Drum Corps International "Tour of Champions"

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Review: DCI "Tour of Champions" in Murfreesboro

by Alan Compton

DCI Tour of ChampionsOn Friday, July 26th, Drum Corps International hosted another event in their summer-long marching arts series, Tour of Champions, at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Competing in these events are the drum corps that held a top-seven placement at the DCI World Championships the previous year. I had the pleasure of attending the Murfreesboro ToC show this year and I have to say - it's a good year for drum corps. 

Here's a quick look at the event, from my perspective:   


Drum Corps International has made some major improvements in their efforts to interact with their audiences. Many drum corps have traditionally taken a very stoic, militaristic approach to their public persona, making many of the groups almost unapproachable and even intimidating to some audience members. While this is admittedly very enjoyable in its own way, many DCI spectators would like nothing more than to get up close to the members of their favorite corps, watch them perform, and maybe even converse with them.       DCI has begun placing solo performers and small ensembles from each of the corps both on the field and in the souvenir and concession areas prior to the start of their events to perform to and interact with the spectators. This helps most audience members feel like they have a more personal connection with the performing units and has an obvious, positive effect on audience reaction and morale.      I also have to give credit to the individual groups' marketing and promotions teams. Souvenir design keeps getting better and better, year after year.   

Corps Performances

The Cavaliers – "Secret Society"
7th Place – Score of 84.35

After having a lukewarm year and a seemingly green (terrible pun intended) corps in 2012, The Cavaliers seem to be on the upswing this year with their show, "Secret Society." Performing the music of movie soundtrack icons Hans Zimmer and Michael Giacchino, among others, their show is based on the inner workings of the enigmatic society, the Illuminati. The brass and percussion sections begin the show with their bodies and faces obscured by hooded black cloaks. This has a very ominous effect and gives an elegant flow to all of their movement. The corps performed very well, although there were some front-to-back ensemble timing issues. The drum corps purist in me really wanted to see the drumline don the corps' signature Aussie hats, but alas, their heads remained bare for the second half of the show.   

Bluecoats – “…to look for America”
6th Place – Score of 87.10 

First off, I have to say that Bluecoats have some of the sharpest-looking uniforms this year.  Their monochromatic long coat, reminiscent of USMC dress blues, gives a very clean, refined look, appropriate for their show on Americana. The show features a variety of musical genres, from Ellington’s jazz classic, “Spring” (from The River) to Igor Stravinsky’s Ebony Concerto, and even selections from popular artists, including Simon & Garfunkel, Rufus Wainwright, and Leonard Cohen.  The corps begins in a parade block formation, with the drumline playing a traditional military cadence, complete with unison vocalization and horn flashes.  This theme is brought back throughout the show with the addition of three sets of mobile aluminum bleachers that are utilized all around the performance area, allowing a couple of “passing in review” parade moments. The visual package, created by Jon Vanderkolff and Jim Moore of Blast! fame, is largely multi-focus with solid moments of unity. This, combined with highly skilled and versatile brass and percussion sections, makes for an enjoyable look at multiculturalism in the United States.         

Phantom Regiment – “Triumphant Journey”
5th Place – Score of 87.20 

Phantom has taken a refreshingly traditional approach to their show this year, using minimal props, no narration of any kind, and synthesizer only to reinforce their music instead of dominate it. Their show tells a story of a princess, imprisoned by an evil witch and her frozen Treant minions, and her journey of personal growth. She discovers her inner warrior and fulfills her destiny by leading her people into battle against the queen and her evil tree army. Phantom’s brass section was certainly the highlight of the show for me, especially their performance of Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations. This piece is a long-time favorite of mine, and this moment in Phantom’s show was truly beautiful. The corps’ brass section and colorguard share in the prop manipulation, taking on the role of the frozen tree army by carrying around 8-foot, white, skeletal trees that are cleverly integrated into the drill to “attack” the princess. The other main character, the evil queen, comes to life in the form of a 12-foot, pole-manipulated puppet that I’m sure some of the kids in the audience are still having night-terrors over. She wasn’t pretty. Overall, it was a great performance, but it took the first third of the show to really pique my interest.   

Santa Clara Vanguard – “Les Misérables”
4th Place – Score of 89.90 

SCV’s show hit home with me this year with music from my favorite Broadway musical, Les Misérables. The show follows in the footsteps of Tom Hooper’s award-winning movie, with similar overly-extended, pore-revealing close-ups and extremely poor performance on all of the songs written for the character Javert.  I’m only kidding… There was none of that, although I’m sure camera use has been brought up in the DCI board meetings as a serious suggestion. We mic soloists already; I guess the next logical step would be seeing them live on the Jumbotron. Santa Clara performed the music from Les Mis beautifully and they have one of the most musical percussion books of the year. Santa Clara has once again accessorized their traditional uniforms, giving the instrumentalists a look reminiscent of the 19th-century French military with the exception of the corps’ trademark long-plume Aussie.  Definitely one of the best shows of the year, and certainly a contender for placement in the top three this weekend at the World Championships.   

