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Blackstar

What's going on with Crossmen?

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To be honest, the corps has never had that strong of an identity that you could hang your hat on. They got close in the 90s with some consistency in terms of style of music, but even then, most regular fans would be hard pressed to come up with 3 or 4 adjectives that could describe the corps' persona, and that the staff could use when considering what to do and how to do it.

What's wrong this year? Uninspired arrangements (actually, kind of aggravating arrangements, given the nature of the original pieces) and a visual program that has very little in the way of style. Well, pick either a visual motif that can be consistent year to year or pick a musical approach that can be consistent year to year, and commit to it for a few years until you can perfect it.

Other corps who fell on hard times and turned themselves around did it by figuring out what was missing in the 'market' of drum corps styles, deciding on a formula and an approach, then sticking with it. If Crossmen's leadership can figure out who the corps should be and what they should sound and look like, they can start programming toward that model. But, to be honest, it appears that for a number of years they've been flailing about indiscriminately, which makes them look weakened and directionless.

But 2010, unfortunately, looks like another year of Friday and out.

it could be Thursday and out this year.....

GB

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I've been a critic of Guidry's stuff for drum corps. I've echoed statements of others - impressed with his HS stuff, not impressed with his Xmen stuff. I mostly like this year's show, but I can understand the criticism he still gets.

However, I think it's short-sighted for someone to suggest "they're in 17th, they should get rid of Guidry." It appears the Xmen are not competitive in all areas - firing Guidry isn't necessarily going to change that. Don't confuse placement and personal taste. For what it's worth, with respect to my musical taste and BD's brass arrangements, I would've fired Wayne Downey several years ago. This, of course, would have been stupid. I just don't like what BD is doing musically these days.

Also, after chatting with Guidry a little last night in the drum corps chat room, he seems pretty down to earth. If you have criticisms, I'm sure he would listen to them.

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OK, I'll play...

It's easy to armchair quarterback, and they certainly have their issues for sure. Definitely not above being criticized. But a couple things I'd like to address:

1) They ain't moving back to PA. It's silly to even bring it up.

2) They ARE young and inexperienced. They can do a better job of recruiting and attracting more talent in the state, IMO, but that's a conversation for another day, and for the people who are more directly involved. They took a hit with a lot of vets jumping ship after last year and they're dealing with the fallout. A return to a show and some music the corps has had success with before was not, to me, the wrong idea. The members seem to really like it. Fans seem to be liking it more and more. We'll see how it goes by the end of the year.

3) Arrangements. I'm an enormous Pat Metheny fan. I marched in the 1991 Crossmen Metheny show, I taught the 1998 and 2002 Metheny shows. You're going to hear a lot of differing opinions when it comes to his music. I know many '91 folks who hate the '98 show. I know many '98 folks who hate the '02 show. You're not going to please everybody, especially when you decide to play music that the corps has played before. Comparisons are inevitable. I'm sure a lot of '84 Cadets and their fans hated the 2009 version of WSS. It happens. All they can do is work to make this the best and most exciting show for them THIS YEAR, and not worry about comparisons to corps from the past.

And when you choose to play songs like Heat of the Day and First Circle in drum corps, you're talking about two songs that are like 10 minutes long each. You have to chop them up to some degree. Will anything be like the 1998 show when it was about 95% faithful to the original arrangements? No. Drum corps has changed. His music is amazing. It's also repetitive and has phrases that sometimes take an extremely long time to develop. Listen to the '98 First Circle and that wonderful pit feature in the middle. Some of my favorite stuff ever. Was it absolutely necessary for them to play through essentially the same very long phrase TWICE however? Not really. I'm glad they did and it worked back then reasonably well, but they didn't absolutely have to. The show may have moved along more quickly, perhaps, if that second nearly identical phrase was cut out. My guess is the same kind of treatment of keeping all that repetition in would not work in today's DCI. One thing that gets hammered these days, right or wrong, is when a show is too laboriously paced. Too much time developing phrases and the show is perceived to lag. Do I agree with it? Not always, but sometimes I do. That's why Metheny's music is so difficult to translate to the field, and that's why so few corps have been able to pull it off with any degree of success.

As it is, all I was looking for from these arrangements for the modern day Crossmen was for them to capture the spirit and overall sound of Metheny as best as a modern corps could do. I actually think First Circle is the best thing in the show. I think it's about as faithful to what those particular phrases should sound like as I could have expected. He really doesn't mess with them much at all. The other tunes he takes more liberties (mostly in Minuano), but each song has their moments when it sounds as much like Metheny as it's supposed to. When he deviates, I think he's at least deviating in the right area, especially since the First Circle rhythm and melody are SUPPOSED to be what tie the show together. It's hard for me to knock the arranger for going back to those melodies when that's what the show is about. The circle is the whole point, visually and musically. With that in mind, I think the arrangements are suitable, way more often than not.

