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 Post subject: 2008 DCI Top Drumline Review
PostPosted: Fri Aug 15, 2008 10:41 pm 
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This year at finals, we were all lucky to watch, hear, and experience four outstanding drumlines...lines that I would gladly want to hear over and over again on the upcoming 2008 DCI DVDs. Its a bit unusual for me to actually find four great lines in a single year ( two is the norm). Anyway, what makes a great line?

Field drums should have exposed attacks as part of their show basically mastered. Just very dangerous moments were a great line can hit it together to begin a tough musical/technical phrase, because they are together as a line. Exposure to error as a whole should be seen and heard multiple times throughout the show. During a brass featured musical passage, nobody can notice the drumline too much and mistakes can hide and demand is simply lower. When the snare line or bass rums, for example, pop out nowhere and just nail a triplet roll or bass drum run...well..now thats exposure to error. Rudiments must be demonstrated and well played including rolls and accent patterns beginning with both left and right hands, dynamics should be part of the show frequently and excellent control/technicque demonstrated. Visually the line should appear consistent with each other.

The pit percussion is slightly different. This is a bin of creativity that should be able to embellish and transition the corps. Mallet technique, both double and single must be excellent and demonstrated by multiple players, indicating excellent talent and instruction. Marimba/xylo/vibe runs are ALWAYS part of an excellent pit. Creative use of percussive instruments should be present. The writing should be well blended with not only the field drums but the horn arrangement as well. Special percussive moments accentuate the color guard movements in ballads for instance. And phasing is a huge no no. You are right in front of the drum major. The pit members provide energy and excitement for the corps when appropriate. Also, the pit is an opportunity to demonstrate orchestral percussive techniques, such as on tympani, chimes, or tamborine thumb roll techniques.

This year, the four great lines are:

1. The Phantom Regiment.
2. The Bluecoats
3. The Cadets
4. The Santa Clara Vanguard

Lets look at what made these percussion sections truly great this year;
All of these lines had field writing that was above the bar and in the stratosphere of technical complexity. That is a fundamental requirement. Easy does not count.

1. The Phantom Regiment - This line was the cleanest. A clean snare line is just so effective. No matter what a clean snare plays or at what volume--it just cuts straight through the show--no mud-- everything that was written to be heard a certain way is heard. Phantom did it all together and clean- buzz rolls, attacks, movement. This is a line that knows how to rehearse and practice. Its not effortless for them out there, but it was consistent, controlled and mastered, both in how they marched and how they played. They had excellent technical complexity throughout their show for the snares ( well there was a little downtime). They marched very well and integrated tough marching with tough playing. Their pit percussion played beautifully at times, especially during the slower mid-show ballad. The field drums showed mastery of dynamics; bass drums were effective, punching straight through and clean-- quads were very clean too. Snare book technical difficulty was very high. I liked that quad feature point where the quads play on each others drums in a fairly challenging technical passage...they made it look so easy. And they were so clean.

My score for Phantom was a 19.7.

2. The Bluecoats- a SUPER year for this drumline. Their best ever. Their snare book was very challenging with double stroke rolls, triplet rolls, multiple play on 4/4 meter, giving an illusion of decreasing momentum matched by decrescendos, excellent quarter note triplet feels at times, excellent use of accent patterns, rudiments, just the whole package for snares. Quads had some great moments--just watch em. Wow. great. Some slight issue with visual consistency among the snare drummers--hate to be picky but it gave a slightly fatter sound to their line than phantoms, which was tight and driving. But this is a slight difference. Pit percussion!!!! Very well written instructors/caption heads! Demand and technique almost matched the field drums during the feature--which is pretty incredible. Great dynamics/very nice marimba and xylophone runs. Chimes well integrated with brass in certain parts of the show. Use of pit double concert bass drums was effective for low end emphasis and support. Extremely slight phasing with field bass drums. In fact, the pit percussion I thought was the best integrated as far as writing for and with the brass. They managed to bridge writing with both corps and field drums. Dig this line!

