story and photo by Lauren Vogel Weiss
Drum Corps International began its second half century during the summer of 2023. Dozens of corps toured the country, participating in over 80 shows across 32 states, culminating in the World Class Championships held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis August 10-12. While one corps set a new record for winning titles, another former champion (California’s Santa Clara Vanguard) took the summer off to recover from a financial shortfall. And don’t forget the ever-increasing use of narration, vocals, and props.
The Blue Devils (Concord, California) remained undefeated for a second straight season and captured their 21st overall (and third consecutive) championship gold medal, along with three caption awards: the Donald Angelica Best General Effect Award (2nd year in a row), the John Brazale Best Visual Performance Award (2nd year in a row), and the George Zingali Best Color Guard Award. Their “three-peat” (2019, 2022-2023) makes them only the third corps to achieve that feat, alongside The Cadets (1983-1985) and The Cavaliers (2000-2002). The Blue Devils’ program, “The Cut Outs,” inspired by the art techniques of Henri Matisse, featured two original compositions by BD Music Director Dave Glyde (“The Rise” and “Resistance”), along with music by Cody Fry (“Caves”), TesseracT (“Of Energy”), Bob Graettinger (“Incident in Jazz”), James Newton Howard (“Grand Canyon Fanfare”), and one of the greatest ballads of all time, Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”
Moments after winning yet another world title, longtime Percussion Caption Head and Arranger Scott Johnson admitted, “It hasn’t sunk in yet. We were just trying to get through this last day. The kids’ performance at the rehearsal, as well as tonight, was just awesome. It’s a good day to be a Blue Devil!”
When asked his favorite part of the show, Johnson smiled and laughed, “There were too many really cool moments, especially all the drum breaks and percussion features, but I really loved our ballad this year. The battery didn’t even play there – just the front ensemble. It was absolutely breathtaking. This was probably one of the best front ensembles that we’ve ever had, and that’s a major statement. Plus one of the best bass drum lines, too.
“During the season,” Johnson continued, “you’re in the grind. You don’t really get a chance to look at the show. You just keep doing it; you keep improving it; you keep finding your mistakes; you keep trying to fix things; and you don’t really get to enjoy it until after it’s all over. But tonight’s performance was amazing!”
A video of the Blue Devils championship encore exhibition may be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzIBVG2hytc
Although the corps finished in eighth place, The Cavaliers (Rosemont, Illinois) captured their seventh “high drum” title – and first since 2011 – by winning the Fred Sanford Best Percussion Performance Award, which averages the Music Percussion scores from the three nights of competition. Not only did they win drums in Prelims, Semifinals, and Finals by almost two-tenths each night, they remained undefeated in drums since their show in Abilene, Texas on July 18, including regional matchups in San Antonio, Atlanta, and Allentown. And, like the 1982 Bayonne Bridgemen, the 2023 Cavaliers were only the second eighth place corps to win high drums.
“I’m speechless! I’m just so happy for them!” exclaimed Josh Brickey, Percussion Caption Head for The Cavaliers, who has been with the corps for four years.
The Cavaliers were celebrating their 75th season and the 2023 repertoire included old and new favorites in their program, “…Where You’ll Find Me.” In addition to John Rutter’s “Gloria” and original music by the corps’ arrangers, they played nostalgic pieces such as Harold Arlen’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere” (from West Side Story), and Tony De Vita’s “Softly As I Leave You.”
When asked their favorite part of the show, Brickey and Michael McIntosh, Percussion Designer and Caption Supervisor who has been with The Cavaliers for two decades, both agreed it was the second movement. “My favorite part was juxtaposing the amazing vocals of Judy Garland [singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’] with the pit and quads – a unique texture that eventually became an ear worm for all of us,” McIntosh explained. “It was everything that was special: juxtaposing sounds against each other to create a new sound, the style of the tenor writing, and the use of space, all in a lyrical and elegant environment… and it turned out super cool!”
Brickey added, “We used multiple implements in the quad line. The way we used a guiro stick in the snare drums. Textures. Timbres. It was just a symphony of percussive sounds.”
McIntosh also credited the rest of The Cavaliers talented percussion staff: front ensemble arranger Clif Walker, battery coordinator Russell Wharton, ensemble coordinator Lane Armey, lead choreographer Tim Jackson, visual specialist Andrew Polk, along with music consultants (and DCI Hall of Fame members) Tom Aungst and Bret Kuhn.
