SCV's show was an epic musical fail.

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As someone also studying for his BM, I’m confused how someone could go to Juilliard and come away with such a two dimensional sense of what good music is. I’m Confused with several of your points, esp

There's a well-known and studied psychological phenomenon called the mere-exposure effect (also called the familiarity principle). It means people develop a preference for things merely because they a

57 minutes ago, BRASSO said:

 No, this is not what the Theory implies at all. It does NOT suggest that repeated exposure to something results in a " preference ", nor even " a liking " for it. You need to reread what the Theory is attempting to advance. Without going into detail, it suggests a " more positive " reaction can be noted by repeated exposure,  in other words, its possible to dislike it less, upon repeated exposure, the Theory claims.. The Theory makes no claim at all about one " preferring " or " liking" something that previously was " unliked ", or " unpreferred" upon 1st exposure. Its quite possible, with repeated exposure,  things become less odorous, than initial exposure, but still " unpreferred " and still " unliked " by the recipient(s) despite multiple exposures to it.

schooled the self proclaimed  "scholar" :thumbs-up:

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9 minutes ago, year1buick said:

Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D. would probably agree. I, on the other hand, thought it was ******* great

De gustibus non est disputandum


EXACTLY, what I thought of when the OP said "It's entirely possible to judge it objectively and even place it (roughly) on a universal scale from bad to good."

That said, I don't disagree with a lot of his points as they relate to many show designs over the last decade.

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2 hours ago, SWriverstone said:

There's a well-known and studied psychological phenomenon called the mere-exposure effect (also called the familiarity principle). It means people develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. Put more simply, if you listen to lousy music long enough, you'll start thinking it's good. (This isn't opinion—it's fact.) 

It's clear that DCI audiences are suffering from this effect in a big way. Witness what DCI judges considered the pinnacle of shows in 2018 by awarding it a championship (SCV). Now I get that drum corps is more than just music—it's "art" (though I could make a case for why it really isn't, even at the highest levels). Drill, choreography, difficulty, etc. are all part of the activity. But the emotional underpinnings of any show are the music. You aren't going to be swept to emotional highs by a single high rifle toss or a big two-handed rimshot. The music matters—a lot. 

I've spent countless hours of my life studying, listening to, and performing music of all kinds. I have a BM degree from Juilliard—which doesn't make me more knowledgeable than anyone else—it simply certifies that I'm very knowledgeable about music—and what distinguishes good music from bad music. Contrary to popular belief, music isn't "in the ear of the beholder." It's entirely possible to judge it objectively and even place it (roughly) on a universal scale from bad to good. (If you're someone who believes the quality of music is entirely subjective, you're a hypocrite—because you logically must say the same about everything in life—which I'm sure you don't.)

So on to SCV's show: I've watched it several times. Not dozens or hundreds of times—because remember the mere-exposure effect? I'm not going to destroy my judgement by watching it every day for the entire summer (like the corps members and staff do). The first criterion for great music is that—on the first listen—it moves you. If it doesn't, then it could easily be argued the music has failed. Some might argue that it's not just the music in drum corps that should move you, but the collective experience of music, drill, and choreography. Fair enough. But nobody would argue that the music has a far greater impact on a show's general effect than either drill or choreography. And drill and choreography don't even come close to having the emotional impact of music.

I watched SCV's show with an open heart and mind. I love SCV! I always have. And I give every show the benefit of the doubt because I want to be moved emotionally. When I watch a drum corps show, I want to have tears in my eyes. I don't give a flip about how cleanly a difficult move is executed. It's interesting, but that will never move me to tears. (That's a bit like trying to be moved to tears by a brilliantly-designed coffeepot—it ain't gonna happen.) While watching (and listening) to SCV's show, I paid attention. I focused on the melody (or absence of it), the harmonies, the transitions, the tempo changes—I sat back and let it wash over me without judgement.

It left me cold and feeling completely flat.

