DCI Tour of Changes

Shows featuring only the top eight groups. An experimental entertainment score sheet. Finals open to all. And a street parade. These are just some of the changes happening with Drum Corps International’s 2011 tour. Get the skinny about why these changes were made and what corps members and fans think about them.

Photo by Ken Martinson/Marching.com

From Major League Baseball to NCAA college football to the International Olympic Committee, every competitive organization struggles with the occasional scandal, great debate, timely re-haul, impassioned fan demands, unhappy members and growing pains. Marching Music’s Major League, Drum Corps International (DCI), is no exception.

It’s a summer of change for DCI. In response to both the “G7” proposal and today’s economic challenges, a slew of special events, experimental elements and a new finals format hope to expand drum corps’ appeal and fan base.

We Are the Champions

Perhaps the biggest change this summer is the Tour of Champions, a series of events featuring the top eight corps from last year. These new programs will feature experimental elements such as mass performances, easy fan access to warm-ups, individual and ensemble performers in the marketplace, instant encores and fan participation. If well received, some of these things may be included at all DCI shows in the future.

“Those shows will give us a great opportunity to test some of the ideas we’ve always wanted to test and haven’t been able to,” says Mark Arnold, executive director of the Blue Knights and current DCI chairman of the board. “We’ve been boxed in by the competitive environment.”

The Tour of Champions developed in response to last year’s “G7” controversy, in which seven top corps submitted a proposal to DCI that called for special shows featuring DCI’s “top acts” as well as major financial infrastructure changes.

“They’re not exactly as some of us had envisioned,” says George Hopkins, executive director of The Cadets. “But I think the compromise that evolved between the top corps and the rest of the organization is reasonable and will give us a chance to see what might work in the future.”

The controversy created tension among the DCI administration and the member corps, not to mention drawing great concern from fans and participants—all of whom are now trying to move forward and keep the organization together and the performers performing.

“I don’t think anyone believes that what we’re doing resolves anything that took place a year ago,” says Dan Acheson, DCI CEO. “But what I do believe is that everyone at every competitive level is being very supportive and cooperative in staging these events, and all are interested in seeing them be successful. And in a sense, that does solve where we might have been a year ago with our governance issues. We’re moving forward.”

These events have created new challenges for the participating corps, including budget and travel concerns. “The extra touring days have added on much more expenses, and we’ve had to do some planning to make sure it all works,” says Rick Valenzuela, executive director of Phantom Regiment. “It makes it a lot more expensive, but the excitement of what we’re trying to do is the payoff.”

In addition, the participating corps had to complete their shows much earlier than in the past, requiring extra rehearsals and even higher than usual levels of commitment and focus. “The top eight events forced everyone to get their shows done earlier than they might,” Hopkins says. “There’s been more of a movement over the last few years to take your time and hold back flags or uniforms or not have the closer done. That’s not going to be the case.”

While not officially considered a Tour of Champions event, the top eight corps met in Saginaw, Texas, to kick off the season with performances that were shown in theaters across the country.

“The broadcast in the theater was highly accepted and spoken of as a great way to see those eight high-caliber corps all at one time early in the season,” says Dan LaMacchia, a longtime drum corps fan from Ohio and avid member of the Drum Corps Planet forums. “It calmed some of the concerns people had about the Tour of Champions and seeing all eight at one time.”

The Tour of Champions also indirectly gives other corps a chance to shine. “The nature of the Tour of Champions schedule enables us to have some excellent performance opportunities,” says Tom Spataro, executive director for the Boston Crusaders. “DCI Orlando is a really important market for DCI, and the same night there’s a Tour of Champions event in South Carolina. Since all those groups have to be there, the others are headlining the event in Orlando.”

That’s Entertainment

At the Tour of Champions events, the DCI Rules and Systems Task Force, led by Michael Cesario, will test out a new experimental judging system. This new system is said to place more weight on the entertainment value of shows. The findings will be presented to the corps directors in September, with a final vote in January.

“The system is a derivative of the current system, but it’s something that has everything for everybody—from considering the audience to dealing with the intricacies of the levels of excellence a group of snare drummers might be achieving,” Acheson says. “I’ll be interested to see how the experiment goes and how they will vote. As I understand, it’s what most of the corps were looking for.”

According to LaMacchia, the fans are looking forward to the new system as some felt the activity was becoming too intellectual at the expense of entertainment value. “I think the forum comments are a reflection on the quality of Cesario’s work because he’s been very tight-lipped, and very few people know what he’s going to do or propose,” he says. “The consensus is that if it can be done, then Cesario’s the right guy to get it done.”

