It was an angels/demons double team taking on the devils on the “battlefield” of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The epic showdown ended with The Cadets capturing its 10th Drum Corps International title on Aug. 13, 2011, denying the reigning champion Blue Devils from capturing a rare three-peat. While on the rain-swept fields of the Open Class Championships, Blue Devils B secured its own three-peat with a third gold medal in as many years.
Photo by Ken Martinson/Marching.com
The Cadets Win 10th Gold
Staged as a celestial battle between good and evil, cream-garbed “angels” against maroon-decked “demons,” the contrasting uniformed Cadets entered from opposing tunnels to a full-throttle show that gave the performers nary a moment of stillness. The left side, led by a graceful angel adorned with wings, stepped in an orderly fashion onto the competitive field while a chaotic right side violently crawled to meet their adversaries, throwing orange marker cones and a crushed mellophone that had seen better days. They retained characterizations throughout their performance, culminating in a battle of percussive proportions.
“My favorite moment in the show would have to be the drum feature,” says center snare “angel” Ian Wudyka, 19, a student at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. “The drum feature was intense with the battle charge, and then the whole drum line coming together and playing a unison ending.”
Jeff Sacktig, visual drill designer and caption head, watched from the stands on finals night, embracing the experience with the audience. “They really stepped it up tonight, knowing it was going to be the last competitive show,” he says. “They really took ownership of the field and put on the performance of their lives.”
Sacktig, the man behind the complex drill, was instrumental in The Cadets earning the Donald Angelica Best General Effect Award and Best Visual Performance Award, two caption awards determined by averaging scores over the three nights. On the final sheets, The Cadets also took first in Visual Effect, Music Effect, Visual Performance and Music Ensemble—including an uncommon perfect score the night before in three sub-captions.
“I thought it was a special program when we first started doing it,” Sacktig recalls. “The pacing of the show, the characterizations, the colorization of the show, I thought was something different. [Although] it took the whole summer to build the intensity, it was an easy concept, one that everyone could understand. It was welcoming and inviting at the same time that overwhelmed people.”
Director George Hopkins describes the uniqueness of the win. “One always hopes that the corps’ best performance is on Saturday evening, but such is rarely the case,” he says.
Citing nerves or overexcitement, Hopkins believes a performer’s finals generally leave something to be desired and noted that with just tenths between first and second place, it could have gone either way. “But, this year, on that evening, the Cadets were astounding,” he says. “All segments were magnificent, and the audience responded. In fact, they were on their feet for over a minute. Such a reaction is what we dream of for our kids, and this time it happened.”
Wudyka, a three-year veteran, remembers it that way as well. “Our finals performance was one of the most memorable performances I have ever had,” he says. “The execution and the high emotion levels were through the roof. It almost didn’t matter what the outcome was. We knew we performed our best and had a great time doing it.”
How good was it? “It’s the best finals I’ve ever seen” in 29 years as director, Hopkins says.
From a member’s perspective, Wudyka gave insight on the corps’ attitude that led the group to victory. “The people in the drums corps this year were passionate, professional, confident, friendly and willing to ascend to the highest level,” reveals Wudyka. “The work effort and camaraderie of the group made the season a lot of fun, and we had a very smooth journey down the road.”
Hopkins agrees. “These folks woke earlier, worked harder, all in pursuit of perfection,” he says. “It was a pleasure to be a part of the organization; it was a joy to be allowed to lead this group. And from volunteers, to staff, to alumni and to our team in the office, we had a great run. A great experience from day one to the end.”
Note from the Editor: Read more about The Cadets experience in the words of Ben Pouncey, head drum major and this year’s World Class Jim Jones Leadership Award winner, in his article “The Experience for a Lifetime.”
The Blue Devils Show Heart, With Silver and Be st Guard
While 2011 marked the fourth time that The Blue Devils fell short of a three-peat (1978, 1981 and 1998), a mere .575 is all that separated them from five championships in a row. But in this competitive activity, those tenths can turn gold to silver. After back-to-back championship titles in 2009 and 2010, it was going to be a contest right from the beginning. That beginning was June 18 in Saginaw, Texas, where the top four results ended up being the exact reverse order of how they landed in Indy: The Cadets in 4th, The Blue Devils in 3rd, The Cavaliers in 2nd, and Carolina Crown, which won the Jim Ott Best Brass Award, in 1st. The show ended two perfect seasons for The Blue Devils, but not the spirit of the corps.
The Blue Devils’ legacy of excellence and style are the foundation for a staggering 14 Drum Corps International World Championship titles, including an unmatched collection of Color Guard titles by again securing the George Zingali Best Color Guard Award for a record setting fourth year in a row. To date, they have taken 15 High Color Guard placements, 13 of these directed by Scott Chandler, program coordinator/ choreographer.
What is the secret to such phenomenal success? “We have been incredibly blessed with talent with the performers in The Blue Devils Color Guard, and our goal has always been to make the best use of their incredible gifts,” Chandler says. “The training program is one of integrated body, equipment and communication skills. Not one part of our training exists without the other. I choreograph movement and equipment to showcase their training and the given character for the shows. Beyond this it becomes a matter of how to constantly increase the skill set and challenge with innovation.”
