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Some thoughts after week 1

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Mandarins – strong edition. Attention grabbing concept and props. Key melodic line is sung rather than played – how do you find it?

Blue Stars – lots of props and literal imagery supporting War and Peace theme.  Excellent brass. Remain distinct in approach

PR – relatively gimmick free no-nonsense drum corps. Soon to be classic arrangements & fan friendly

Cadets – back on form with Cadets-y written books. Conveyable theme

Cavaliers – some neat effects but more to come to add value from the theme

SCV – solid rather than spectacular just now. Likely to be a grower

Boston  - strong execution. Remains to be seen how high Paradise Lost theme can lift this production

Bluecoats -  bring their unique brand of music and visuals with a trippier theme than ever before

Crown – a potentially magic combination of Crown strengths allied to pageantry and tech effects

BD –have form for making these esoteric concepts shine. Too early to tell if this will be another 2014, 15, 17 or a 13, 16, 18.




Here’s an assortment of thoughts on the design side of this year’s shows, purely based on Flo impressions so tends to be quite remote in perspective, and largely agnostic of performance aspects.

As a general comment I wonder if we will look back on 2022 as  part of the time period of known as ‘peak prop’ – where the late 00’s was ‘peak drill’?  For prop driven effects, arguably, Bluecoats raised the bar with Tilt then Downside Up, SCV with Babylon, and then Devils set the latest standard for prop utility and theatrics with Ghostlight.

For me, the key considerations for prop usage are how:

a) versatile/slick are they to move?

b) quickly can performers get on and off?

c) well do they  enable effect (aka surprises)?

Certainly the c) becomes more difficult with each passing year as corps become ever more proficient at programming then delivering ‘the process’, and this brings with it a risk of increasing homogenisation, and for props in particular; a law of diminishing returns.

Where might drum corps innovations go next?


Onto the shows…


Mandarins have gone big with their props this year utilising a large wall prop and several Czech Hedgehogs to support their Other Side theme.

The costuming is, imo, great for the musicians and gives them a flatteringly athletic Tron-like appearance. The guard is striking too in futuristic pink tones.

The show starts with a military march on vibe and strains of Pink Floyd’s The Wall which makes for an effective opening. Mandarins are one of several corps this year that use Trombones to good effect.

One interesting part in the show is when the wall prop is rotated and brings real world jeopardy to the notion of hitting your dot!

With it being early days I’m not yet getting a strong sense of what The Other Side is or getting to it entails, but expect this will develop.

The slow section of the show may divide opinions due to the inclusion of a male voice solo, but I like it  - and to date I’ve generally been anti-microphoned-singing. This soloist has a soulful voice and using a headset enables him to be integrated into the visual picture. He returns again at the close out of the show - drum corps loves ‘the rule of two’! Would this solo part be better served by a screaming soprano? Opinions will no doubt vary!

Early impressions are that 2022 will be a good year for DCI with many corps, Mandarins included, who are on top form.


Blue Stars

It took me a while to recall what the guard costumes reminded me of, with the brightly coloured Victorian dresses…Sky Ryders 88…love that show! It’s part of Blue Stars going whole hog with commitment to the theme in their costuming. I’m less enamoured about the musician’s costumes which combine variations of a military overcoat with different coloured tops underneath that are of a more modern look. For me, the adherence to the theme comes at the expense of a powerful and uniform marching silhouette down the line.

The start of the show includes a skilled baritone solo leading into a hit that indicates Blue Stars have some brass chops again this year.

Prop wise there is a lot on the field. Chez-lounges, desks with tankards, dressing screens, and canons! It won’t perhaps be to the taste of those who prioritise ‘cool’, and I have some concerns about the cluttering effect, but in current times variations in approach should be embraced, and Blue Stars will certainly stand out this year.

Mid show, a high brass fanfare leads into an up tempo section of the show replete with drill in the aesthetically pleasing style Blue Stars have become known for.

If there is a story being told I’m not yet getting a sense of it, but there is plenty of high quality marching, playing, and spinning on view. This looks to be another strong, and distinct year for Blue Stars. Long may that continue!



Cadets start on side two, setting up a show  based on an East to West coast journey inspired by the beat poet Jack Kerouac. The show gets straight into representing the hustle and bustle of New York – no yellow taxi’s (yet?!) – with some fast and frenetic drill and music alongside body work that will be effective through its snappiness. For the first show the opener seems to be the most well developed section of the show, as one might expect at this stage of the season. Spelling things out in the drill does risk seeming hackneyed these days but the NYC forms nicely and lines up well with the narration.