4) Excellence is what is currently keeping them back. A lot of that is inexperience, some of that is getting used to new staff, but that's where they're at as a drum corps right now. Inconsistent performance. Average talent. Again, would people think differently about this corps right now if all those vets who left to march other places came back and the corps was performing a lot better? I actually think they would. I like the show. It's pretty no nonsense stuff. The Crossmen. Pat Metheny. No story lines. No vampires. No narration. No abstract ideas or preaching concepts. It's all pretty simple to understand. And to be honest, as concerned as I was before I heard the show this year, when I got there and listened, it brought a smile to my face just hearing those songs coming from the corps again. Call me sentimental and naive if you like. All I expected and hoped for from the Crossmen this year was for me to like what they were doing on the field. I could always stand for better execution, but I actually like this show, and I'm a bit surprised more people don't. And maybe I'm just listening too much to the DCP folks on this. I haven't seen them perform live since their preview show in San Antonio, so I have no idea how crowds are reacting to them. Maybe more people like it than people are giving them credit for. All I know is that I like it, and based on what I know of the members, they like performing it.

5) Style and identity. People have been asking about it, wondering if the corps knows what it is or where they want to go creatively. I think this is the first year of trying to re-establish an identity. It's not going to happen in one year, and I think if they use this as the foundation, they can build upon it in years to come. Whether that means bringing in new designers as they do, or tweaking staff here and there, as I would expect, then that's what will happen. But for me, this is the closest show to what I want to see from the Crossmen as a fan and alumni than anything they've done so far since moving to Texas. And you can throw in the last several years up north as well. You can't change the world with this stuff in one season. This will take some time, and I get the sense from talking to those involved that they are using this to build forward. I'm willing to give it a chance. If people somehow expect to wake up tomorrow and see them look and sound just like the 1992 Crossmen, they're going to be disappointed. They deserve to find their own way in a rapidly changing activity. They do respect and honor the Crossmen corps of the past, and find great motivation by what those corps represent, but I think it's entirely appropriate for them to find their own voice and direction. They dropped the ball last year in a big way. They're paying the price for that and are trying to rebuild. Give it time.

Gary,

I have to disagree with you on several points...........

(1) You infer to the main problem competitively with the Crossmen at this time is execution......I don't agree....I was at

2 shows thusfar.......I believe they are executing ok for this time in the season. I also do agree that they are young

and that things take time to get there. HOWEVER, when you are a race car driver and asked to race, and your

car can only do 200 mph and the others can do 235....you have a problem. If they had a strong musical program

and simply weren't executing it, I wouldn't be writing..........

(2) THE VEHICLE......ie the arrangements, are, and have been sub-par. For whatever reasons, the leadership has

remained loyal to the brass arranger, and he's not getting it done. That is where the 35 mph above is. The concern

has been expressed by many to the current leadership, and has fallen on deaf ears. The sad part is that the members

are working their tails off trying to drive a "flawed car"..............suggestions and even offers were given to

leadership, and they refused.............how long will this go on..........

(3) In closing, the leadership are nice people, and although they will be taken as such, my comments are not

personal. If a coach is hired at a college basketball team, is given 3-5 years to implement his system, and the

team is still losing, it is probably a good idea for him to not take out a new mortgage. Yet, the loyalty to the brass

arranger here remains........we are not dealing with BOA here, and going up against high school bands is way

different than major drum corps. Until the corps brings in a new arranger who can write exciting charts to put the

corps back in the thick of things, the competitive success of the corps could continue to fall.

I expect the corps will execute and perform what they have well by Indy. However, the VEHICLE itself will be what largely holds them back, in a big way.

GB

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Yeah, BD/Downey really is a fantastic analog to Guidry/Xmen. So much in common.

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Because jazz in drum corps is boring....especially latin jazz (i.e. Madison)

If anything makes drum corps sound like a HS group, its jazz......not even the HS that goes out to BOA competitions, or any rather.

Remember when phantom did really good when they played jazz....oh wait.

If I was a perspective member and a corps tried to market jazz to me as their forte, I would definitely bail.

...and those complaining about it sound too "soleily" , it seemed to work for phantom in 08 when they used a song straight from a cirque production and put it in their show.

old dinosaur is old.

33arknq.jpg

Yep.....Channel One Suite and Ya Gotta Try (Blue Devils Jazz) were so boring (much much sarcasm implied)......

you might want to check it out, if you have ever listened to anything more than 5 years old.........

GB

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I've been a critic of Guidry's stuff for drum corps. I've echoed statements of others - impressed with his HS stuff, not impressed with his Xmen stuff. I mostly like this year's show, but I can understand the criticism he still gets.

However, I think it's short-sighted for someone to suggest "they're in 17th, they should get rid of Guidry." It appears the Xmen are not competitive in all areas - firing Guidry isn't necessarily going to change that. Don't confuse placement and personal taste. For what it's worth, with respect to my musical taste and BD's brass arrangements, I would've fired Wayne Downey several years ago. This, of course, would have been stupid. I just don't like what BD is doing musically these days.

Also, after chatting with Guidry a little last night in the drum corps chat room, he seems pretty down to earth. If you have criticisms, I'm sure he would listen to them.

