2019 Second/Fifth: Santa Clara Vanguard's "Music of the Starry Night" 2012 First/Fifth: Phantom Regiment's stunningly-dramatic "Juliet" 2011 See now, don't we all love us some fifth place drum corps?
  10. I voted for "Le Reve," one of the Blue Stars' best outings to date, at least for me it was. But I am writing today to additionally sing the praises of "Phantasm." When I saw the show in early season, it looked like a runaway train, too often leaving the performers behind. Man, did that show move! But I thought: well, if they get their feet under this one, and perform the show instead of chasing it, this might break out. Danged it: the old "two more weeks rule" applied: the show was just-about-almost a breakout, that just might have stuck for future development. As it was, the show seemed destined to play to folks too much like Oklahoma's Broken Arrow High School Band from whence "Phantasm's" designers hailed. Thing was: with fewer folks on the field, those designers had much more leeway than the crowd control that the mega-bands require (too often). Still, I wish that show had worked. The Regiment might already be on an upward track.
  11. I'd like to see the Cavaliers' original three-peat, 1961-1963, since I have seen the three-peats during the DCI years. I'd probably like for today's Cavaliers to plumb deeper into some of the music from those three championship shows: "Gypsy," "Oliver," "The Desert Song," and "Porgy and Bess," again. I would also like to see the three-peat that may be in the making. For all of its competitive dominance, the Blue Devils do not -- yet -- have a three-year championship run. One down ... again.
  12. I once saw a musical in previews in New York; a musical that never opened, and that was never at the mercy of reviewers. In fact, watching it play out was fascinating. My seat was on the back row of the section of seats closest to the stage. There was an aisle right behind the seats. Two of the shows' producers stood right behind me for the entire production, talking (yeah, just like sitting too close to drum corps judges) about its merits (or lack thereof), and its potential to make money and become a success. It closed three nights later. But that's not the story behind "Nick and Nora," a musical adaptation of the noir detective series. This was a show with every known pedigree: both lead stars were award-winners, as were the writers, composer ... down the line ... to the producers. It was a lousy show; poorly staged, forgettable songs, bad pacing. But there was this one little written wrinkle that was genuinely funny: a single actor, in this case a woman, played every murder victim in the show. She was shot, stabbed, and strangled, to increasingly hysterical effect as the play wore on. Everyone associated with "Nick and Nora" went looking for new gigs, but it was the luck of the "dead woman" that will always stand out. I saw her, one year later, in her Tony Award-winning performance as Miss Adelaide in the revival of "Guys and Dolls." Faith Prince. Thank goodness for her that "Nick and Nora" -- I have forever called the production "Dick and Dora" -- turned into "Guys and Dolls" Something had to change. __________ Crossmen's finalist run origins and Spirit's three-peat notwithstanding, this is perhaps as relevant a question to pose right now as any other placement. This decade is a perfect example of what can, and does, happen to Saturday night's opening act. And the aftermath; when something has to change. Boston Crusaders' 2016 "Quixotic" was an abject mess of breezeless, inert windmills and a show that aimed for little, no unreachable star, it seemed at the season opening contest. Wholesale rewrites, a nod to "Conquest", an Audible book full of narration, and the chameleon nature of the malleable performers kept the show, and Boston, in finals. By a mere breeze. Its aftermath is the current model for sudden success and relevance in the upper echelons: an infusion of money, which leadership had been growing and stockpiling, made it possible for the organization to lure the just-crowned visual and color guard caption winner designers to a new Massachusetts home. In a single season, the Crusade reached the top six star, instantly becoming a drum corps Goliath. The following year, Madison's Scouts embraced every current design model with "The Last Man Standing," shaved heads and all. It was no Scout outing that anyone had ever seen, much less its apparently angst-ridden alumni and rabid supporters. But the corps was in finals, and was competing with the same metrics as every other corps. Whew ... it will be great to see a modern day Madison model, lots of us thought -- and hoped. Its aftermath