Cadets are perhaps caught between a rock and a hard place with expectations around their costuming. Personally, I like this year’s incarnation of the white with burgundy accents. There is an argument about how well the costume fits the theme but see earlier comment. Perhaps more value are observations around the fit of the jackets. The on-field de-jacketing works pretty well to reveal a burgundy t-shirt underneath. While balancing the need to be physical performers (and the challenges shakos and plumes present to this), it’s still quick and easy to spot who this corps is and I think that’s refreshingly different in this age of show specific costuming and something to retain.

The guard are dressed in lemon shades and on the video at least they seem to lack a bit of contrast with the musicians but it might be fine in person?

The nature of this show built around some narrated musings is likely to invite comparisons with Bluecoats but the subject matter and interpretation is quite different. At the season’s outset, Cadets have quite limited effects conveying ‘the journey’ but I guess that is likely to change as things progress. The second number, for me, is the weakest currently. I’m not sure St Louis Blues is an ear-worm in the same way as Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy or Swing Swing Swing, with which it may well be compared. The visual picture seems quite congested at times and two and a half minutes is a long time for free form and cut loose. As I type that last sentence the contradiction is apparent between the wish from many for music that’s less chop and bop and like the one above when that’s just what you get! I suppose there are no rules, only how well something works on its own merits.

The slow piece contains some nice work musically and visually but I'm not yet seeing the narration reflected on the field.

I enjoy it when corps find effects that are simple and effective. The transition into the 4th movement is one of those with the solo musician and talented featured dancer leading to an exposed solo rifle toss.

The closer is not all run and gun as has been the case in years gone by, but there is a neat section where the hornline unwinds to ascending runs in the pit leading to a company front that starts the finale. A small gripe is that the corps seems to hold the final chord for a long time, seemingly inviting the audience to stand. Those extended sustains have been a feature of the last ten years or so and used by many drum corps. Personally I prefer it when the culmination of a melodic phrase is used to get the crowd on their feet. Cadets do have form for refining their endings as the season progresses.

It remains to be seen where Cadets take this show and how much layering is added to convey the journey / beat poetry / time period. Will there be any effects based on the Rear View Mirror / reflections?

Based on first viewing I’d say they have a good vehicle here to set them up for a strong season and great crowd reactions.


Phantom Regiment

It took about the first minute of watching their first performance to allay any doubts as to what PR are about this year. While the show is called No Walk Too Far, it could equally be called Powerful Music with Great Drill, and that would suffice. This seems to be one of those shows where no deeper concept is needed and shoehorning too much in to in theory add depth could actually detract?

The corps is costumed in white, with the black lattice lines that are also mirrored on the stage props. The guard are in red costumes and overall it’s a strong clean look. The stages are able to be moved around quickly and serve to give height to performers but I’m not sure the program would be any weaker without them?

Musically, the Phantom sound is back, none more so in the second movement where the trumpet riff brings back memories of Freelancers playing John William’s Adventures on Earth. This movement may well generate a mid-show standing O later in the season.

The slow piece includes some nice solo work and eye pleasing purples and pinks as the brass are staged across the field for a rousing peak.

The closer seems set to be a Phantom classic, complete with contras charging down the 50. If the early reactions are anything to go by it will likely be a crowd favourite too.

This program seems set to get Regiment back to where they were 10 years or more back and I look forward to seeing how it progresses.



Signs of the Times is a concept which seems to be based around a play on words. Cavies have been on an upswing in recent seasons and their fans will be optimistic about what ’22 may bring.

The opening of the show includes a warped clock tarp and a large “the time is now” screen prop on side 2. Is it just me that thinks Alice in Wonderland regarding the clock tarp? The show kicks off with some clock effects reminiscent of Cadets 2000 before quickly moving off in a different direction.

Like a couple of other productions, as things stand I’m not sure if the concept will add value beyond ‘cool music and visuals’. The side two prop changing the words to The Time is Now and then Our Time Is Now seems a little passive and may well pale in comparison to Crown’s take on the ‘being in the moment’ concept.

The costuming is neat with the palette evoking Cavaliers traditional colours and a different look when facing front and back, along with a blue accent that pops. One small gripe at this early stage is that because the blue accent is on a free moving clothing part, it does detract from the sense of crispness and uniformity during ensemble body movement, but that might just be me, and only when viewing through a computer?