The Cadets – “Side By Side”
3rd Place – Score of 91.00 

Cadets are performing the music of one of my all-time favorite composers, Samuel Barber. They also happen to be performing it very well. Their show this year includes segments from Symphony No. 1, Adagio for Strings, and Medea’s Dance of Vengeance, all by Samuel Barber. Those of you that know my background might wonder how I feel about them playing Medea, since I marched with Star of Indiana in 1993. I have to admit that I was a little torn on the subject when I first learned of their choice to include that piece in their show. I have to say, after seeing them perform it in person, that I was actually pleased with both the arrangement and the performance of the piece. There is very little in their arrangement that can be directly related to Star’s 1993 show because their arrangers deeply intertwined Medea with elements from both Symphony No. 1 and Adagio for Strings. I also caught something that might be a very subtle homage to Star ’93, which made me smile a bit: right as the corps begins to play Medea, there is a solitary flag soloist on the back, right corner of the field. Her flag solo continues through the first xylophone solo in Medea and travels up to the front left side of the field. The flag she is using (and is the only one to use) is bright orange with black lines, which look similar to the blood vessels in bloodshot eyes. It just so happens that the last flag used in Star’s ’93 show, during Medea, was essentially the same flag, only it was red instead of orange. The Cadets have a very strong corps this year, with one of the best battery percussion sections I’ve seen in a long time.  Colin McNutt and his staff have done exceptional work with that drumline.  Overall, I really enjoyed their show, especially the segments from Symphony No. 1. I would have made different decisions in the color scheme for their props and color guard. Those colors were a bit unsettling against the corps’ traditional burgundy and cream uniforms.   

DCI Tour of Champions
Carolina Crown – “E=mc²”
2nd Place – Score of 91.10 

Crown’s show is my favorite this year, hands-down. Their brass section is absolutely unreal and their show design is unparalleled this year. Their bold uniform change proves to the drum corps world that they are not necessarily tied down to one look and are not afraid to adapt absolutely everything to their show design. Their new uniforms have bright purple pants, wide-shouldered black jackets, shakos that look like almost like an eccentric bishop’s mitre, and a very telling, hot pink line running from their left ankle all the way past their head into their plumes. They look a bit like something that 1980s Grace Jones might wear to a performance, and I love it! Their show is inspired by the human passion for discovery and innovation. Their show is in five movements – Discovery, Energy, Obsession, Mass/Attraction, and Speed. Their musical selection draws from the works of Strauss, Glass, Silvestri, and Lovatt-Cooper, with a focus on Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra and Phillip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach.  One of the highlights of the show for me was the percussion feature in the middle of the show.  Arranged from a portion of Einstein on the Beach, the percussion feature is fast-paced, mixed-metered, and simply fun. While the drumline is taking care of business up front, there are four live vocalists singing the metered number sequence which act as the “lyrics” to Einstein on the Beach. Later in the show, the hornline gives a veritable clinic on passing an extended run from one end of the section to the other and back again. Carolina Crown is certainly my pick for the world champion spot this year. The high brass trophy is probably already in the bag.   

Blue Devils – “The re:Rite of Spring”
1st Place – Score of 92.15 

Blue Devils have been on a winning streak for the past few years with a string of extremely busy, esoteric shows that seem to wow the General Effect judges at every show. This show is no different. Drawing from Don Sebesky’s jazz treatment of Rite of Spring, Darryl Brenzel’s The Rewrite of Spring, and vaguely from the original, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, their show focuses on the ritualistic, even animalistic elements of the original ballet. The field is scattered with tall, white poles, seemingly representing points on a map, or possibly sources of energy that draw the corps members in toward the ritualistic activity. There is plenty of free movement and animal mimicry to be had, but not a whole lot of unison, traditional visual moments. I will say that the corps plays phenomenally. Their visual book, when they are moving together, is very clean as always, and Wayne Downey’s brass book is played extremely well, but the show (remember, this is only my opinion) is in need of a bit more unified movement and playing. They might need to step back and reevaluate the importance of acknowledging the audience at some point in the near future. The crowd I was a part of in Murfreesboro was not buying in at all. I have to say that there are some seriously talented kids in that corps, though. They do perform extremely well.                                                                                                                                                   

Alan Compton                                                                                                                                                 Amro Director Services