Oct 20, 2020, 08:00 AM
Rhythm Scene Staff
Even though Drum Corps International cancelled its 2020 Summer Tour and World Championships on March 25, there was still a competition of sorts this summer: DCI’s Performers Showcase, presented by System Blue, was held virtually at the end of July with the winners announced during the MarchOn! telethon on August 8.
Unlike previous years, competitors did not have to be current members of a drum corps, and there were two classifications: “22 and under” (for active members in DCI corps, SoundSport teams, DrumLine Battle programs, as well as high school and college students) and an “over 22” division (for senior corps members and junior corps alumni).
Forty-three percussionists competed in eight categories, along with four ensembles in two categories, representing five countries (Canada, Guatemala, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States). Judges for the Performers Showcase were Allan Kristensen (snare), Mike Davis (multi-tenor), Gifford Howarth (keyboard), and Julie Davila (timpani, multi-percussion, and ensembles). Two 2019 champions defended their titles (in the “22 and under” division), winnning for the second year in a row.
Remy Thomas, an 18-year-old who would have been marching his second year with the Santa Clara Vanguard, was again named Best Individual Multi-Tenor. His original solo, “Unraveled,” earned him a score of 97.0. He is currently a freshman at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, studying percussion performance. “Recording a solo is a completely different experience than playing live,” Thomas explained. “Knowing that I could do multiple takes left me wanting every single note to be as perfect as possible. I prefer playing for an audience, because I feel that the pressure makes me perform better. I thrive on the adrenaline from performing; something flips in me and I can zero-in my focus better.”
A video of Remy Thomas, Best Individual Multi-Tenor, performing his winning solo, was shown during DCI’s MarchOn! telethon.
The other defending champion was Michael Dy, an 18-year-old who would have been logging his second year playing drum set in the front ensemble for the Blue Devils. He is a sophomore at the University of California – Riverside, majoring in statistics. Dy won the title of Best Individual Multi-Percussion with a score of 92.0 for his original drumset solo, “Third Time’s a Charm.” “One personal highlight of that solo happens near the end,” he said, “where I incorporate double-pedal work into the majority of my playing. The setup I used was relatively simple: a snare, kick drum, four toms, two hi-hats, two crashes, a ride cymbal, a China cymbal, and a cymbal stack. For me, submitting a video was much easier than playing in front of a live audience. I knew I would have multiple chances to get the perfect take, so the nerves I usually got from only having one chance to play the solo perfectly live were pretty much gone.”
Michael Dy, Best Individual Multi-Percussionist for the second year in a row, played a drumset solo. (photo courtesy of Michael Dy)
Bryan Criswell, a 20-year-old who would have been a rookie with the Blue Devils, was named Best Individual Snare. His original solo, “Chief,” earned a score of 96.5. He is taking a semester off from his studies at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California, where he was taking some music education classes. “I’ve been teaching at two high schools and a middle school in Visalia,” explained Criswell. “It’s been quite the learning experience! Parts of my solo were inspired from past I&E solos, although not necessarily snare ones. The coolest section—and hardest, in terms of consistency—was the ending to the first part of the solo. Various flips, followed by a quick 15:8 tuplet burst into a full-shot finish, was probably one of the more iconic moments in the solo for me.”
A collage of Bryan Criswell, Best Individual Snare Drum winner (photo courtesy of Bryan Criswell)
What was it like to submit a video versus playing live? “The main difference is simply the format,” Criswell replied. “With a video submission, you can keep on going rep after rep until you get a recording you feel good about. Live, it’s one and done, except for other cameras recording from all around the room, and a full crowd of people watching, all eyes on you. That’s much more of a nerve-wracking setting. If I’m being honest, the video submission format was probably the only reason I was able to do an I&E solo this year. Being the guilty procrastinator that I sometimes am, I didn’t decide to compete until the week of the deadline, so I only had a few days to write and record the solo. I doubt it would have been as solid if I had to perform live, but it was all in good fun!”
A former vibe player with the Seattle Cascades (2017) and former timpanist with Carolina Crown (2018), Kirk Baltzell decided not to march during what would have been his age-out year so that he could focus on other opportunities. The 21-year-old scored a 90.5 for his performance of “Buyan” by John Psathas to earn the title of Best Individual Timpani. He is currently a senior at the University of Texas at Austin where he is majoring in theatre (with an emphasis in stage management) and minoring in Arts Administration and Classical Studies. “Performing virtually is definitely a different challenge,” he explained. “On one hand, you can keep recording until you feel good about the take you got. But so much of performing is having your energy interact with and play off of the audience, and sadly, there's no way to really replicate that in a virtual setting.”