An early highlight is a section with runs in the brass and three sets of silks that slow down and speed up with the music. Soon after there is a neat visual swinging pendulum effect – more to come here?

IIRC Cavies are the only one of the top corps to go with 16 contras and they have a solid pyramid to their sound, at least to my untrained ears.

The movable props are low wedges representing clock hands and the corps use them to restage while the percussion are playing a feature which is neat. Otherwise their usage is fairly standard for modern props.

Currently, the recently added closer seems the weakest portion – the flag toss and Harry Styles sample is not yet the highpoint it could be and the corps transition towards the wedge props but with less velocity than normally associated with a classic Cavies ending. While there is some classic Cavies visual effects in this show, I hope there’s more to come!

Overall I expect they will be right in the thick of things competitively and this show may well be a grower for me.



I’m intrigued to know more about the off-season discussions for this show. The concept seems to be a play on the dual meaning of “Nirvana” -  the Buddhism inspired transcendent end place and the 90’s indie rock band. For me, it remains to be seen how well this concept translates to effect realised on the field. First impressions are that Vanguard are very proficient across brass, drums and guard, but there may be some questions that will be answered in due course around high points and a lack of goosebump moments.

The program starts with an interesting opening set and the musicians dressed in white offset against the guard gives a strong visual look from the stand, particularly when the bicycle step technique is married to clean feet.

There have been a lot of opinions expressed to date around the costuming and I share some of those around the silhouette of the musicians. Put succinctly, the costume isn’t cool in the way 2018’s was, and seemingly would benefit from some colour or other adjustments.

2019 attracted some criticism for being a little one paced, and while I don’t think there’s the exact same here, there does seem to be an absence of full throttle marching compared to some rivals. This may be partly remedied once the closer is on the field, and Mr Gaines is the master of ‘how do they do that’ transitions so who are we to doubt? 

One aspect that is a little surprising is the choice of props – which have less utility and contribution to the show than most of the top tier. For much of the show many of the twenty or so props remain unused and are only climb-up-and-downable right now. Once they are restaged in-field it gives a  segmented feel to what we are seeing, which I felt was a similar issue with 2019’s poles.

Musically there is plenty of meat in the brass book and snippets of Nirvana are woven in, particularly the “Hello, Hello, How Low” motif. However, it doesn’t immediately grab me as a barnstorming book, but I will file in the grower pile!

There are perhaps more negative comments here than for others, but undoubtedly SCV have another very solid product and strong corps.  I’m just not sure, at this early stage, how high it will fly in a season where maybe half a dozen corps have similar competitive aspirations. That said, I may well read this back at seasons end and think what complete rubbish I wrote!



Boston have been clear their multi-year programme is “Building a Champion”. Some are wondering if this might be that year?

Either way, Boston are on an upwards trend this year and I think this concept gives them more scope for innovative theatrics in keeping with 2017 and 18, above 2019.

The 2022 costumes see the hornline in white, with what seems to be a Napoleonic period drama influence. The drums in black (Satan the serpent?) and guard in bold red sets a very strong presence on the field, as do the large polished metal tree sculptures.

Boston are another group who this year seem to have strong sections across the board and their execution scores will likely be right up there. They seem as well prepared as any coming out of ST. Visually their programming seems notably more sophisticated this year. Some transitions and evolutions seem more BD in style but retaining some elements of more linear run and gun.

Time will tell how far the Paradise Lost theme will take them. At the outset of the season it’s plain to see the story telling is still embryonic, and I’m intrigued to see how well they can suck the audience in as things refine. Presently I’m struggling to apply my basic knowledge of the story to what is evolving in front of me across 11 minutes but I’m sure that will change.

My initial concern was that the large, and presumably heavy, props would necessitate being static, but the slow piece mid-show see the props tipped over into a rather cool effect as they are rotate around in unison. The view into the cone shape, with the members perched within, giving the impression of being caught in a spider’s web?

At this time, I’d say the Wonderful World movement is the strongest and the effect mentioned above does leave a sense of playing their strongest card quite early in the show. There are plenty of notes and demand elsewhere, and a percussion section who look set to more than hold their own.

The fourth movement brings plenty of energy and a great trombone visual – we’ll see your half dozen trombones and raise to twenty! -  that is simple but effective, and what to my eyes appears to be crazy fast pair work in the guard. Props too to the soloist in the percussion feature who plays a lot of notes whilst ‘cavorting’ across the field.

