1981 DCI Championships (VHS) Review


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1981 DCI Finals Video Review

Hey, all:

(Before I get sucked into this "Old School - New School" conflict, let me state that these are just my own opinions, and that if I personally prefer modern corps arrangements, then I'm not saying that the older ones weren't any good.  If you like them better, then good for you.  Grant me the same courtesy.)

Watched the 1981 DCI "Finals" for the first time last night (thanks Gray!). Actually, in '81 apparently DCI didn't show the Finals in Montreal, but they did show the DCI Midwestern Championships from Whitewater on Saturday, August 8, 1981.  (Got that from RAMD posts in '99)  Here's the scores of that competition, which are announced on the tape.

 1 86.90 Madison Scouts

 2 85.75 Blue Devils  

 3 85.40 Santa Clara Vanguard

 4 84.35 Phantom Regiment

 5 83.20 27th Lancers  

 6 80.65 Garfield Cadets  

 7 80.15 Bridgemen

 8 78.35 Cavaliers  

 9 78.20 Crossmen  

10 77.50 Spirit of Atlanta  

11 73.80 Troopers

12 71.80 Sky Ryders

(thanks to Chris Maher at www.corpsreps.com for the info)

Anyways, on to some random thoughts.

This was kind of fun, 'cause the only other "old" corps broadcast I'd ever seen was once quickly through the '80 finals a few years back, before I *really* got into corps.  :)  I've got the audio back to '72 and before, but only had video from 87 on.  Listened to the old audio once or twice, but it's easier when you can see what they're doing.  So, I approached it somewhat as a clean slate, encumbered only by my modern prejudices.  Well, those being that modern drum corps is higher, louder, faster and better performed. I changed my mind somewhat by the end.

Performance Remarks:

Sky Ryders - Awful uniforms, even granting the 20-year style difference. Nice sound, though.  I thought the drill seemed slow and uninspired, but as the tape went on, I felt that about everyone's drill.  I'm just not a fan of symmetrical drill with an elevator drumline (we go up the 50, then we go down the 50).   You do have to grant new-school DCI that much - that drill has become a million times more complex since then.   Ok, maybe not as precise, but solely as a function of the speed at which current marchers move.  I don't think it's an individual performer thing; more of a design thing.  I like modern drill more.  Having said that, though, it's a shame that there aren't *any* lingering sets from the old symmetrical drill in today's corps.  If you want to see big drill moves and pretty forms, then they're your people.  There just doesn't seem to be as many "memorable" drill sets as there used to be.  Back to the Sky Ryders - they unfolded a rainbow at the end.  Ok, I suppose, but kinda campy.  (again, though, I'm looking at this from 20 years later.  I was 6 when they first performed this, and I bet I would've loved it then.  :) )

Troopers - Nice *huge* rotation of their opening form.  But - my goodness - can the overture from The Cowboys be played any *slower*?!?  Drum solo just didn't fit.  They're fun to watch, though, because they have such a strong sense of identity and tradition that just oozes through the TV.  Watching their '81 show wasn't much different than watching the '00 and '01 shows at the Alamodomw.

Spirit of Atlanta - Baby blue, but ack.  Tuxedo jackets, ruffled ####ies and bowties?  Should've kept the uniforms that they'd used before (and after). What was nice to hear, though, was the same old tunes that they play even now.  Does anyone get tired of Georgia on my Mind and Old Man River?  I don't.  Comforting, much like the Troop, to know that they keep consistent.  The power that everyone says they had in '80 just didn't seem to be there.

Crossmen - Bright jazzy sound.  I liked the capes well enough.  Didn't like the overlapping baldrics.  (And while I'm thinking about it, those DM salutes were just silly.  I know, I know.  I keep saying it to myself - different era.)

