by Donald Chinn, DCW staff
June 29 – July 1, 2002 — Seattle, WA; Kelso, WA; Woodburn, OR . . . Four division I corps, led by the Santa Clara Vanguard, swept through the final three shows of the Pacific Northwest tour, presenting 5,000-6,000 fans with the best drum corps show lineup the region has seen in more than a decade.
For the first time ever, the Madison Scouts performed in Washington and Oregon, and the Seattle Cascades scored higher than the Scouts in the last two shows of the Northwest series for a second place finish. The Pacific Crest from Diamond Bar, CA, followed closely behind in fourth place.
The Oregon Crusaders, Northwest Venture, and the U.S. Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps rounded out the lineup.
After their successful shows of 1997 through 1999 that culminated in a DCI championship in 1999, the six-time DCI champion Santa Clara Vanguard are in the third year of experimentation with new show concepts. Their 2002 show, “Sound, Shape and Color,” is primarily a visual one. It is divided into three main parts, each associated with a shape and music that complements that shape.
The triangle is the visual theme of the first part of the show. Solid and hollow triangles appear and disappear in the drill as the music of Gordon Henderson’s Trivandrum establishes a restless mood. The flags are equipped with an elastic band to create a triangular form from the flag’s pole and band.
Circles and variations of circles dominate the second part of the show. Howard Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 is the lush musical background to the visual presentation. The symphony, titled The Romantic, was named by the composer so as to contrast it with the predominantly experimental music being composed at the time (1930). It is not quite bathing in chocolate, as Michael Cesario might say, but by the end of the season it likely will be. The corps forms a large oval at the musical climax of this section of the show.
The third part of the show introduces diamonds into the shape palette. By this time in the show, however, all three shapes — triangles, circles and diamonds — weave and interact with each other in surprising yet natural ways. The color guard manipulates boxes with hinged corners to provide more ways to present diamonds other than through the drill.
Vanguard’s show can be fully appreciated only when viewed from a high vantage point, such as in Kelso’s Hilander Stadium.
“It’s a big stadium show. It’s geared for stadiums in Madison, Murfreesboro, Indianapolis, and Denver — places like that,” drill designer Myron Rosander said. In fact, from a low vantage point, the Vanguard’s show is essentially incomprehensible, because the visual program is the primary source of the show content and intrigue. Instead of listening for the music first as most fans do, fans will need to watch for the visuals first to unlock the show’s mysteries.
“It’s a work in progress. The show is a little obscure for the audience right now, but it’s going to take a while to refine it and reach the audience in a way they are used to from SCV,” Rosander said. A new ending will be written into the show sometime before the end of the season. Don’t expect the phantom of the opera to appear on the field, but, according to Rosander, fans can expect a curve ball or two.
After just four performances in the 2002 season, the Seattle Cascades have arrived. That’s the exact message that director Sal Leone was hoping that the corps could convey this year and that message was sent loudly and clearly. After placing third by one point behind the Madison Scouts in the Seattle show, the Cascades surged ahead of the Scouts at Kelso and then widened the lead over the two-time DCI champion at Woodburn.
Even if the Cascades had not scored higher than the Scouts, it would be easy to see why the Cascades can be considered a legitimate division I corps. Their show consists of entertaining and accessible music all composed by Leonard Bernstein, loosely based on a metropolitan theme. The drill is similar to that of the Vanguard, which is not surprising since Myron Rosander wrote it.
The Cascades excel in the energy they bring and in their execution of a show with so many musical and visual demands. Profanation, Simple Song and Prelude, Fugue and Riffs are so different in style that the corps must use all of its talents to convey successfully the mood of each piece.
The soloists throughout the show were excellent, even though the frills in Simple Song almost seem like performance errors. The closer, Make Our Garden Grow, seems to end oddly (the 1985 Garfield Cadets version ended somberly, but the piece was not the closer in the Cadets’ show), but still is a strong finishing piece. Note that On the Town is no longer in their program.
At the Seattle show, in an attempt to excite the hometown crowd, Leone intimated that the Cascades were aiming for a spot as a DCI finalist. With their balanced show design that combines visceral excitement with contemporary sounds, the Cascades might just achieve that goal.
