Drum Corps International Rolls Out 2017 Season
Though the concept of marching bands and more specifically, drum and bugle corps, dates well before the 20th century, since 1972, Drum Corps International has provided youth enrichment and entertainment for millions in the United States. Around the globe, other organizations have followed the DCI model.
So what is a “drum and bugle corps”? Most people easily identify with their high school marching band, but drum corps goes a huge step further. Headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, Drum Corps International is the governing body to a collective of individual drum and bugle corps groups across the United States. DCI sanctioned competitions, the Summer Music Games, brings the corps to competition, leading to a week-long finals event in August. The groups, usually independent non-profits, are classified as World Class (the elite groups with a maximum of 150 members), Open Class (smaller and easier to become a member), and International Class (for non-U.S. groups).
Let’s get one thing straight. Drum corps is not high school marching band. The most notable difference is the absence of woodwind instruments. Drum corps musicians are “buglers” and percussionists. However, the term “bugle” is a misnomer in the world of drums and bugle corps. It has been decades since a true bugle was used. Traditionally, American drum corps use two-valved, vertical piston, bell-front brass instruments, ranging in voice from soprano to contra bass. More recently, groups have added instruments beyond those in the key of G to include B-flat and F instruments, as well as three and four-valved instruments. Compliment massive percussion sections and the brass sections with a group of flag, rifle, and saber-spinning dancers-the colorguard-and you have a drum corps. The tempos, movement, gymnastics and music combine for what can almost be described as acrobatic.
After auditions in the late fall and early winter, youth between the ages of 13 and 21 meet regularly through the winter to rehearse and prepare their summer show. In late May and early June, the kids finally come together for “every days” where they are together for the remainder of the summer, rehearsing and traveling to competition.
As the elite drum and bugle corps groups, World Class drum corps sometimes overshadow Open Class and International Class. The current World Class champion is the Blue Devils from Concord, California. This group is so well organized, it has two feeder corps for alternate musicians and younger musicians-sort of a farm league as one would see in professional baseball. Mirroring its big brother corps, Blue Devils B is the current Open Class champions. Blue Devils were followed in the 2009 World Class championships by Carolina Crown, a former Division II champion (Division II became Open Class), The Cadets in third place, The Cavaliers in fourth place, and Santa Clara Vanguard in fifth place. These groups are consistently among the top twelve corps.
This season we can expect exciting shows from all the corps, but to highlight the top five:
Blue Devils-apparently a well guarded secret as of this publication, the Blue Devils show will reportedly revolve around a “Reflections” theme and include the use of mirrors on the field.
Carolina Crown-“A Second Chance” features the second symphonies of composers Mahler, Khatchaturian, Marquez, and Elgar.
The Cavaliers-“Mad World”, an avant garde show including music by Roland Orzabal, Peter Graham, Pat Metheney, and Charlie Chaplin.
The Cadets-“Toy Soldier” which includes pieces focused on, you guessed it, toy soldiers, such as Babes in Toyland.
Santa Clara Vanguard-“Bartok” a show comprising selections from Bela Bartok’s “Concerto for Orchestra” and “Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta.”
These five shows for 2017 represent the complexity and sophistication of musical skill the thousands of young adults in drum corps have. Unfortunately, West Coast fans do not have the same number of opportunities to catch a drum corps show as their East coast counterparts. As the summer progresses, corps from Western states start migrating east for the week of finals in Indianapolis.