After hearing it the first time, I thought "Okay, I'm just not familiar with it." (There's that principle again!) So I watched/listened again. And again. And in what is a testament to the absolute sterility of the show's music, familiarity didn't help at all. Every time I listened to SCV's show, it was just as pointless and unemotional as the previous listening. Here's what I noticed, repeatedly:

There were no discernable, memorable melodies in the show—and by melodies, I mean a sustained melodic line lasting at least 8 bars (at the same tempo) that very clearly moves from point A to point B in an emotional arc. (Think of just about any Beatles song, any Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, or any Beethoven symphony.) Even after repeated views, I couldn't sing along with 2 bars of this show (and I have a good ear for remembering melodies).

There was no sense of a grounded tempo anywhere in the show—by this, I mean a chance to get into a groove—to feel the pulse of the music and actually have a chance to tap your foot or rock gently along with it. Tempo changes were so frequent they suggested a kind of musical schizophrenia—arrangements driven entirely by the drill and perceived difficulty.

NOTE: Even some of the most brilliant, avante-garde compositions in music history hold to a steady tempo for at least 16-32 bars—I'm thinking of pieces like Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps or Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra orJohn Cage's Third Construction.

There was no overall sense of continuity—no feeling of going on a journey from the beginning of the show to the logical conclusion. Despite the flowery descriptions creative staff come up with to justify their shows, SCV's show was quite literally like a long series of 1- or 2-second cuts in a video, each one jarring, seemingly designed to be as abrupt as possible.

This was, plain and simple, an epic musical fail. (And therefore, a fail of a show—in spite of winning.)

Some of you reading this will think I just don't get it. Okay—I'll humor you: I get cubist paintings. I get architecture by Frank Lloyd Wright. And I get music by Steve Reich, Igor Stravinsky, Vincent Persichetti, John Cage, and countless other "challenging" composers. I have a very sophisticated musical ear. My favorite composer is Charles Ives—I've listened to his Concord Sonata hundreds of times—and every time I hear something I didn't hear before. (And trust me—Ives' Concord Sonata is light years ahead of any DCI show in sophistication.)

Some of you will think I'm just an old fart who doesn't understand current music. At this I just shake my head and laugh: have you noticed that people still love The Beatles, Beethoven, Mississippi John Hurt, and Joni Mitchell? This music isn't any less relevant and popular today than it was 25 or 100 years ago.

When it comes to music, you can't get rid of the fundamental elements that make music great without destroying it:

1. It moves you emotionally on the FIRST listen.
2. It is memorable—you can actually hum or sing some of it after one hearing—and ALL of it after several hearings.
3. It has a steady, consistent pulse that you can slip into and feel—in a sustained way—while you listen.

SCV's show had NONE of these qualities on the first hearing (or second, third, or fourth). which is why I call it an epic fail.

What disturbs me even more than SCV performing this show (who has a long history of connecting emotionally with audiences through great music) is the fact that DCI judges apparently reward this "music" that is devoid of any characteristics of good music. Yes, I know—they're judging more than the music (I already acknowledged this), but the judging community has lost its way. Clearly judges are more focused on difficulty (in the form of chaotic, disjointed shows packed with tempo changes and 32nd-note runs) than they are on emotionally connecting with audiences.

In many ways, I guess we've gotten what we deserve. It's widely acknowledged that young people today have an average attention span of seconds. Maybe show designers are catering to this? Maybe we—as an American species—have lost the ability to focus on something more than 10 seconds without needing an abrupt change? Listen to pop music today and it's clear that it exists on a level far lower in intelligence than it ever has in the past (just look at all the hit songs about nothing more than partying). Even the Academy Awards have officially decided movie audiences are dumb–they've created a new Oscar for "Best Popular Film."  (Because a popular film can't be intelligent or have depth.)

If anyone out there disagrees with my premise that SCV's show was a musical fail (and I'm sure hundreds or thousands do), feel free to explain (hopefully in more than single-syllable words) why you think it was great. Tell me how this show moved you emotionally. And as proof, record yourself singing some part of SCV's show and post the MP3 here. :-) (Corps members and staff who performed/arranged the show aren't allowed–your impartial judgement is long gone).