The Madison Scouts roared through the Pacific Northwest for the first time ever, and fans were not disappointed that they came. From the moment the Scouts stepped onto the field — marching in a company front from the goal line to midfield in perfect eight-to-five steps — to the drum major’s first salute, the audience knew they were in for a treat. This warm-up is a show by itself, with strains of Conquest from “Captain from Castille” ringing on the field before their actual show begins.
Once the show begins, the energy and showmanship radiate from the field. Their show has a conquistador theme and feels a bit like their 1997 production (Pirates of Lake Mendota), but with fewer visual stories that guide the audience through the show. The show is bold, with a big sound from the brass, pounding percussion licks, and a zesty visual presentation, all characteristic of the Scouts. Energy is the key the show’s success, and a drop in the Scouts’ energy level at the Woodburn show partially explains the wider gap in scores between the Scouts and the Cascades.
Much has been said of the Scouts’ color guard, which has received criticism for its quality in recent years. Since the pool of male color guard participants is small and more corps have male color guard members, the competition for these performers is fierce.
This year the Scouts’ guard has eight members who had no color guard experience prior to this season.
“I think the quality of these members is one where by mid-season to the end of the season, they will be great,” director Scott Stewart said.
A larger issue is the impact the relatively low scores of the Scouts in recent years will have on the long-term viability of the corps itself and drum corps in general. There is a real chance that the two-time DCI champion Scouts will not make finals, which could be the next stage in a financial and recruiting downward spiral.
“There’s not a corps out there that has more quality than this one,” Stewart said. “The fact that it has been allowed to be pushed down to be virtually out of finals is not healthy for anyone and not correct in any way. I think that if no one has gotten a hint after five years of positive audience reaction, then I don’t know what to do to fix it. DCI, I think, has successfully decided that the ‘old’ audience isn’t worth keeping anymore.”
Ironically, the accessible, audience-friendly shows — like those of the Madison Scouts — are the unique ones in an ever-increasing sea of abstract and inaccessible shows. The challenge for the drum corps activity is to decide how to recognize and reward quality in all show styles, so that corps like the Madison Scouts, whose audience appeal is undeniable, will not fall by the wayside.
Celebrating its 10th season, Pacific Crest from Diamond Bar, CA, is the best corps no one east of the Mississippi has seen. Their strong performances throughout the weekend earned them a score of 71.3 at Woodburn, a mere 2 points behind the Scouts.
Their no-frills show uses music from “Cirque du Soleil.” The music ebbs and flows much like “Cirque du Soleil” does, but with some drum corps twists. The color guard often portrays the same sorts of peripheral scenes as in the European circus. At the Woodburn show, the guard introduced cubes similar to the one used in one of the acts of “Cirque du Soleil.”
The Pacific Crest travels only on weekends and has limited rehearsal time, which allows members to work or attend summer school and makes their achievements in recent years even more impressive.
The Oregon Crusaders are in their third year of existence. After moving from Medford to Portland and a change of director, the Crusaders are continuing on their path of growth and higher achievement.
Their production this year is based on Stephen Melillo’s Stormworks. Violence, the calm after, and rebuilding are the three parts of their show.
Given that their winter rehearsals began just over four months ago and that the average age of the corps is 15, their accomplishments on the field are astounding.
Financially, the corps broke even this year, even after procuring a bus and a chuckwagon. Of course, the corps is always looking for sponsorship and will recruit aggressively for new members.
Director Bill Perkins is already looking forward to next year. “I’m excited for next year. If we’ve been able to do this in four and a half months, I’m looking forward to what next year will bring.”
The corps’ nine-show tour will end in Phoenix in two weeks.
The Northwest Venture senior corps performed in standstill exhibition in Seattle and Kelso. Their performance honored the people in the United States armed forces. Folk Song Suite by Ralph Vaughan Williams, a piece from “Braveheart,” and American Salute by Morton Gould were the musical offerings. During the Seattle performance, four jets passed overhead as the Ventures played.
Traveling from Washington, D.C., the United States Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps, the Commandant’s Own, presented a 30-minute show consisting of a variety of pieces, including the Finale to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (“Ode to Joy”), Fire Dance, and The Stars and Stripes Forever.
In a weekend full of beautiful weather, the Pacific Northwest fans applauded and stood in ovation for all of the corps that performed. This is a scene these fans hope to repeat many times in the future.