Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: June 25, 2014

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The rain relented and five World Class drum and bugle corps took the field for competition on June 25 at 7:30 pm at Gateway High School’s Antimarino Stadium (about ten miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as the drone flies). Your reporter was there with his thirteen-year-old dancer daughter, who was attending her first drum corps show since she was five years old.

We arrived early for the conclusion of the Bluecoats ensemble rehearsal and their run-through. The hornline was working ‘Hymn of Acxiom’ before the run. The corps had dealt with a rainout and rain for the preceding two days. The staff complimented the marching members on how they dealt with the adversity. My daughter was duly impressed with the rehearsal and run. I pointed out that the body work that the entire ensemble was doing was virtually unknown twenty-five years ago. She was focused mostly on the color guard, obviously.

After enjoying a picnic dinner, my daughter and I went to the lots. We watched the guards and percussion of Spirit and Boston Crusaders, and got to hear a little bit of Spirit’s hornline. I wish we could have been in two places at once so that we could have watched the first part of the show and the warmups of the Cavies, Cadets and 'Coats.

Having already seen the ‘Coats, my daughter was convinced they could not be topped, and was incredulous when I said that the Cadets would win the show. During the lot section of the evening, we saw The Cadets horn line proceeding to the warmup area, and she said, ‘We’ll see if they live up to your hype.’ I just shook my head and smiled.

The stands were full on the left side (as you face the field.) I was not able to ascertain whether the other side was as full. If there is ever another show in this venue, I will need to remember to bring my sunglasses, as the sun was directly in the crowd’s face for the first three corps.

The Bluecoats brass ensemble (about ten to twelve horns) played a reverent and very professional arrangement of ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ Someone felt the need to have a quiet conversation on her phone during the playing of the anthem. Unimpressive. If I were to be charitable, I think that there are some people who simply believe that the rudeness of not answering the phone or cutting off the conversation outweighs the rudeness of talking while something else is going on. Of course, these people are probably not being as reflective as I think they might be.

This show was notable for the lack of fuss from the announcer. I have been to places where every band director, the superintendent, the president of the band association, etc. had to be recognized, and the announcer felt the need to steal the show. Not here. The corps were the show. Kudos.

Spirit of Atlanta has a lot of room to grow. There were some notable timing issues between the battery and the pit. The colorguard wears magnolia flowers in their hair. I like the guard unis and the silks – as usual the color presentation (and I don’t mean the American flag) is very effective. The highlight of the show so far is the Porgy and Bess medley and the trumpet soloist in what is, I believe, ‘Willow, Weep for Me.’ From a compositional standpoint, I very much wish that the melody of ‘I Need Thee Every Hour’ was not a sampled vocal. Another solo or even a sung chorus would have been just as effective and would not have implied that it is now the role of a DCI hornline to be relegated to a backing ensemble for a prerecorded pop track. Fifth place, 64.7.

Boston Crusaders has a dark, brooding show full of aggressively and accurately played classical music, with a number of impressive visual elements to which I was not fully privy due to the aforementioned sun in my eyes. I was impressed with a very exposed and well-played flugelhorn solo from the front left goal line, with a bunch of colorguard animals (no offense) leaning on her. As has been noted, the ‘Animal Farm’ theme is not explicit, at least so far as I can tell. I very much wish that I would have been able to ‘see’ the show. This was the least colorful corps of the evening from an appearance standpoint. A closer fourth than I thought, 71.0, which possibly means, though I haven’t seen the recap, that they are being well rewarded for composition and encouraged to achieve to the content.

The Cavaliers received a warm welcome from the crowd. These are still the six-time world champions. And I was very pleased. Ten marimbas on the sideline piqued my interest and increased my sense of anticipation. The show theme is your typical Phantomish ‘death and resurrection’ motif, but it works just fine. ‘Danse Macabre’ by Saint-Saens has not been performed by a World Class corps before – why in the world not? I was whistling it all during intermission. The aforementioned marimbas are featured to extreme effect, then a jazzy interpretation changes it up a bit. My daughter admitted to a little bias when she saw the all-male guard, but her mind was opened. She liked the gossamer black silks scarves which I believe were featured in ‘When I Am Laid in Earth.’ If you are a Cavies fan, you are extremely pleased with the response the show is getting and the effect moments, which are there in spades. You are perhaps concerned that Crusaders show may have more demand written into it and therefore more room to grow over the course of a two-month tour. 3rd, 72.9.

INT was the same as last year. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) But if Allentown has its funnel cakes, Pittsburgh has its haluski, a cabbage and noodle recipe which I was unwilling to risk buying but of which I was kindly given a sample. I’m not a big noodle fan, but I love cabbage.

After the brief intermission, The Cadets entered the field. (Bluecoats waited in the track behind the end zone for their show). Two minutes in, my daughter understood the hype. I believe that this edition of The Cadets will be remembered for a long time. As he did last year with Samuel Barber, Jay Bocook seamlessly weaves together Copland compositions as if they belonged together (which should make Joe Allison lose his mind once again when he judges General Effect.) Despite what some think, the narration is NOT intrusive (it’s Lincoln Portrait, folks.) My ONLY complaint is that the Presidents are not quoted completely accurately, which is off-putting for amateur historians. As usual, the drumline throws down in jaw-dropping fashion. My daughter was absolutely blown away by the professionalism of the guard and especially their unison work. And for those who have been around drum corps, the strains of Promise of Living and Appalachian Spring will conjure up treasured images of a bygone day. Is this 1996? 1987? No, it’s 2014, and it doesn’t feel like a recycle, it feels like a repristination. 1st, 77.6.

As anyone who has seen it live or on video will know already, Bluecoats’ theme pervades their show in almost every visual aspect, from the body sculpting to the ramps upon which guard members and musicians march, slide, balance, lie down on, etc. This composition is matched by the achievement of the members. I would not have been disappointed if this show had won. The highlights of the show for me are the featuring of the individual brass sections, including some of the tastiest writing for tuba that I have ever heard, executed in exhilarating fashion. The musical AND visual antiphonal effects in ‘Hymn of Acxiom’ are masterfully performed. The Cadets draw me in with their lyricism; the Bluecoats with their aggressiveness; the WOW moments are there in spades in both shows. My daughter’s only negative observation was that the spacing of the props was sometimes sketchy, which disturbed the overall presentation. I pointed out that the same thing affected The Cadets production last year. 2nd, 75.5. I would have had a larger margin of Bluecoats over Cavies, and MAYBE a bit closer to the maroon team.

Bluecoats immediately arced up for their encore presentation. A beautiful brass chorale, then what I believe was the drumline feature from the show, followed by the full corps performing the closer. Then the drumline put down their instruments and we heard a beautiful ‘Autumn Leaves,’ and the hornline concluded by playing ‘The Boxer’ from down on the track.

I am very glad we left the stands and listened to the scores from the gate. We got out in good time, but I am SURE there were people sitting in that lot for at least an hour and possibly much longer. To get out of the lot and to the interstate you had to make a left turn at an arrow which was allowing six or seven cars at a time and exchanged with a red light which was at least two minutes long. Note to promoters: get the police to direct traffic next time.

Great night with my daughter and I am so glad she enjoyed the show so much.

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Awesome...thank you. I stayed for awhile after the show. Left the parking lot at 9:50 and it took me twenty minutes to get out. It seemed much longer, though. Well worth it.

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I really loved your review. Well done!

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