Lisle Cavalcade of Brass - quick thoughts


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This is my 7th or 8th time at this show, and I have to say it's one of the best run events in the country. Beautiful venue, great seating, good concessions, good listening environment. Now if only the stadium didn't face due west at sunset...

Colts up first. Loved the show last year, this year seems a step back in terms of sophistication. Lots of vocal scene work between actors that dominates the show, rather than one central character holding it together with a few pieces of linking narration. But I thought they were pretty off when I saw them first last season about this time, so we'll give them some room.

Boston's got some good ideas in the mix, but the show seems determined to take itself so seriously that I'm not sure how the casual observer finds an entrance point (not many moments that stand out alone as being obvious high points). Very nice vocal soloist work - interested to see how they develop what they have here.

Crossmen have put a tarp where the front ensemble usually lives, and move the pit back on the field, which gives them a feature area downstage, but also them puts a huge group of equipment between the front staging area and the rest of the field, making the actual field smaller. Not sure if this pays off in terms of breaking the continuity of the field.

Crown's battery is significantly better than last year, despite what any early scores say. The Albinoni arrangement is a model in how to write for drum corps that is enough like the original to be respectful while still understanding the needs of this medium. Great color choices throughout. Best guard out there, to my taste.

Bluecoats are, aesthetically and technically, on a different plane from everyone else this year. Their use of on-field speakers to give a visual element to the sound is, simply put, the way that amplified sound should be used in the first place, and for that alone, the activity will have them to thank in the years to come. That being said, the show is visual and musically well-integrated, and sophisticated compared to the field - but it's lacking some of the emotional impact of last year's program, at this point in the process.

Cadets have a total package. Awesome percussion line, great horn sound. For those who objected to last year's narration-heavy show, this is classic older-school design (there's some voice work, but it's subtle enough so no one except the most irascible dinosaurs should be bothered). The "ten" spelled out on the field is unfortunately cheesy, so I doubt it lasts past mid-July.

Cavaliers are a good news/bad news story. Good news is that the show is much better than some of the early reads on Thursday morning. Very demanding brass book, and a highly dense battery book (probably too dense). Guard is a major improvement from the last few years. Bad news is that the staging is a mess. Battery never moves forward of mid-field, even during their features. The trombone quartet in the second piece seemed to be unsure where the downbeat is, and the distance between them and the battery doesn't help. Some very solid drill moves here and there, but overall, they've got to take a serious look at visual re-writes, and find a way to link Run Boy Run into the rest of the show, since right now, it's the miniskirted cheerleader sitting in the middle of the black tie string quartet, and does little to move the show forward.

Looking forward to seeing how all these shows develop in the weeks ahead. Should be another very good year for the activity.

Edited by Slingerland
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I grudgingly have to agree with all your critcisms of the Cavaliers. The battery begins playing an 8 count intro to the show and doesn't stop untill the ballad. There is not one complete measure of rest and they play A LOT of notes. Dense is an accurate description. Once the ballad is finishing up the battery joins in again and does not stop until the final note. The drumline is very good and of course the pit is top notch. I agree with the percussion being staged toward the back of the field but SCV won drums in 2004 with a similar staging concept for the battery. That description of the trombones is spot on. From a visual standpoint I think the black sash and guantlets diminish the visual impact of the drill. The only help the performers get in that department are the white hats and the white on the shoulders of the uniform.

Bluecoats execute very well but I'm not buying the audio concept. It seems as if the designers took the the crowd reaction for the "tone bending" last season as a cue for a show concept: They have decided to sample creative brass effects and rebrodcast it and build an entire show around that. The problem is they leave the volume knob (of the samples) on eleven when the brass line is only capable of ten (Cadets reference unintended). You can really hear the diffence between the natural sound of the performers and the amplified effects. Once they get the mixing board figured out you won't be able to tell the performers from the re-broadcast sample. And that leads me to the problem I have with this show. Its an electronic sound effects show. It's cool but I philosophically cannot condone it as the direction that drum corps should be headed. When you set aside the philosophical objections to the audio design concept the performance is top notch. This is a very mature drum corps that has a distinct identity. The drumline has a very good book and they perform with swagger, fully justfiable swagger. I have some issues with the color guard that I discuss further down.

The Cadets can play. Every member is a gunslinger whether it's horns drums or guard. In contrast to Bluecoats its a gimmick free show and that's saying a lot with George Hopkins at the helm. My only problem is I don't recall and "oh wow" moments except for a battery feature on the left side of the field (side 1). I blame this criticism on my attention deficit disorder. I have to pay closer attention the next time I see them.

I wasn't a fan of Crown last year but I am this year. Their drill is easy on the eyes without all the props on the field this year. And that guard. I thought they were far better than the competition. They start off the show with a full guard in unison feature with optic green flags. The exposure to error is in steep contrast to every other guard last night. You can see their implements clearly. They are not afraid to display unison guard work and its finals-week clean already.

When comparing the Crown guard to Bluecoats the difference is profound. Bluecoats are pushing giant chrome spheres around the field. It's true that members are performing acrobatic maneuvers in the spheres but I don't want to waste time watching a member performing an impossible balancing act in those spheres. I just don't get a visual bang for the tremendous number of bucks spent in the jungle gyms. You would think that the spheres may be complemented with rifle, flag or saber work right. Nope, they use chrome "D" shaped implements that are virtually invisible. With Bluecoats show title "Kinetic Noise" the spheres just don't contribute the kinetics. They seem sort of Teletubbies sedate.

A number of guards at this show were using muted colors. I can't see them from the last row. The biggest impacts with flag design so far are Crown and Madison (which I saw in the theater).

The brass demand on the top four finishers were comparable. There were lots of triple tounging riffs. Cavaliers in particular have a sustained feature that seems to suggest a throw-down for a brass battle (al la drumline battle). This is Crown's contribution to the drum corps activity. If you're thinking of auditioning for a finals corps in 2016, pay attention to what your horn solo must include.

Edited by Cavie74
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Great reviews from both of you

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Both are great reviews. Much thanks!

It's going to be exciting to see where these shows are come mid-season and the end-season.

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