Helen Elliott, a longtime fan from Oklahoma City, says that many people at the theater broadcast were chatting hopefully about the new system. “They say they are going to put the crowd first when it comes to general effect; I hope that is correct,” she says. “I find it very frustrating sometimes when I hear the scores. Although we are not expert judges, we are not totally lost on what a good versus a great show looks like.”

DCI hopes the new system will help increase drum corps’ fan base. “DCI is working very hard to improve fan involvement and participation,” says Mike Quillen, executive director of the Oregon Crusaders. “It’s part of their corporate goals. There will be some fans that are always upset with some of the changes, but I don’t know if that’s the vocal minority or if it’s really a majority making those criticisms.”

The difficulty lies in deciding whom to try and please and attract—old-school drum corps fans or high school students and their parents. “We have a complex demographic that we go after: high school band kids all the way to grandma and grandpa following us for 40 years and everything in between,” Acheson says. “We’re doing all we can to appeal to those masses. We hope they embrace those changes and find them meaningful and exciting.”

While the older fans are the ones able to spend money and keep DCI financially stable, attracting younger fans keeps the activity alive and inspires students to continue their musical education.

“As a middle school student, you don’t see what more there is to band; you don’t see the payoff because you’re just performing for your parents,” says Shannel Sosa, a second-year mellophone player in Pacific Crest. “In drum corps you get such a rush. I have cousins in middle school who see me perform in drum corps and then get so motivated at their instrument or in color guard.”

Open Season

Another big change for DCI is more of a throwback than a new idea. Finals week will begin in Michigan City, Ind., with Open Class Championships on Monday and Tuesday. The festivities then move to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, with finals prelims on Thursday. The event is now open to all corps, regardless of class, much like it was in the 1960’s and 70’s. The top 25 corps will advance to semifinals, and the top 12 from there to finals.

“I think the change in format for finals is really just a celebration of DCI as an activity,” says Chris Komnick, executive director of the Madison Scouts. “Realistically, will any open class corps get to finals? No. But the opportunity to see what it’s like to play in Lucas Oil—it’s a really big stage, and if that connects with them as performers, then that’s great.”

The new format will allow corps to compete in Indy regardless of the previous touring schedule, and DCI hopes it will increase attendance as well. “The responsibilities placed on the member corps are really extreme; they have to be able to stay out on the road and tour,” Arnold says. “This [change] allows corps to be able to check out where they stand competitively in the big picture without being obligated to the rigors of a national tour. We expect to have more participants and their families and fans attending championships as a result.”

Drum corps fans are excited at the prospect of a full day of performances and getting to see corps they might not have normally. “I think everyone is pumped as heck about that,” LaMacchia says. “I haven’t seen a single negative comment; I think it was a great idea, and everybody agrees. Drum corps fans like drum corps all day long, and this gives them a chance to sit there all day.”

Open class corps are excited for the opportunity and stepping up their game accordingly.

“There are so few drum corps left that the chance to be all together at one show is a great thing,” says Richard Rigolini, executive director of the Spartans. “We hope it will strengthen the relationship between the Open and World Class groups as well. We didn’t change what we do or how we do it, but maybe we’re setting our personal goals a little higher. It will be a great experience for the kids.”

But for some World Class corps, a high-scoring Open Class corps could end up being the difference between them and semifinals. “From what I hear around me, most people don’t like it because it’s so different; we don’t know how to react or what’s going to happen,” Sosa says “It gives everyone the incentive to push harder. It’s a good idea, but it’s different, so we’ll see how it goes this year.”

On Parade

Another highlight of finals week will be the Celebrate Indy Arts! Parade on Saturday morning. All the non-finals corps will march through downtown Indianapolis with local visual and performing arts organizations. “We’re excited to be able to offer this; it’s been a long time since there’s been a championships parade, and it’s never been on finals day,” Acheson says. “Folks coming in that day can engage in a parade, and the locals here might be introduced to what we do for the first time.”

The results of this summer’s changes could affect DCI for years to come. Almost everyone mentioned that the whole community wants to wait and see how it goes. At the end of summer, the directors, administrators and fans will reevaluate and start the debates again.

“People have a wait-and-see attitude before we go back to the table,” Hopkins says. “With the rigors of everyone being on the road, there won’t be a lot of conversation this summer. People of like desires and different desires need to come up with an organizational vision that will please everyone and serve tens to hundreds of thousands of young people. We need to spend a lot of time to imagine how we fit into the future of arts education.”

About the Author

Elizabeth Geli is an editorial assistant at Halftime Magazine. She has played flute and marched at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band, where she is currently a teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts) from USC.

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