Cavaliers - First corps of the night to make significant use of assymetrical drill.   Recycled the step-over move from '80 (and later seen in '98).  I wish all of the corps these days would get rewarded for doing drum-to-drum stuff and backsticking in their solos, and maybe we'd see more of it.  That's a great part of what got me hooked in the first place.  When I saw Phantom 's little riff during the '89 broadcast (first one I ever saw), that made me want to see more of corps drumming.

Bridgemen - One of my favorite shows from the night, and as I was thinking about it, it probably had a lot to do with the quasi-modern colorguard.  A lot more dance-type moves and less straight rigid flag work.  They weren't as out-there funny as VK, but they seemed to be more on their toes musically.  More like the late 80's VK, when the music was out there to be taken in its own right.  Lady in the Feathered Hat (or whatever the full name of that solo was) was great!

Garfield Cadets - Upon further review, I'm glad the Cadets developed their Americana persona during the next few years, 'cause I don't know if I could handle hearing them play Adventures in Time any more.  Just didn't fit.  Of course, I'm looking at it with 17 years of hindsight, but dang.  That was weird.

27th Lancers - Never really got a chance to watch much of these guys, 'cept for the '94 reunion.  Listened to them a fair bit, but haven't sat down to watch them before.  I liked 'em.  Even if Niner-Two seemed a little out of place with the rest of the stuff, they were still . well, "classy" would be the best term.

Phantom Regiment - Spartacus!  '02 Regiment should play this.  20 years and all.  C'mon, guys, it's just some great music!  The Roman props didn't seem to fit that well.   I'm so glad they added plumes to the helmets.

SCV - A bit of assymetrical drill, but not as much as you'd expect from the guys who first put it out there.  I remember that much from my '80 tape! Just speaking for me personally, I thought the Devils' show was better.

Blue Devils - Liked the 88-92 jackets better than these.  Ruffled shirts just look, well...  Only corps of the night that seemed to jack up the tempo and energy to what I'm used to hearing from later years.  Probably my favorite corps of the night.

Madison Scouts - If you want a hoot, cue this one up and listen to Malaguena.  It's almost a mini-history of drum corps to watch that one, then '88, then '96.  I almost wish they'd play it again in '02 so we could see how corps has further evolved.

After watching the performances, I had to revise my opinions of older corps. It's a gross disservice to say that the performers aren't as good then as now.  Just not true.  Those soloists were absolutely the equal of those you'd hear now.  The snares were playing some wicked rudimental stuff really cleanly.

However, overall what you get a sense of is the degree of sophistication that's been added to design since then.  The performers in '81 weren't really any more (or less!) proficient than the performers in '91 or in '01. The main difference looks to be the degree of difficulty in the marching and subtlety in the music.  The old corps had cleaner forms, but were also moving a lot slower and less frequently  (I wasn't counting drill sets or anything - just a general impression).   Musically, they seemed to be louder, but sounded more like "block" arrangements with less . I dunno... intricacy?   In the horns, I think that's a pretty good development since then.  If you can play a whole show of 16th notes at 180, then do it.  It's what the drummers have been doing forever.  Don't keep your horn books simple if you don't have to.  In the percussion, I'm not so sure that I'm a bigger fan of today's "hands off" approach to percussion writing than of the older "rolling thunder" background rumbling drumlines.  Sometimes more notes *is* better.

Oh yeah, and the pit.  I think pits are a little too big right now.  (9 and 10 people permanently grounded seems to be a bit much.)  However, making people march the bells is just sick!   And don't get me started on marching timps.  Ack.  Those poor people.  There's gotta be a happier medium in there somewhere, where you can still get the nice sound of the pit's timps and mallets (with tenor and bass voices) and not have 8% of your corps not marching.

Speaking of more notes, I've got a few questions:

When did multi-tenors really come into their own?  There looked to be a lack of degree of difficulty in the parts that is fairly glaring.  Pretty much sextuplets and sixteenths.  Not a lot of rolls, or split drum stuff, or sweeps, or any of that.  Was it one or two guys behind the evolution of the parts, or was it just a gradual move?