Kirk Baltzell performing his timpani solo for the 2020 DCI Performers Showcase. (photo courtesy of Kirk Baltzell)
The final junior winner has yet to earn a spot in a drum corps but hopes to audition this fall. Andrew Tao, a four-year member of Texas All-State ensembles who attended Coppell High School in Coppell, Texas, was named Best Individual Keyboard. The 17-year-old marimbist played “Etude in e minor” by Pius Cheung, earning a score of 93.5, besting 16 other performers, the largest percussion category in the contest. He is now a freshman at Princeton University, majoring in computer science. “Submitting a video, instead of playing live, was a lot harder for me,” Tao admitted. “Although not having to play live took away a lot of the performance anxiety, I kept second-guessing my recordings and wanting to record another take, just in case it was a little better.”
Andrew Tao was named Best Individual Keyboard. (photo courtesy of Andrew Tao)
ENSEMBLES AND MORE
The winner of the percussion ensemble category was The Crown Duo: Nikolai Coletta and Rob Martin, both first-year members of Carolina Crown. They played a marimba duet, “Maxwell's Demon" by Chris Goulet, which received a score of 93.0. A video of their performance may be seen at https://youtu.be/_WZ3Ru7nsuk.
Nikolai Coletta (left) and Rob Martin, performing as The Crown Duo, won Best Percussion Ensemble. (photo courtesy of Nikolai Coletta)
Coletta, an 18-year-old freshman majoring in computer engineering at the University of Central Florida, met Martin, a 17-year-old senior at Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, Carolina, when they both marched in Spirit of Atlanta in 2019.
“There were both positives and negatives to submitting a video versus playing live,” Coletta explained. “It was really nice to have the opportunity to re-record and not have to be face-to-face with a judge, which took off a lot of the stress of the event. However, that's a double-edged sword as we felt pressured to make the recording close to perfect. Rather than trying to be super consistent for that one rep in front of a judge, it was a different kind of challenge.”
“There were many ups and downs when it came to recording the piece rather than playing it live,” added Martin. “One huge positive was that we were able to take our time in creating a more atmospheric and visual performance, using lighting, microphones, and other equipment to enhance our video. This gave us a new level of creativity and control over the process, rather than just playing the piece once in front of a judge in a random room. We also had the ability to record multiple takes, giving us the ability to isolate our mistakes and use previous recordings to figure out what we needed to improve on.
“With that being said,” he continued, “there were still negatives that affected our recording process. A huge mental obstacle that Nikolai and I fought was the feeling that the recording had to be perfect, since it was not a live performance. We are both extremely competitive people who constantly push each other, so we knew that we would have to get a near perfect rep to be satisfied with our work as a duo.”
“This summer, I learned how valuable it is to be playing with other individuals,” Coletta added. “In this isolation, it has been a motivational struggle to keep practicing, but with the opportunity I had to safely drive up to South Carolina, stay with Rob, and play this duet, it renewed my motivation and kept me going throughout the rest of the darker days. Once drum corps is able to return back to normal, I am going to appreciate every second I have playing with my friends just a little bit more.”
Martin concurred. “Nikolai and I were lucky to be able to find a time and place to play together and record, but not many people were fortunate enough to participate in something like that. The three days that we played together were some of the best days of my summer, and it reminded me how valuable it is to play and interact with other people. When we finally get back into drum corps, I will not take a single moment for granted.”
Japan’s Yokohama Scouts was named Best Bass Drum Ensemble with a score of 94.0. There were no entries in the Cymbal Ensemble category this year.
Members of the Yokohama Scouts were named Best Bass Drum Ensemble.
There were also three individual winners in the “over 22” division: Eduardo Sacalxot Baten was named the snare drum champion with a score of 94.0. He was also a three-time champion of Drum Corps Guatemala (2016–18). Representing Japan, Katsuya Nakamoto scored a 79.5 to be named Best Individual Multi-Tenor/Over 22. He marched with the Mandarins in 2010. Jason O’Brien, a former member of the Crossmen (2000–04), won Best Individual Keyboard/Over 22 with a score of 92.0.
Eduardo Baten was named Best Individual Snare in the “Over 22” division.