Portions of the drum feature (from the DCI Southwestern Championship in San Antonio on July 22, 2023) may be viewed only at www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTyk9IiVA30&t=16s and a finals-week rehearsal of the second movement, from a GoPro “snare cam” point of view, may be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=qskejNegtR0&t=11s
For those attending PASIC 2023, The Cavaliers’ Percussion Section will present a clinic on Saturday morning, November 11 at 10:00 am.
The 2023 drum corps season also saw a close and competitive race for the silver and bronze medals. For the third time in a row, the Bluecoats (Canton, Ohio) placed second. Their program, “The Garden of Love,” featured music by Chick Corea (“The Woods”) and Pat Metheny (“Finding and Believing”), along with several tunes by Eddie Magnason. The show opened with snare drummers playing on rotating circular podiums in the middle of the field. As in years past, the Bluecoats front ensemble also featured not one, but two drumset players.
Placing third (by less than eight-hundredths of a point) was Carolina Crown (Ft. Mill, South Carolina), who also won their eighth Jim Ott Best Brass Performance Award. Crown’s show, “The Round Table, Echoes of Camelot,” included a wide variety of music, from Henry Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament” and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Requiem,” to Bela Bartok’s “String Quartet No. 2,” Richard Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde,” and “All is full of Love” by Bjork. Their medieval look even carried over to the bass drum heads.
Fourth place went to the Boston (Massachusetts) Crusaders. Their “White Whale” program, inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, featured period costumes in the front ensemble, along with aluphones, a bosun’s pipe, bodhrans, and even bones, to create authentic sounds in the music. Their nautically-themed repertoire included “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” by Ralph Vaughn Williams, traditional tunes “Swallowtail Jig” and “The Wellerman,” and Bernstein’s “On the Waterfront.” Their strong drum line, a contender for the Sanford award all summer, placed third overall in Indianapolis.
The Cadets (Erie, Pennsylvania) moved up a position from the previous year with a fifth place finish. Their “Atlas Rising” program included music by Hans Zimmer (“What Are You GoIng To Do When You Are Not Saving the World?” and “Corynorhinus”) and Paul Lovatt-Cooper (”Immortal”). A drumset was also prominently featured at the beginning of the show.
Perhaps the biggest placement jump since last year was from the Mandarins (Sacramento, California), who moved up from tenth to sixth place in 2023, their highest ranking in the corps’ 60 year history. Their “Sinnerman” program was very popular, especially the spinning cages at the end of the show. Music showcased selections from Wynton Marsalis (“Swing Symphony”), Nat King Cole (“Smile”), Labrinth and Zendaya (“Repent”), Hozier (“Take Me to Church”), and Nina Simone (“Sinnerman”).
Another crowd favorite was Phantom Regiment (Rockford, Illinois), who placed seventh and also won the FloMarching Fan Favorite poll for the third year in a row. Their “ExoGenesis” program included music of the English rock band Muse, Andy Akiho’s “to wALk Or ruN in wEst harlem,” Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” and “For I Have Fought the Good Fight” by Stephen Melillo. A riser directly behind the front ensemble brought the entire percussion section together for the exciting finale.
The Colts (Dubuque, Iowa) continued their climb to ninth place, up two spots from last year. Their program, “Where the Heart Is,” featured music from Motley Crue, Pat Metheny, Cinematic Orchestra, and Randy Newman. They were the only Top 12 corps to utilize marching cymbals as part of their drum line.
Earning their first Top 10 finish since 1985, the Troopers (Casper, Wyoming) presented a Western-themed program, “To Lasso the Sun.“ Featuring music of Italian movie composer Ennio Morricone, the most prominent visual display was a large rotating sun sculpture. Their strong drum line finished in eighth place thanks in part to their effective front ensemble. Not to mention the only harmonica solo of the evening!
The Blue Stars (LaCrosse, Wisconsin) finished in eleventh place. Their program, “In ABSINTHEia,” included “Avrio” by Everfish, “Green” by Michael Torke, “Let Me Drown” by Orville Peck, “Such Letting Go Is Love” by Symbion Project, and the namesake “In ABSINTHEia” by Music Coordinator and Brass Composer Jim Wunderlich. During the second half of their show, the snare line was featured playing hi-hats and stacks cymbals on a custom-built rack in the center of the field.