My score--19.65

3. Cadets - The Cadets drumline overall had more exposure to error of their filed drums than the other corps. Essentially they tended to feature their field drums more frequently and for greater lengths of time. Their book for the snares is very tough, demonstrating all of the qualities mentioned above in the introduction. The snares, similar to the 2003 line, were able to play multiple musical styles throughout the show. Their bass drums are unbelievable clean ( way to go again Steve Keiffer). The quads were amazing and clean-- again just effortless feature moments and 100% clean. The snare line at finals stepped up and played over their heads--meaning better than expected and clean in areas where they had had trouble earlier in the season. The field judge was really trying to catch them everywhere and was often left with nothing to say,,,, as time and time again, the snares just played it right in the pocket. A beautiful performance. The pit percussion was good and effective, but not great. I thought the members did what they were supposed to do and understood the show, but I would have liked to have seen more creativity with the front ensemble percussion as far as use of instruments. It was a lot of sideline cymbals( very effective and well played but not technically difficult) and excellent mallet work all the way around ( which is great to see and hear)-- but not much memorable for me beyond this.

My score - 19.45 ( The judges score of 18.8 was laughably and sadly embarrassingly inappropriate for such a strong line-- which was a sad thing given Tom Aungst' level of writing and percussive leadership for this, his last Cadet year as a caption head). Good job guys-- you all made me proud this year)

4. Santa Clara Vanguard - OK. Since 2004 I have been trying to think about how to even get my mind around how this type of field drum writing and how it can even be described. I think I have got it. Before trying to explain the creative genius behind the snare book writing--which is the standout excellence for the line this year, I think its best to review a what a complicated excellent horn line/brass score might consist of. I am thinking about the Garfield Cadets Jeremiah score from 1985 ( cuz I marched with em that year and heard it a million times) but you can pick your own. A great brass score might have drama; that drama is created by different voices produced by different instruments, or lines on a score- simultaneously. So the baritones might be performing some dramatic half note/whole note score with note transition on perhaps lets say beat 2 of a measure to beat 3 of the next measure, varying volume/notes etc-- while the sopranos ( or trumpets) are in a different overlaying meter using sixteenth note phrases that punch through the drama of the lower voiced instruments.

In a sentence-- the snare line book is written like this except its all being done with two hands and a snare drum. There are no other comparable lines this year in DCI. None. Mentally, there is no way another line could even easily grasp the musicality of what Santa Clara field drums do without a lot of retraining in an entirely different feel of warm ups. Its like the freakin Picasso of snare books. So it might be triplet roll exposed attacks starting on beat 2 of a measure cutting off on beat three of another measure with some very quick sixteenth note patterns popped in to match a very short call and answer type deal from the brass. essentially, the writere has taken the brass score/book, eliminated the consideration of measures, and written the snare book to support and overlay the music using/combining basically two or more brass related drumming scores, and combining them into one for one snare drummer to play. Its musicall and mind blowing. Of, and they are marching in downbeats straight through this, which is freakily tough. To do this requires great mental independence skills. Its so tough of course, that its nearly impossible to play it as cleanly as say, Phantom. "If you can sing it, you can play it"-- I could probably sing Phantoms book, because I am a rudimentally oriented snare drummer--but I would have to study SCVs book carefully and match it to the horn book to even try and sing it. Just that tough. So Phantom Executes, BlueCoats play well and balanced. and Cadets Hypernote everywhere---but the SCV field drum book?-- Baffles the mind. There is no current percussion judge that is a good enough drummer to truly judge this line most likely-- as far as the demand of the snare book, and the understanding of the writing. And so, SCV makes the Truly great drumlines of 2008 cut. Respect.

My score overall for SCV? - 18.95.

As far as Cavies ( neat pit creativity BTW), Blue Devils, and Crown-- I will review them later--but this group of four is the "drummers buy your DVDs now" ticket!

Thanks for a super year.


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PostPosted: Sat Aug 16, 2008 10:56 am 
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Great review! :tup:

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 2:17 am 
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Yeah, big-time props for sharing the percussion details as you saw them, rysa4. I know these "articles" (it's what they are, really) are taking you some time to think about and write out. The effort is sincerely appreciated!

:drums:

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 9:13 am 
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As always, thanks for sharing your thought on this subject, Rysa4.