Even without daily rehearsals that are normal when a drum and bugle corps is on tour, several corps found ways to “meet” this past summer, albeit in a virtual format. “Paul [Rennick, Percussion Caption Manager for SCV] met with the percussion section over Zoom a few times to give us words of encouragement, catch up with us, and do what he does best,” Remy Thomas recalled. “No matter what the situation is, he knows exactly what to say to us. The quad line— masked, of course—also met up a few times to drum and to record a little something. On top of that, we met several times as a full corps with our wonderful staff, and we had our usual banquet the Sunday after finals, even though it was virtual.”
“The Blue Devils front ensemble members and staff had weekly virtual rehearsals and meet-ups to keep in touch and stay connected,” stated Michael Dy. “We had a few Zoom meetings with Scott [Johnson, Director of Percussion for the Blue Devils] and the whole percussion section,” Bryan Criswell added. “Plus, some FaceTime calls with the snare line to discuss things for Hackfest [an online event pitting different sections of the BD drum line against each other in a friendly competition]. Just ways for us to stay in touch.”
“This summer, Carolina Crown hosted an off-season training program for active members and 2021 prospects,” Nikolai Coletta said. “As front ensemble members, we had a few rehearsals with the battery, but we approached it more as a clinic where we all studied specific percussive techniques rather than a virtual recreation of what a block would look like if we were in person. We did, however, do sub-sectionals multiple times, where we split up the front ensemble into different groups and played for each other, which resembled a more traditional drum corps rehearsal, just at a slower pace because of technological restrictions.”
“During Crown’s weekly sectional calls this past summer, we were able to focus on exercises, technique, and show music/lot tunes,” Rob Martin added. “We also had sub-sectional calls that allowed smaller groups, such as marimbas, to play music for each other and give constructive feedback. These calls were rarer, as technology restricted us from conducting in-depth cleaning.”
A SUMMER WITHOUT DRUM CORPS
Although fans missed the musical pageantry on the field, the loss of the drum corps season was felt most keenly by the members themselves.
“I missed marching this year for sure,” reflected Remy Thomas. “Drum corps is a home away from home. That being said, I like to make the best out of any situation, and this summer was extremely productive for me. I worked full time and taught lessons on the side, while the remaining time was spent practicing and trying to stay active. While I would have preferred marching, being back with my buddies, and touring the country again, the summer of 2020 was the best it could have been, given the circumstances. There's only so much that was in my control, so I think the best thing to do is roll with the punches and enjoy what we have.”
“It didn’t really hit me until the day that would have been our first (home) show,” Bryan Criswell shared, “and I have to say, it was a real bummer. Having watched the Blue Devils every summer since 2012, and dreaming of being there, it was quite the journey. To have something I worked so hard to be a part of just taken away in a matter of days was rough. Watching videos of past shows is even harder, since all it does is make me think about what could have been. But even through it all, there were plenty of positives to gain from other things that push us to keep going.”
“Even though I was not planning to march in 2020, it was still very strange and sad to not be able to follow along with all the performances throughout the summer,” stated Kirk Baltzell. Andrew Tao agreed. “I was planning on flying to Indianapolis to watch finals live, and I was really sad about not getting to see my friends perform.”
“Not being able to march this summer has been both hard as well as a relief,” admitted Rob Martin. “Missing the constant excitement of touring and shows has made me realize how much we take drum corps for granted. Every conversation, every moment, and every day I had during drum corps feels more special than ever, giving me the opportunity to reflect on my time and look forward to next summer. But I was able to experience summer with my hometown friends and dive into other opportunities I would not be able to participate in during a drum corps season.”
“Because 2020 was supposed to be my second year at BD,” Michael Dy said, “I was obviously disappointed that I wasn't able to march this summer, as I'm sure everybody was. That being said, the past few months gave me the much-needed opportunity to regroup and further hone my skills in playing as well as recording.”
“Things happened,” stated Bryan Criswell, “and it’s up to us as individuals to accept certain circumstances that are simply not ours to control. The best thing to do is look for joy anywhere you can, big or small.”
“It was a sad call to cancel the summer tour, but it was the right call,” Kirk Baltzell added. “Drum Corps International, as an organization, as well as the individual corps, should take this time to reflect and fight to become more equitable and healthy organizations. If we trust our health experts, and individually do our parts, we will make it through this pandemic, and drum corps can be back, hopefully healthier than ever!”
“While the summer of 2020 was not what anybody was expecting,” concluded Remy Thomas, “I have high hopes for the future and am excited to get back to it as soon as possible. The SCV family is a bond that can't be broken. I was flooded with happiness while on Zoom with the group, just seeing everyone's faces and getting to converse with my closest friends. I am beyond excited for the next summer, whenever that may be, because I know it will be something extremely special.”