!lebab si ,dneirf ym dias uoy gnihtyrevE

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29 minutes ago, BRASSO said:

I actually WAS captivated " emotionally " by rifle tosses made by some Corps at Championships, Scott..... as much as, or even more so in some cases, by music passages that may have captivated you more " emotionally " than the high rifle tosses and catches. It would be perhaps presumptuous of me to tell you you should not have been as " emotionally " captivated by a music or brass solo, as a magnificent rifle toss and catch.  But thats not my call. Thats in your personal domain. I would hope you would extend to others as well that what captivates them " emotionally " in Art, Music, Movies, Theatre, etc, is not your call, and is not in your personal domain either, Scott. You know what I'm saying ?

Exactly.  Each individual has a different way (and combination of ways) of representing the world internally.  Some are more visual, some more aural, and others rely heavily on the remaining senses. 

Since the OP went to Juilliard to study music, he likely prefers aural thinking.  No surprise that he doesn't feel much from the visual emotional triggers, of which there are so many in the various shows.  

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Thanks for all the good replies everyone. Of course—everything I say is my opinion. It's my hope to sway some people to my way of thinking, and I know everyone won't agree. 

To those who asked, I've NOT watched other shows from this year yet, but will—and am happy to offer my thoughts on them. And you'll never hear me attack anyone (or their opinions) personally—though sure—I have no problem with calling SCV's show a musical fail.

And there are probably some who'll say "well if you haven't watched any other shows then shut the eff up because your opinion is meaningless." I think much in these conversations is timeframe-dependent. Most younger drum corps fans by default will think only the last few years of shows is important and everything earlier than (to pick a year at random) 2014 is ancient history and lame. LOL

There are other folks (I'm one of them) who've followed the activity for decades and have a higher-level view of how it's evolved over the years. I don't expect someone who's 18 to be able to effectively compare the music in today's shows to the music in a 1999 show. I haven't yet watched all the top 12 shows from this year, but I've watched a lot of shows over the past many years.

Speaking of 1999 (and maybe this will better frame my original post), Santa Clara's opener that year, "The Canyon," was one of the greatest openers in drum corps history. Musically, it was brilliant—one seamless musical thought from beginning to end, supported by a spectacular drill that perfectly fit the seamless flow of the music. Was the execution sloppy? Sure—but it still packed an incredible emotional punch. (I could say the same about many other SCV openers and shows from the past.)

I'll address a few specific posters' thoughts and comments later-gotta get some work done now. :-)


EDITED TO ADD: Just wanted to say "The Canyon" has all of what I believe are the critical elements of great music: it has a sustained melodic line that repeats (and you can remember); it has a steady rhythmic pulse that runs throughout the entire opener; it sustains a single musical thought beautifully from a quiet an climax...and then a long, gradual decrescendo to a beautiful ending.

ALSO: I should have clarified a few things in my original post: first, as others have said, I think the individual performances of the corps members in SCV's show is amazing. And I'm making no comment whatsoever on the quality of the choreography, the execution of difficult moves, etc. The core of my argument is that everything else in drum corps depends on the music—if a corps went out on the field and did nothing at all but stand there and play great music, I'd be willing to bet that people would enjoy that show a lot more than one where the instruments got left on the sideline for the entire show while the corps ran and danced their butts off doing amazing physical feats in perfect synchrony.

Edited by SWriverstone
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A wino once explained to me that the wine I was drinking tasted bad, and that his sophisticated wine (which I really didn't care for despite its cost) was superior. And since the differences between the two could only be noticed by someone who had worked so hard to develop their pallet, like him, I'd just have to trust him over my own senses.


The thing is, that explanation did not make me enjoy his wine any more, nor enjoy my wine any less. If this is ignorance, I'm happy living in ignorance while enjoying the wine, and the drum corps, I like.

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