Photos by Jolesch Photography, www.jolesch.com
The Blue Devils made history by going back to “1930” while Carolina Crown showed that “the grass is always greener” when it comes to the sweet sounds of its horn line. Meanwhile, the Holy Name Cadets returned to the field to pay respects to Leonard Bernstein for its 75th anniversary. But those weren’t the only drum corps that turned heads. Halftime Magazine reviews this year’s top drum corps, award winners and special recognitions.
History was made and records were broken at the conclusion of what some called one of the most exciting junior drum and bugle corps seasons in recent memory.
For the first time in its 37-year history, Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championships took place in the state-of-the- art Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The stadium, which has a retractable roof, houses a total of 63,000 seats and serves as the home of the Indianapolis Colts football team.
The Blue Devils Win No. 13
It was a finish for the record books on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2009, as The Blue Devils wrote its own history with “1930” when the corps won the DCI World Championships for a record 13th time.
The Blue Devils from Concord, Calif., successfully held off Carolina Crown and the Holy Name Cadets throughout the last three shows in Lucas Oil Stadium to remain undefeated for the entire season. Its score of 99.05 is the second highest ever for a championship performance.
The Blue Devils also took top honors with Color Guard Performance, General Effect Visual and Visual Ensemble categories. Carolina Crown, which placed 2nd overall, took the High Brass caption and Music Ensemble.
From heartbreak to history, The Blue Devils have done what no other drum corps organization has: to win at both the World Class and Open Class levels in the same season. The season was particularly special after 2nd place finishes for both The Blue Devils A and B corps in 2008.
“It’s an incredible organization,” says DCI Hall of Famer Pete Emmons, who is the corps manager and tour director for The Blue Devils A corps. “The Blue Devils’ vision and direction is what drives the success of this talented group of members.”
The Blue Devils’ 2009 production, “1930,” featured songs popular in the first year of the Great Depression.
And just like the difficult times of that decade, several members of the drum corps also faced financial hardship. Ryan Bettencourt, a euphonium player, nearly missed out on marching a second season with the corps.
“It was a hard decision for me to march this year due to financial issues,” says Bettencourt, who also marched in 2007. “My dad’s business was slower than usual, and my mom is disabled; I was faced with the possibility of not being able to participate this past year.”
Bettencourt presented his problem to the staff. “They were very understanding and gave me some grace with the payments,” he says. “So I started off the season by sending out 50 sponsorship letters to all the surrounding businesses in my area, and by the end of the season, the dedication of the staff, members and volunteers saw us through to the outcome we all had dreamed of. I still have a long way to go before I’m out of debt, but I could not be more proud to have been a part of the 2009 Blue Devils.”
Top Brass Lifts Carolina Crown
Another drum corps that has steadily risen through the ranks made history in 2009 as well. Carolina Crown not only achieved its highest placement ever (2nd) but also scored a 97.50 (the highest in corps history).
“Jim Coates [program coordinator and staff coordinator] and our great design team put together a tremendous program for the members to bring to life,” says director Kevin Smith. “A first-ever top-3 finish and a record high score for the corps … what’s there not to like?”
“The Grass is Always Greener” show, a multifaceted program with music ranging from Aaron Copland to Elvis Costello, also received the DCI Fan Network “Fan Choice” Award.
“We could not be any more proud of our members, staff and volunteers who created, supported and lived the experience,” Coates says. “For Crown to continue the development within DCI and be acknowledged by the fans as one of their favorites is certainly one achievement that sits high on the list of many.”
But the season had its set of difficulties that faces nearly every drum corps— illness. After the DCI Orlando contest, more than 20 members were too ill to perform, and Crown was forced to pull out of a show for the first time in its 20-year history.
According to Coates, the sickness took its toll on the rehearsals and performances for about a week. By the time it ran its course, nearly 60 members had lost some rehearsal time or the ability to perform their best.
“Some important changes to the design were delayed, and therefore the finished production was a little late from what was planned, but all in all I’d say the members and staff faced the challenges with unbelievable persistence to achieve the level of excellence and performance shown the final week of the season,” Coates says.
First-year member Nathan Skinner, a marimba player, says having to overcome that type of adversity was all worth it.
“The tour, work, lack of sleep, frustration, are all worth it when you see and hear the crowds’ response; it is like nothing you will ever experience,” Skinner says. “The success of the season can be credited to our amazing administration and support staff [who] made sure that our tour went smoothly. Our staff pushed us farther and harder than ever before. And our members made it their responsibility to be the best they could be—every rep.”
Blue Devils B Captures First Title
The Blue Devils B from Concord, Calif., captured its first-ever DCI Open Class Championship with a score of 95.50 and went undefeated all season long. The corps maintained its dominance by sweeping all the General Effect captions (Visual Effect and Music Effect) and all three Music captions (Brass, Ensemble and Percussion).
The Blue Devils was founded in 1957 by Ann and the late Tony Odello, who still have ties in the organization through their son Rick who is the current director of the B corps.
“This season has been especially amazing,” says Odello, who is in his fifth year as director. “This was the first time one organization has won at both levels of competition. It was a storybook season; everything seemed to fall into place.”
Last season, Blue Devils B narrowly missed its first-ever Open Class Championship title by just five hundredths of a point. The Vanguard Cadets finished with a final score of 96.825 as Blue Devils B took the silver medal with 96.775 in 2008.
As with the World Class competition, the Open Class drum corps also performed in the new Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday and Saturday afternoon.
“Performing in Lucas Oil was pretty spectacular,” Odello says. “The environment was very comfortable, which allowed the members to perform their best; no sun, heat or wind to distract them. It always seemed like we were on in the evening under the lights.”
Vanguard Cadets Earn Silver
The defending champion Santa Clara Vanguard Cadets from Santa Clara, Calif., secured the second spot in the DCI Open Class Finals. The Vanguard Cadets, who won in 2000 and 2008, had another landmark season, according to Director Rob Ripley.
“The corps set itself a new standard of excellence in rehearsal and performance quality,” Ripley says. “It was wonderful heading into quarterfinals with so many corps in the Open Class competitively positioned; it made for an exciting season.”
All for Love
In the corps’ program, “Love,” every performer characterized a wide range of emotions, from the joy of fi rst love to the disillusionment of loss.
“It was not an easy task, but the membership dove right in and never wavered, embracing every opportunity to perform,” Ripley says.
A Young Corps
Although the Vanguard Cadets placed well, the corps overcame the challenge of membership turnover from the previous season. According to Ripley, first-year members comprised nearly 73 percent of the corps due to many of last year’s members moving up into the Santa Clara Vanguard A Corps. “It was the biggest challenge, one we are always thrilled to have to deal with,” Ripley says.
Dana Baba, a mellophone player for the Vanguard Cadets, thought the fi rstyear members adjusted quickly. “The corps had so many rookies compared to the number of returning members, yet the dedication and effort put in was still outstanding,” Baba says. “We know we achieved greatness, no matter what the results were. I learned so much about musicianship and vast amounts about the Santa Clara Vanguard family.”
About the Author
Gregory M. Kuzma (www.gregorymkuzma.com), who simply goes by “GM,” is a freelance writer and the author of the book “On the Field From Denver, Colorado … The Blue Knights!,” which highlights his 1994 summer tour adventures as a drum corps member.