Last night, I attended my first show of the season in Cedarburg. For Wisconsin, it was blistering hot – the temperature on my car’s thermometer went back and forth between 99 and 100 degrees. The stadium faces west, which made it very difficult to see the corps until the sun went behind the trees at about 8:30. I was on the 30 yard line on the right side of the stands, 11 rows up.
I took along a pen and some paper, and I scribbled some random notes. Let’s see if I can make some sense out of them.
LEGENDS – Their show theme is the Edmund Fitzgerald, a freighter that sank in Lake Michigan, and their music came from Britten’s Four Sea Interludes, The Perfect Storm, Aliens and Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Very appropriate for a corps from Kalamazoo. The corps is small – I counted 23 horns, 6 snares, 2 quads and 4 bass drums, plus pit and color guard. Right off the bat, I smiled as I saw no synth in the pit. To me, part of the fun in watching Open Class corps is seeing how the staff approaches level of difficulty. How do you program so the kids can be successful right away, yet allow for growth over a season? I thought of this as I watched their horns struggle a bit with articulation and stamina issues in the Perfect Storm piece. Generally, I thought the staff did a good job of finding a middle ground. The tunes are coming across already, and I can see the possibility for growth over the summer. Drill-wise, they are playing it safe, keeping the members between the 30s. I liked what I saw and heard. Even with such young performers, the dramatic arc leading to the show’s climax – the storm on the lake and the sinking – came across well. It should be interesting to see how this grows and develops over the summer. 63.7 in Open Class.
PIONEER – Once again, the corps is doing an Irish Theme Show, Irish Immigrants: The Hands that Built America. It would have been very interesting if Pioneer and Legends were judged on the same sheets. I honestly don’t know who would have been scored higher. As in past years, Pioneer has major balance issues due to a small horn line fighting to be heard over a too large drum line. I counted 10 snares, a full plates line, multiple bass drummers and a full pit – against 23 horns. And , those horn players are young. All kinds of stamina issues in the tutti sections. To the staff’s credit, they played it safe, drill-wise – the tempos were relatively sane, and the corps stayed within the 30s. I do not understand why this corps has such a hard time getting horn players. After all, Troopers actually went inactive for a year, but they came back the following season with a horn line twice the size of what I saw from Pioneer the past couple of seasons. Something has to change. Maybe a move to Open Class would be good. I know they are all about getting better every day, but maybe being on Open Class sheets would give them some needed validation, which could result in retaining and increasing their horn line. 57.4 in World Class.
TROOPERS – Huge! I liked them lining up in the right end zone before entering the field – very retro. Show theme is This Was the Future, a kind of look at the future as seen by writers like Jules Verne. The music came from Barber’s Galop, and Copland’s The Heiress Suite and Music for the Theater. Their show starts with an extended drum solo and drill, complete with a sunburst, which made me smile. Once they played, there was plenty of volume in the horn line, and a nice, dark sound. Speaking of smiling, I found some unexpected humour during the middle of the show. The corps was playing short phrases that ended with the trumpets playing quarter notes with mutes in their horns. Meanwhile, the corps was doing balletic moves that involved them leaning slightly and lifting their legs in the air with the knees locked while those quarter notes were being played.. I found the combination pretty funny. Visions of Blazing Saddles were dancing in my head. Seriously, I wonder if this show can get into position to compete for 12th place. There is plenty of content in it, and plenty of dirt to clean. The potential’s there. 67.3 in World Class.
MADISON SCOUTS - Continuing the process of establishing their “brand,” this year’s edition of the Scouts is doing “Reframed,” using Pictures at an Exhibition as the basis for their show, with some of the pictures being chestnuts from the corps past, like Malaga and Malaguegna. The weaving of these Madison favorites into Pictures is quite seamless. Wonderful opening statement, both in sound and drill. Drum line seems better than last year, but I will defer to others who know percussion for their opinions. It is hard to tell if the horns are that loud – lots of synth on the bottom. The good news for Scouts fans is there is a lot of guts to this show that can be cleaned, and more changes are likely to be inserted. I don’t see this show dying in late July like last year. 74.50 in World Class.
BLUE STARS – The Blue World. This year’s edition continues their love affair with props on the field. My reaction to seeing all these props, complete with some boulders on about the 40 yard line on the right side, was to wonder if all this stuff really helps the corps or not. It doesn’t. The Vaughan Williams ballad was beautiful (the selection is from his Sea Symphony, one of my favorite choral/orchestral works. There’s a ton of music in it that could work on a football field.). However, please don’t break up the piece’s climax with a huge group breath – stagger breathe. The New World Symphony is a lip killer for the high horns. They’re doing it, but I picked up some stamina issues near the end of the tune. The costume change to “Sirens” at the end of the New World Symphony struck me as jarring and silly. And, I could see the costume change going on behind the rocks. I was 11 rows up – how is that going to play in larger stadiums? 70.7 in World Class.
SPIRIT OF ATLANTA – Sin City. Really liked this show. I could sense a connection to this corps’ storied past as the loudest horn line in DCI in the late 70s – early 80s. The poker chip platforms are a clever touch. GREAT opening statement, both musically and drill-wise. And, they can play that even fuller and louder. Lady Gaga works – great use of the back side by the horn line in this piece. Mr. and Mrs. Smith works, also, but I thought the corps overdid the synth crescendo in the piece. Generally, I really like how the kids are selling this show. We’ll see you on finals night, and higher than 12th place. Good job! 71.9 in World Class.
BLUECOATS – UnMasqued. Ultra-slow entrance onto the field is very interesting. Field coverage in the opener before the big horn statement is very impressive, particularly the use of the back side of the field. The ballad is gorgeous and sultry. Wonderful use of color within the guard, particularly the purple flags at the end of the show. The corps is loaded with telent. The horn line plays so well and projects so effectively that I have to wonder why they use synth and amplification as much as they do. Is it really necessary to mike the trumpet soloist in the opener? Must you support crescendos with synth almost to the point of distortion? I really believe this could be a case of less being more. 76.3 in World Class.
CAVALIERS – 15 Minutes of Fame. Like you, I have read about the demise of the Cavaliers. Fear not, these guys are by no means dead. Tons of talent. Some extremely interesting moments, particularly their opener of Richard Strauss’ Don Juan and Vesti la Giubba from Pagliacci (about a million years away from the Maynard versions of this tune in the 70s in terms of style). REALLY liked their treatment of In the Hall of the Mountain King, a Cavalier classic last performed in 1968 and 1969. Yet, something is missing, and I can’t put my finger on it. The best I can do is wonder if they depend to much on the electronics, the recording of the words, “15 minutes of fame” so sell their theme. If you took out the narration and sound effects, so it was just the music and drill, I don’t know how well this show would hang together. This seems to me more of a design problem than a performance problem. What do you think? 72.4 in World Class.
Looking forward to seeing these corps again Friday in Whitewater.
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