In 2017 Drum Corps International competition, the Blue Devils and Vanguard organizations received top ranks in both World and Open Class while Carolina Crown and Legends took bronze respectively.
In 2017, several drum corps hit major milestones. The Blue Devils and Santa Clara Vanguard came together to celebrate their respective 60th and 50th anniversaries. These two corps, along with Carolina Crown, presented shows about change, evolution, and mixing the old with the new.
Blue Devils Corps Spreads its Wings
With a score of 98.538, the Blue Devils—Drum Corps International’s winningest corps—took home its 18th gold medal plus two caption awards for Best General Effect and Best Visual Performance.
Despite its impressive track record, the Blue Devils from Concord, California, never gets complacent. Every year, the corps finds new ways to reinvent the drum and bugle corps activity.
The spectacle this year came from “Metamorph,” a show about change and growth with a meaning that functions on three levels. “The first is to show how the activity [of drum corps] has metamorphed—where it came from and where it could be going,” says Blue Devils corps director Patrick Seidling.
To illustrate this metamorphosis, corps members begin the show on the starting line as drum corps often did 40 years ago. “It was a very military marching band style,” Seidling says. “By the end of the show, we were moving, dancing, and doing non-linear work.”
The second meaning of “Metamorph” is an illustration of the changes the Blue Devils corps itself has undergone since its founding in 1957. “We show that with musical motifs we’ve performed over the decades [and] putting in some of our signature drill moves from the past,” Seidling says.
As the show progresses, the style of music changes. “We start out with drum beats from popular tunes from the ’70s, and we end with voiceovers,” Seidling says. “Classic jazz to modern pop—that’s how Blue Devils has transformed over the years.”
The third meaning of the show was a story—accessible to all audiences—of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Color guard members embodied this theme by wearing outfits resembling cocoons toward the beginning of the show. Partway through, corps members shed their jackets, and the guard revealed flags that look liked butterfly wings. “If you didn’t know anything about drum corps or its history or the Blue Devils, you could still watch the show and see the story of a butterfly,” Seidling says.
True to Tradition
While growth and metamorphosis define the Blue Devils this year, the corps also maintains strong ties to its history and its traditions. This year, the Blue Devils celebrated its 60th anniversary. Because neighboring corps Santa Clara (California) Vanguard was celebrating its 50th anniversary, the two groups joined forces and put on a huge gala.
Blue Devils drum major C.C. Waggoner counts the joint gala as one of his favorite memories from the season. “Both drumlines and horn lines got to perform at the gala,” he says. “We got to mingle for a little bit. It was really fun to see everyone still in uniform having a good time.”
After going strong for 60 years, the corps attributes its success in part to maintaining the traditional values that it’s always espoused. “Being the most winning drum corps is a testament to a standard that was set by corps director Jerry Seawright back in the early ’70s,” Seidling says. “It’s about holding to those standards of quality, of excellence, and of relevance.”
WORLD CLASS CORPS 2
Santa Clara Vanguard Seizes Silver
With a score of 97.600, Santa Clara Vanguard finished its 50th anniversary season with a second-place title at DCI World Championships plus the caption awards for Best Percussion Performance and Best Color Guard.
Though Vanguard consistently finishes in the top 10, this year marks the first time since 2004 that it hit the top three. “We were super excited because it’s the best Vanguard’s done in a really long time,” says drum major Christopher Harper. “We were ecstatic—we were cheering and crying, and it was absolutely amazing!”
Because of Vanguard’s 50th anniversary, this season has been busy—yet rewarding—for everyone involved. “The buzz around it this year has been unmatched,” says corps director Shaun Gallant.
Vanguard kicked off 2017 by marching in the Tournament of Roses Parade with a contingent that included current and alumni members. “We got to meet a lot of new people you wouldn’t get a chance to march with,” Harper says.
In June, Vanguard joined with the Blue Devils to put on a huge gala. For a lot of members, spending time with alumni was an important part of the season. “We had alumni come by and talk about what it was like starting out with the first Vanguard,” Harper says. “It was a lot of connecting with the past [and] learning the Vanguard spirit from early on.”
Time for Evolution
Vanguard’s 2017 show, “Ouroboros,” recounts the ancient legend of a serpent eating its own tail, symbolizing a circular lifecycle and rebirth. For the 50th anniversary, the corps decided to perform a show about growth and evolution, symbolic to its own journey. “In the anniversary year, you very easily could do greatest hits or a fan show,” Gallant says. “But we’ve been known for pushing the envelope. We really wanted to focus on doing something new and out of the box.”
“Ouroboros” featured circular props, symbolizing the cyclical quality of human life, told through a serpent’s story. “Right from the first note, it was very aggressive,” Gallant says. “It was that angsty feeling—uncomfortable in your own skin.”
After the serpent shed its skin, the corps led into a ballad, which portrayed a newfound comfort. “As you grow older, you become more confident,” Gallant says. “That’s the lifecycle of the show.”
This theme of evolution was relevant beyond the show itself. This year Vanguard presented new uniforms made of stretchy, Spandex-like material, which allowed the corps to do more physically than it had in years past. “It allowed for comfortable ease of motion,” Harper says. “[In] previous years, we couldn’t even raise our arms above our heads because of the shoulder pads. The uniform just wasn’t flexible enough.”