(Also, when did tri-toms get phased out of the top 12?  Seems like most corps were using quads even back then, but a few still had 'em.)

Everyone was also using 6 and 7 basses.  When did that come down to 5?  Was it just a gradual thing or fairly sudden, like the '91-'92 switch to free-floating snares?

Anyways, this was just some random superficial thoughts.  I'm curious to hear from others who've been going back and trying to learn.  Did you come away (like me) with a better understanding of the evolution of corps design and an appreciation for the performers, or did it just turn you off completely, or did you decide that 70's / early 80's is the acme of corps, or what?

Thanks,

Mike New

menew@bga.com

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Today's corps do a lot of tremendous things on the field. What I miss about the 70's and 80's is the precision. Since the performers weren't moving as fast back then, one could stop and appreciate marching technique and squeaky clean intervals. For example, the 1985 DCI yearbook has a picture of SCV's soprano line in action. Visually, it's pure perfection...toe angles, alignment, carriage etc.

Today, I appreciate drumcorps for its sheer physicality, not so much for its precision.

-Art

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:D WOW.1981.That brings back memories.My first year in Bayonne(I was 15).I remember with awe being in Olympic stadium in Montreal(and Club 321 on St Catherines st)LOL.It was almost too much to handle,but drum corps youngins(well at least the ones I knew) seemed to handle being in a huge stadium and a strip club pretty well then.Dont know if things like that go on these days,but  those days definately "addicted" me to this "sport" I love and have continued to be a part of to this very day.

:) J

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"SCV - A bit of assymetrical drill, but not as much as you'd expect from the guys who first put it out there.  I remember that much from my '80 tape! Just speaking for me personally, I thought the Devils' show was better."

If you go back and look at the 1980 finals again, you'll see that SCV is NOT the only corps to use assymetrical drill. Unfortunately, they get all the credit for it ALL the time.

C.

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To answer the tenor question.....Tenors started playing more notes when Tom Float started teaching the Blue Devils in 1982.Before then the snare line had all the "notes".In 82 Tom started giving his tenor line a "snare book" approach.(ie alot more flams)Listen to Paradox 82,83 and you'll hear what I'm talking about.The tenor line at devs from 82 on has been known as the Q-5.Even though there have been many fine tenor lines from many corps(you'll find that 90% of em have been taught by a BD Q-5er)ie Mike Stevens Q-5 89-90 began Cadets tenor line success in early 90s,Vern Johnson Q-5 88-92,taught VK 93-94,just a few examples.)Anyway,The Blue Devil Q-5 I believe has been a kingpin in the evolution of tenor drumming since 1982.They to this day continue to be arguebly(sp?) the most respected line on the feild.And for you Cadet 2000 tenor break fans....John Burbank VK 93-94(also a student of the Q-5 way of tenor drumming through Vern Johnson).I hope this helps. :)

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Glad you got a chance to see the 81 video, even though the audio quality is pretty frightening, and Carmen Appice seems to have had a few, um, ####tails before the telecast...

Tri-toms (in the midwest we all called 'em 'triples' - was that a national shorthand?) were already on the way out by 80. By 81, I think almost everyone had added the extra drum or two. Interestingly, Bayonne was one of the last corps to hang on to triples, suprising given that they were the line to beat in those years - and the only ones to show up with sharks' teeth in the center tenor's opening (in '80).

Up until 79, pretty much everyone had triples, but in 79, Devils, Cavaliers, and ...North Star (?) showed up with quads or quints (were there others?) Drum sizes also started to shrink - typical tenor sizing was 12"/14"/16" in the 70s, to be replaced by smaller diameter drums starting in 79/80, until the point where the gok sometimes seems to be the heart of the set - but I digress...