Thanks for stating this. I agree with much of what you said. It's generally accepted that making it into the top 12 these days is more about how well you perform your show rather than what you perform. They're very inconsistent performers right now, as to be expected with so many new and young members. Also, you are dead on about Aaron Guidry listening to and appreciating feedback, good and bad. He knows what the criticisms are, and from what I know about him, he cares very deeply about the Crossmen and giving them a great product. He has also been very receptive to having experienced drum corps programmers and designers help him address those issues and get better at what he does. He's an easy target for the critics, and a popular target (it seems) for many DCP folk. I suggest they actually try and talk to the guy. I think they may be surprised at how accessible he can be.

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Because jazz in drum corps is boring....especially latin jazz (i.e. Madison)

If anything makes drum corps sound like a HS group, its jazz......not even the HS that goes out to BOA competitions, or any rather.

Remember when phantom did really good when they played jazz....oh wait.

If I was a perspective member and a corps tried to market jazz to me as their forte, I would definitely bail.

I guess the part that doesn't make sense to me is: if jazz doesn't work on the field and bores the members, why program it? If you want to play a show drawn from wind ensemble repertoire with some power chords and fast drill tacked on to the end, you'll have plenty of company in DCI. On the other hand, if you want to program jazz, then why turn it into something musically so alien to the original material?

...

And when you choose to play songs like Heat of the Day and First Circle in drum corps, you're talking about two songs that are like 10 minutes long each. You have to chop them up to some degree. Will anything be like the 1998 show when it was about 95% faithful to the original arrangements? No. Drum corps has changed. His music is amazing. It's also repetitive and has phrases that sometimes take an extremely long time to develop.

...

That's sort of the same thing that went through my head on my first viewing of Crossmen 2010, but why do Metheny if the drum corps idiom today forces you to ignore some of the most obvious aspects of his music? It's pretty hard to believe that many high-scoring corps are succeeding with close-to-the-original takes on symphonic repertoire (Crown, Cadets, Blue Knights) but nobody could succeed with a close-to-the-original jazz piece.

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I understand the Pro/Con-Guidry stuff ... but rep?! Everybody was finally happy they went back to their "roots"...

AMEN. Why try and re-hash shows that BoA bands already do like they've been doing the past several years and not making finals. At least now they're trying to be themselves and groovy.

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I don't disagree, but it seems they're going in the direction of NOT flailing about indiscriminately with this show. They're actually going back to an area that they've had success with before and trying to make it their own in a rapidly changing activity. Their success or failure will depend on whether or not they can 1) make this show as exciting and entertaining and competitively viable as they can for this season, and 2) whether they can provide an experience for their members that is fulfilling and fun and enjoyable and makes them want to return. They'll make changes and alterations to their staff and design team as any other corps will do, but they have to start somewhere. Unfortunately, they fell off so badly last year, they've made the road for themselves longer and more difficult, but they're doing what they have to do to turn it around.

Quick, tell me what was Carolina Crown's identity and style before 2003? I think you'd probably get a number of different answers on that one, and a lot of vagueness, but not much in the area of a solid style or identity. Then they came out with their bells show and made a commitment to a certain direction. Was that show anything great in the big scheme of things that season? No. It was OK. Not great, not bad. Decent, smartly put together, appropriate for their talent and staff. They finished 10th with an 86 something. If it was 2010 and that exact corps had done that exact show, guess where they would be? In the 13th-17th range trying to make finals.

I think the Crossmen have some strong pieces in place to be successful, and I also think they have some areas of glaring need. They're aware of this and working to address those areas. As I keep saying, this is going to take some time. You mix and match, you try certain things, and sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. It's not an exact science. If it were, a whole lotta other corps would have figured it our by now and it wouldn't have taken corps like Bluecoats, Blue Stars and Crown this long to get where they are (and where they seem to be going!).

It's interesting that you mention Crown as an example. Yet, the reasons for their meteoric rise are not an accident. They assembled a stellar staff, who not only laid out how to get things done, but provided the VEHICLE for success. Do you think they would be where they are without Mike Klesch's arrangements? Without Donnie VanDoren and the rest of their brass team providing methods for success? Crown's rise has been to developing a program of playing great musical arrangements well, and then working in the rest of the pieces. That complex, yet that simple. The Crossmen have had the opportunity to choose a new brass arranger....yet have remained loyal to an arranger not getting it doen....they have not addressed this, which has been the most glaring area of concern for years now, and the result is obvious.

GB

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I guess the part that doesn't make sense to me is: if jazz doesn't work on the field and bores the members, why program it? If you want to play a show drawn from wind ensemble repertoire with some power chords and fast drill tacked on to the end, you'll have plenty of company in DCI. On the other hand, if you want to program jazz, then why turn it into something musically so alien to the original material?

Who's playing wind ensemble repertoire this year?

Crown, SCV, and Blue Knights are all playing orchestral music.

BD is playing some abstract jazz, and Madison's playing some old-school jazz.

Bluecoats and Spirit are each playing a wind ensemble piece, but aside from that they're playing orchestral music and movie music.

Cavies are playing some pop and jazzy tunes, and a piece originally written for brass band.

So, once again - where's all that wind ensemble repertoire you're talking about?

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