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 Post subject: Re: 2008 DCI Top Drumline Review
PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 1:54 pm 
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Yeah, this pretty much echos my analysis verbatim ... :lol:

But c'mon, can't you at least put a little detail into your rankings? :wink:


rysa4 wrote:
There is no current percussion judge that is a good enough drummer to truly judge this line most likely-- as far as the demand of the snare book, and the understanding of the writing. And so, SCV makes the Truly great drumlines of 2008 cut. Respect.


This statement intrigues me. Is it really possible that they are so sophisticated that the current percussion judges are out of their league?

So I'm curious, which do you prefer. A line that is just surgically clean that still plays a good book or something like SCV, which may be slightly dirtier but just over the top in the sophistication of their book's musicality and level of difficulty? (I really can't wait for the DVD's now!)

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 2:33 pm 
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Great review! Thanks.

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 Post subject: Re: 2008 DCI Top Drumline Review
PostPosted: Sun Aug 17, 2008 9:51 pm 
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WE ARE SPARTACI wrote:
Yeah, this pretty much echos my analysis verbatim ... :lol:

But c'mon, can't you at least put a little detail into your rankings? :wink:


rysa4 wrote:
There is no current percussion judge that is a good enough drummer to truly judge this line most likely-- as far as the demand of the snare book, and the understanding of the writing. And so, SCV makes the Truly great drumlines of 2008 cut. Respect.


This statement intrigues me. Is it really possible that they are so sophisticated that the current percussion judges are out of their league?

So I'm curious, which do you prefer. A line that is just surgically clean that still plays a good book or something like SCV, which may be slightly dirtier but just over the top in the sophistication of their book's musicality and level of difficulty? (I really can't wait for the DVD's now!)


I was at The Irish Lion talking to a visual judge and was surprised that he had never marched in a drum corps. After thinking about this, It is probably reasonable for many areas of drum corps to be judged by non-drum corps participants/instructors. But not in percussion. There is a HUGE gap between what high school and college lines do and DCI division 1 /World class percussion sections. If you havent played quads or snare for a division 1 corps or havent instructed a DCI drumline you cannot grasp or appreciate what you are seeing or hearing and you cant differentiate between the top lines, at least for field drums. This is a pretty strong statement but I believe it to be true.

In fact, the whole method of judging percussion needs to be completely revamped. It is way too arbitrary, and too easy to score the flavor of the month high and a better line low. at this point, I have seen enough. There need to be objective parameters for pit and field percussion that a percussion judge must be forced to consider and arbitrate in writing and be reviewed by a panel for their scores. At the very least, three categories of technical difficulty, musicality, and performance/execution should be established for each drum judge. So a line like SCV might be judged high in the first two categories and a bit lower in the last, and a line like Crown would be low in the first two but higher in the last. There simply is not enough emphasis or consideration for the technical difficulty of the show and the musicality of the writing to counterbalance better execution of less demanding shows.

I prefer an innovative line that moves percussive performance and music forward. Playin it safe does not win with me.


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PostPosted: Mon Aug 18, 2008 5:59 am 
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Thanks for your well thought and insightful commentary.

I agree with most that you said, especially about Vanguard.

IMHO your analysis could extend likewise to brass and drill ( re to SCV )

To me, their show is the most traditional ( or rudimental ) show in DCI.

The judging seems to be headed in the BOA direction ( IMHO )


Comic? Relief : Did anyone else at the quarters catch the on-field percussion judge take a hand in the eye from a passing brass player?

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2009 9:37 am 
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I agree with the review but an argument could be made that all the top 12 drumlines were pretty damn good this year. - Hell, even some that didn't make it to Saturday night were impressive (Crossmen, Spirit, etc).

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 25, 2009 10:15 am 
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Jazzycat1 wrote:
I agree with the review but an argument could be made that all the top 12 drumlines were pretty damn good this year. - Hell, even some that didn't make it to Saturday night were impressive (Crossmen, Spirit, etc).


I guess so. But it just depends on where you draw the line for "Pretty damn good."

For instance, the Blue Stars snare line was inconsistent, meaning they couldnt play certain passages 10 times cleanly--you get something different every time.

For Spirit, as another example, their snare book was written to be more challenging than some of the nearby placed corps snare books. But they missed quarter note attacks and whole line double stops, while hitting on much more complex passages.

For me, these aren't examples of excellence, but saying that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy them ( I did), or that the lines werent head and shoulders above most college and high school percussion sections.


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