Director David Gibbs recognizes Chandler’s part as well as the entire team in The Blue Devils’ legacy. “I believe the ongoing legacy is the talent of the staff and design team,” Gibbs says. “How they can bring such diverse shows to the field year after year and maintain the excellence of performance that is the trademark of The Blue Devils.”
“The Beat My Heart Skipped,” a show based on classic 1960’s music from composer Burt Bacharach, explored the sense of community evolving from scattered set pieces to a resolved home.
Like Hopkins, Gibbs also credits the performers’ perseverance. “This year the members took the risk and challenge by sharing their abilities, performing and competing at a high level,” he says. “They never gave up. From their attitude and positive approach, how they represented the organization and DCI with class, they rose to the challenge and met the risk head on all the way until the end.”
For Blue Devils B, Three’s a “Golden” Charm
Though Blue Devils B stepped off second to last, they left the field tops in Open Class for the third year in a row. The California corps had a nearly perfect season, winning all but one competition with its show, “Synchronicity.” In three years, Blue Devils B have only lost two shows.
Edging out the Oregon Crusaders by three tenths of a point, BDB took 1st in Visual and Music Effect, Music Ensemble and Percussion, earning awards for General Effect and Percussion.
In a changed format this year, where the complete lineup of Open Class corps advanced to Preliminary Championships, Blue Devils B went on to place 19th at the World Class semifinals, overtaking four World Class corps.
“This year was very special for us because it seemed we had even more challenges than ever coming at us from every direction,” says Director Rick Odello. “But the corps members, management team, instructional and support staff, and volunteers handled each situation successfully as they arose.”
Hall of Famer Odello was humble in explaining. “To join the ranks as one of the very few corps in Drum Corps International history to ever three-peat a DCI Championship title has been especially rewarding to our members and staff,” he says. “Then to have the three Open Class corps medalists all from the same DCI Pacific Division and all on the West Coast is very interesting and quite unusual. I think the corps all pushed each other competitively throughout the season.”
At the helm was DaJuan Brooks, the 19-year-old drum major who accomplished a trifecta of sorts. The first was leading his corps to a DCI Championship. Second was winning a medal in the Individual & Ensemble competition with a perfect score (100) on clarinet. Finally, being awarded DCI’s Jim Jones Leadership Award for Open Class. “I am so happy for DaJuan to be recognized as the recipient of this prestigious award,” Odello says.
Here’s the topper: Not only was this his rookie year, but it was also his first year conducting. “This award means absolutely everything to me,” Brooks says. “My instructors worked step-by-step to make this possible, to help me grow as a leader and as a person, as a friend, to be the person I am today.”
While Brooks may have submitted the application for the award, he truly didn’t expect to win, given this was his first year. “I was just trying to get the range of being a drum major—to learn everything a Blue Devil’s supposed to do, how we go about rehearsals. That was my main focus. Now as I go on through college to become a band director, I’ll always remember my staff and Rick Odello, the biggest mentor I’ve had all season.”
Oregon Crusaders Shine in Its Final Hour
Touting this summer as its most successful season ever, the Oregon Crusaders took 1st in Visual Performance and Brass. Just as impressive, the group was the only corps to beat Blue Devils B all season.
Director Michael Quillen points out that “no one was expecting them to be as good as they were this year, even with building upon their 2nd place finish in 2010,” he says. “But the size of the corps grew by nearly 45% this year while retaining a 60% veteran base relative to the 2010 membership level.”
As for its show, “The Blue Hour,” Quillen explains the “trickle down” effect. “It was an exciting program, with a high level of integration and design depth,” he says. “It was artistic and yet had some great drum corps moments. It was a show that the members enjoyed performing, which translated into a show that the audience also enjoyed.”
Hard to forget were the show’s two impressively large tarps. “We had memorable props this year,” Quillen says. “A 96-foot-diameter moon and an iconic Oregon Crusaders compass rose tarps.”
Remarkably, the corps placed 18th in Brass on World Class judge’s sheets. “Yes, this was a special group, led by a wonderful brass staff,” Quillen says. “And while the brass line was definitely one of our strengths this year, OC was a solid drum corps from top to bottom with few weaknesses in any specific caption.”
Quillen quickly attributes the corps’ accomplishments to a solid foundation. “A key to the group’s success this year has been consistency in the program, the staff, and, of course, returning membership,” he says. “While the size of the brass line grew by 20 this year, nearly half were returning members.”
DCI Attendance on the Rise
As one of the more competitive seasons, 2011 will be remembered for tight contests and sophisticated yet accessible programs. Even better, in this shaky economy, attendance levels actually rose. Preliminary figures for the 2011 Championships were 36,617, not including VIPs, corps and staff members. Finals-night attendance grew 9.2%, and Open Class Championships had an astounding 30% increase, boding well for the health of the activity.
Drum Corps International kicks off its 40th anniversary season in 2012, with championships week from Aug. 6 to 11, 2012.