Who knows how high this show goes? I would find it difficult to make prediction in this uber-competitive top tier, but they too will be right in the thick of things in this top tier.



For several years now Coats have represented the leading edge of ‘soundscapes’, based upon programing which I would guess has included the most widespread, and well integrated, uses of electronics.

On first viewing the opening of the show suggested to me that there were props from at least three different shows on the field together, but the reasons for this soon become apparent. This year’s show takes a turn further left field from The Beatles into what could be described as an Easy Rider inspired road trip, and all the 70’s psychedelica that this entails.

For me, this is a great example of where narration works well to enhance a show. Curiously what is actually thematic exposition, seems anything but, largely due to the rather bizarre subject matter!

As with all of the top tier it seems this year, the corps is strong in all sections. Musically I think the selections are growers, it’s the visual effects that grab the immediate attention, and they’re marching as well as any. Some Bluecoats tropes are evident such as the running introduction of the hornline, slickly executed body movements, and plenty of electronic effects in the music.

The wheel axle props and the movements around them are really cool. The costuming continues in the vein of recent years with a stand out aesthetic. Interestingly, one feature of the diagonal stripes on the musician’s costumes is that from the high cam it gives the impression of the members marching in a half squat position rather than standing tall as they actually are. I’m not sure if this perception is also there when viewed live?

I’m sure that this show will be highly competitive and highly entertaining. If I have a doubt, it is whether this concept, which is basically a retelling of a dream, will enable as strong an emotional finale as some years  - does the viewer become accustomed to the wackiness by the latter portion of the show? How will they make the ending resonate?

… but then the same could have been said of Downside Up early season and look how that turned out!


Carolina Crown

Crown’s intro and overall approach is bound to generate opinions. It’s different gravy to anything else in DCI this year. For me, the choice of narrator is great, and the intro works really well in setting a new agenda. One observation is that the countdown leads into a low key intro when a big bang might be a more logical conclusion but that is soon forgotten as Crowns brass line thrown down a ton of tonguing technique in the opener. Lots of notes in the pit and battery seems to be the default approach for most corps opening shows these days!

Rather than props, Crown have raided other elements of the pageantry portfolio. The hide and seek silks work well, and the full field streamer effect later in the show is of epic proportions.

In contrast to the grand scale of much of the show, the slow piece has very little movement among the musicians allowing the glorious choral sound to shine. The opener and closer have plenty of musical demand as you’d expect and this year I feel the visual design is leading edge too. For the first ten minutes or so I was thinking the wobbly-rolly prop was superfluous but then it does integrate well in the closer’s frenetic drill.

I’m not sure on the specifics of the app but it seems to be encouraging crowd participation at key moments. This show already has a 2013 vibe about it but if the app effectiveness gains momentum during the season then this show could be set to take Spartacus’s crown for crowd buy-in to a theme come finals.




Blue Devils

The props for this show,  and indeed the show in general, generate fleeting resemblances to Metamorph, which in fairness isn’t a bad comparison to endear! The use of shading on the props gives a neat sense of angles and perspective from the stand. An observation is that that the props don’t seem to harbour the potential for theatrics compared to the 2019 edition, and 2022 might well come down to such fine margins!

The costumes follow what I suppose could be described as a standard look now for BD - this time with shimmering blues in keeping with the theme.

The opening set of this show resembles a corps photo but taken by a trendy contemporary photographer, and the ensemble movement is effective performed to a scene setting voice over. It’s a while though – 90 seconds or so – before the brass play a note in the show. In years past this opening might have been a pre-show?  Once they do get going, and as we’ve come to expect, BD throw down a ton of notes in the early part of the show.

The Moon River portion evokes similar emotions to the slow piece from 2017. The soloists and woozy harmonies create a powerful musical soundscape. This is sure to be one of the highlights of the summer.

The Tank section is another strong part of the show with a cool groove leading into some challenging tongued sections.

Visually, Devils are written off year after year by some but for me there is an aesthetic quality and sophistication of transitions to their visual package allied to top notch performance. That pattern looks set to continue this season along with some moments of high exposure.

If there’s been a weakness in some BD shows then, for me, it can be the last minute of their productions which can be solid close-outs rather than goose bump inducing. I wonder which camp this year’s closer will fall in to by season’s end?

It won’t be controversial to suggest that Devils will be duking it out at the top this summer, and I think any other groups are going to have to have to catch fire to beat them.




Edited by grimmo
Tidy up
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