Rounding out the Top 12 was the Blue Knights (Denver, Colorado). Performing “Unharnessed,” their repertoire featured Giuseppe Verdi’s “Requiem,” “Break On Through” by The Doors, Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away,” and “Freedom” by Pharrell Williams. In addition to using “marching men” sound effects in the front ensemble, there were also several obelisk-shaped props on the field that featured “found” percussion instruments, such as frying pans, bowls, and rebound planks.
(out of 100 points)
(out of 20 points)
Drum judges: Jeff Brooks (music percussion/prelims), Chris Rapacki (music percussion/semifinals), and Julie Davila (music percussion/finals)
* The drum scores and rankings listed above are an average of the Music Percussion scores from all three nights of World Championship competition and is based on a 20 point total. That number is then divided by two and only a maximum of 10 points is added into the total possible overall score of 100 points.
For the second year in a row, Crossmen (San Antonio, Texas) placed 13th. The rest of the Top 25 corps were Pacific Crest (City of Industry, California); Georgia’s Spirit of Atlanta; Madison Scouts (Madison, Wisconsin); Music City (Nashville, Tennessee); The Academy (Tempe, Arizona); Open Class Champion Spartans (Nashua, New Hampshire); Gold (San Diego, California); Genesis (Austin, Texas); Southwind (Mobile, Alabama); Jersey Surf (Camden County, New Jersey); Columbians (Tri-Cities, Washington); and Seattle Cascades (Seattle, Washington).
OTHER DCI CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK EVENTS
With last year’s gold medalist (California’s Vanguard Cadets) inactive for 2023, the Open Class title was up for grabs during the competition at Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana on August 8. New Hampshire’s Spartans won their second gold medal with a score of 82.263. They also won caption awards for general effect, visual performance, and color guard, as well as the Best Percussion Performance award. For the second year in a row, California’s Gold earned the silver medal (80.675), plus the high brass award. Alabama’s Southwind (79.125) captured the bronze medal.
Friday night’s Semifinals competition included three special performances. The United States Army’s Old Guard – comprised of fifes, bugles, and rope drums – performed during the dinner break intermission. Following the last corps in competition, Open Class Champion Spartans presented an encore of their winning program “Surreal.” But the highlight of the night may have been the Troopers Legacy Corps, comprised of decades of alumni who marched in the Wyoming-based corps. They played several corps classics, including themes from popular Western movies such as How the West Was Won; The Magnificent Seven; and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly; along with “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” Their drum line included 11 snare drums and four rope snare drums, along with five each multi-tenors, bass drums, and marching cymbals – plus an extra large pair of crash cymbals (close to 30 inches in diameter!) featured in the front ensemble. A video of their performance may be viewed at www.troopersdrumcorps.org/legacycorps
During Friday evening’s show, DCI’s Executive Director Dan Acheson was recognized for his 28 years of service as the organization’s longest-serving director. And on behalf of everyone who has watched drum corps on television, in movie theaters, or on home videos, director/editor/producer Tom Blair received a special thank you for his almost four-decades of work on these broadcasts.
Also on Friday, DCI introduced two of their 2023 Hall of Fame members, Gino Cipriani (brass instructor and caption head for The Cadets, among other corps) and David Glyde (music director, composer, and arranger for the Blue Devils). Tom Float (who passed away on October 3, 2022) was also recognized during a short “In Memoriam” segment. The evening closed with the traditional age-out ceremony, this year with the 22-year-olds marching onto the field, grouped by corps.
As the final night of DCI’s 51st season began on Saturday, two very different ensembles performed in exhibition. First up was the INpact band, comprised of more the 500 middle school band students representing more than 50 schools across Indiana. The United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, “The Commandant’s Own,” also performed their 2023 field show, plus our national anthem to open the competition.
Unfortunately, for the second year in a row, there was no Performers Showcase, so there were no individual nor ensemble winners. Let’s hope this competition, showcasing the corps members’ special talents, returns in 2024.
The future of the drum and bugle corps activity looks bright as the Santa Clara Vanguard is making plans to return to the competition field in 2024. [Unfortunately, in mid-October, both The Cadets and Southwind announced that they were suspending their 2024 competitive season due to financial challenges.] If you marched in the past and believe in the marching arts, please help your favorite corps – they need the financial support of their alumni and fans.
See y’all in Indianapolis August 8-10, 2024….