became a confounding conundrum, too much current competitive bad cholesterol that caused cardiac arrest in the very masculine chest of the corps. "Too much" ... name the idiom other than drum corps that was leveled. Something must be done to get the venerable Scouts back in the Top 6! Maybe if the corps had played Cher's "If I Could Turn Back Time" this year, that "something" might have worked. Heaven knows the performers gave it their all! So, as show titles would have it, "The Last Man Standing" was Madison's last Saturday night performance as its six decades-long brand. May the full infusion of women into its DNA, help propel this all-time drum corps favorite back to its majestic perch. And finally, this year's Phantom Regiment. "I Am Joan" was an abject mess of inert, homemade looking props and a show that aimed for costume changes and a crowd call-and-chant. Even a fantasy of finals was dashed, it seemed at the season opening contest. Wholesale rewrites and edits, along with the chameleon nature of the malleable performers not only kept the show, and Phantom, in finals, but endeared fans for "what they overcame." (A tacit "I Am Joan".) So here we all are again, wondering what the organization has the ability (resources), will (staff changes), and desire (upward competitive movement) to make happen for 2020. Don't claim recruiting woes: the same type and caliber of performers were in both 2018 and 2019's Pacific Crest. In a comment that has probably outlived its usability, "If there had only been one more week in the season," the crest of momentum just might have been from the west coast, just might have sent "Joan" home before Saturday night. Performers rise. They want to excel. They want immediate adulation from the crowd and judges adulation from the sheets. Seems to me, in the case of our fine founding DCI corps Scouts and Regiment, the question for 2020 competitive relevance is: Will the adult leadership rise to the level of their performers? I always hope so.
  13. I will suggest a different order for the suggestions here: START. STOP. CHANGE. START dreaming of your version of a championship, a finalist, a semi-finalist, or a break-out show today! (You already are, I know.) Dream it. Discuss it. Storyboard it. Then set it aside and go on vacation. Upon your return, and after you revisit the storyboards ... STOP. Hard stop. Consider and reconsider every single second of that storyboard. Can we accomplish this; actually? (Think Jersey Surf's pitch-perfect show for judges, fans, and its performers.) What makes this production our corps' version of its best self? (Keep all of that.The Cavaliers.) What will become over the course of the season groaningly weary for judges, fans, and your performers? (Readers: find your best/worst example of this.) CHANGE it. Now! Don't think that the very first judge in the very first competition won't suss it out, causing you to have to change it on the fly. CHANGE, part 2. Have changes built into the fabric of the production. If it doesn't work changes, but more importantly, changes (layers) to add that will plus the show for all three audiences over time. (The Blue Devils have mastered this. COPY IT! Hell's bells: you copy everything else, often.) Be 2020's Pacific Crest! __________ Since I wrote this, I have read an interesting -- and pertinent -- idea on creativity from choreographer Twyla Tharp. In her book, "The Creative Habit," she emphasized how important it is to have a "spine" for any piece. “The spine is the statement you make to yourself outlining your intention for the work. You intend to tell this story. You intend to explore this theme. You intend to employ this structure… Once you accept the power of spine in the creative act, you will become much more efficient in your creativity. You will still get lost on occasion, but having a spine will anchor you. When you lose your way, it will show you the way home. It will remind you that this is what you have set out to do, this is the story you’re trying to tell, this is the effect you’re trying to achieve. Having a spine will snap you back to attention quickly and, as a result, will inject speed and economy into your work habits. “Having a spine lets me know where I am starting from and where I want to go…It lets me know when I am dawdling or digressing or wasting time. It reminds me that everything I add is either on message or off. Most of all, it lets me know when I’m done.”
  14. I have been considered Forrest Gump~ish (and worse), but: "My momma always said, 'Drum Corps is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.' ” (And ain't that the best part of all?) I hope that every corps brings its championship face in 2020!