There were a few variation in tenor voicing the next few years (SCV and Cavaliers both tried the "split line" approach, with sections of higher voiced and lower voiced tenors). Fred Sanford's scoring for the split voice can be heard well on the 'Stone Ground Seven" solo in 80, Dan Spaulding's tried the same approach with Cavaliers in 82. By 83, it seems that the current voicing was pretty much set.

It should be noted that the Kilties in 1978 were actually a bit ahead of everyone else in this department, fielding (if I remember correctly) a line of tenors with snare drums in the center ("snipples"?). I'm not sure that the concept made it all the way through the season (I was 18, and drinking a lot that summer, so forgive the memory lapses), but they were there in the beginning. Actually, the 78 Kilts had a pretty forward thinking approach to drums overall, using a grounded set of concert tympani (the only DCI corps that did) and using octabons and congas in the scoring. Yikes, maybe the drum instrumentation revolution of the 80s actually has its roots in Racine...

Tenor books were comparitively easy to today up until about 82-83. No doubt Float and BD had an influence, but so did Ralph Hardimon's books for Vanguard in 81/82/83. In both cases, the tenors were more technically exposed and more melodically integrated than in the years before. IMHO, the influence on current modes of writing for quads/quints has its base in those two arrangers' work as much as any.

Oh, if you have the 81 tape, I'd suggest you look closely at the wide shot of the Cavaliers snare line during "Sing Sing Sing" (right after the extended backsticking segment), and try to read the phrase being spelled out by the snare line's sticks. It takes just a second on the screen, but if I remember, we spent a good long afternoon figuing out the logistics of how to spell a short if vulgar compliment to a woman's prow using nothing but 10 pairs of sticks... I KNEW there was a reason I wanted to march an all-male corps... :P

Matt

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That was a great contest at Whitewater. It was the first time that the top 25 was in one place for a contest other then Championship Week.  What was a big surprise was Madison winning the contest and vaulting into contention for the Title. I think it was the "Whitewater Effect" but I'll admit they put on a HOT performance that night. All in all it was a great night of Drum Corps. I also would LOVE to see Phantom put Spartacus on the field again. Yeah, the props were a little cheesy but, man did they sell that show. 2 weeks later in Montreal, it was so loud at time in the Stadium that you lost track musically what the Corps was doing. Stadium itself didn't help either.

Jim Wolf

N. J. Black Watch 71-77 :)

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Today's corps do a lot of tremendous things on the field. What I miss about the 70's and 80's is the precision. Since the performers weren't moving as fast back then, one could stop and appreciate marching technique and squeaky clean intervals. For example, the 1985 DCI yearbook has a picture of SCV's soprano line in action. Visually, it's pure perfection...toe angles, alignment, carriage etc.

Today, I appreciate drumcorps for its sheer physicality, not so much for its precision.

-Art

Arthur, I like your flexibility.  You recognize the decrease in precision but still appreciate what's going on today.  I also have a great appreciation for the precision of the "old days" and wish there were some way to bring it back.  I'm trying to appreciate today's shows also, but find that I don't relate to the asymmetrical drill like the old symmetrical drill and that I really have a hard time with most color guard shows today.  But I'll keep trying!!

-- Andrew

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Did you come away (like me) with a better understanding of the evolution of corps design and an appreciation for the performers, or did it just turn you off completely, or did you decide that 70's / early 80's is the acme of corps, or what?

Well, Mike, I haven't seen the video you mentioned (but I definitely will  :) ) I have watched some old Cavies and SCV tapes and I can say that I'm anything but turned off.  The video is not as good quality as the recent DCI stuff, but I actually liked most of those old shows better.  I really appreciate the precision in marching and color guard - something I find lacking today.  I can't say that I've seen enough yet to understand the "evolution of corps design" but I hope to get to that point someday.  I can see things that have changed and I know what I like and what I don't like, but I don't have a good historical perspective on how the changes were introduced, how quickly, etc.  But I'm going to have a lot of fun learning!!!

-- Andrew

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