The new uniforms required that the corps adapt some of its older traditions. Every year, the corps hosts a ceremony before finals where age-out members receive a green feather that they wear in their Aussie hat during the final performance. However, the new uniforms didn’t include the traditional headwear, so the corps had to adapt the tradition. “We got these pins with parts of the green feather on it,” says Harper, who aged out this year. “They’d wear it right above their star.”
WORLD CLASS CORPS 3
Carolina Crown Breaks from Tradition
In third place, with a score of 96.575 and winning the caption award for Best Brass Performance, was Carolina Crown. Its show, “It Is …,” deconstructed the traditional model of the drum corps activity. Crown’s break from tradition started with changing the setup of the Lucas Oil Stadium field itself. “We would move yard lines with different props; we would add additional zeroes,” says Jim Coates, executive director.
Adding to the visual break from tradition, Crown performed a selection of music non-traditional for drum corps. “The front portion of the show was recognizable music, and as you listen to that, it starts to deconstruct in terms of the melodies and rhythms,” Coates says.
The show’s ballad was the song “For Good” from the theatrical show “Wicked,” featuring a duet between the brass and a vocalist. “The lyrics in that is what really took to the show—that change is upon us, and change is good,” Coates says. “The decisions are always difficult to break away from your normal presentation of what people expect of you, but it was easy once we heard her voice and knew how it would fit into the show.”
Despite Carolina Crown’s evident success this season, one of the most special parts of the year had nothing to do with music or competition—it had to do with charity, according to Coates.
Conceived in 2015, CrownCARES is Carolina Crown’s community outreach program. This year, it partnered with Samaritan’s Feet, a philanthropic organization that provides socks and shoes to children in need.
During its 2017 summer tour, Carolina Crown stopped in Columbia, South Carolina; Ferguson, Missouri; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to donate socks and shoes to more than 1,000 kids as well as give them some musical entertainment. “It didn’t have to do with drum corps; it had to do with society,” Coates says.
While in these cities, corps members spent time with the kids they were serving, often physically washing kids’ feet. “We spent a good six hours taken out of the rehearsal day to do community service that was important to us,” Coates says. “Change is important. That fit our theme.”
OPEN CLASS CORPS 1
A Comeback for the Vanguard Cadets
With a score of 80.725, the Vanguard Cadets not only took home the gold medal in Open Class but also swept the Open Class caption awards. On the surface, it might look like the Vanguard Cadets had smooth sailing all season, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Partway through the season, Vanguard Cadets staff members realized they needed to redesign the entire show. “The design we originally had wasn’t working, and we shifted some design staff,” says Steve Barnhill, corps director and this year’s Dr. David Kampschroer Leadership Award recipient. “In seven rehearsals, we had to redo the entire show. The drill was redesigned; the staging was all redone.”
Once the staff reworked the show’s visuals, Barnhill says that everyone involved “hit accelerate,” so they wouldn’t fall behind other groups. The resulting show was “In Pieces,” which used vibrant colors to show the corps breaking apart and coming back together like Tetris pieces. “[The] first time we come together as a corps is the end of the show in big, unified forms,” Barnhill says.
Because the Vanguard Cadets’ visuals changed so much this season, winning the Best Visual Performance and Best Color Guard caption awards was particularly gratifying. “I was especially happy for the color guard,” Barnhill says. “My heart really burst for them because they really put it out there for us. The visual [awards] we got, given how much we had to redo the entire visual package, was really rewarding.”
OPEN CLASS CORPS 2
Blue Devils B Goes Cerebral
The Blue Devils B earned the silver medal in DCI Open Class with a score of 79.625. Its show, “The World the Children Made,” told the story of a child discovering the power of imagination. “As you get to the end of the show, the character realizes the strength in their own imagination, and their own mind helps shape the world around them,” says Ryan Odello, percussion caption head.
The show built on themes that were less concrete and more based on thoughts and ideas than what the corps’ membership is accustomed to. “This year we tried to do a theme that was more cerebral and a little more heavy,” Odello says. “Getting them to buy in at times was more challenging, to embody the character we were asking them to portray.”
Inspired by Porter Robinson’s “Worlds,” Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” (originally released with the title “The World the Children Made”), and the art style of Japanese anime, the show used props and stages that would change as the child’s thoughts changed. The song “Pure Imagination” from the movie “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” was woven in throughout the show, serving as a common motif.
Though the show’s heavier themes may have been more challenging, Blue Devils B was certainly up to the task. “At exactly the right time, they were emotional, engaging, [and] professional,” Odello says.”
OPEN CLASS CORPS 3
Legends Boldly Grows
Started by executive director Ibe Sodawalla in 2006, Legends finished in the top three for the first time at last year’s Open Class finals—and then, with a score of 77.250, earned its second consecutive bronze medal this season. “It was definitely exciting for the corps to still maintain a high level of competitive merit,” Sodawalla says.
This year’s show, “The Signal,” was a science-fiction musical about something unknown contacting a small town on Earth. Throughout the show, percussionists created sounds reminiscent of Morse code, which tied in with the music. For example, the Morse code for “SOS” went along with the corps’ performance of the Simon & Garfunkel song “The Sound of Silence.”
Visually, the show included a large communication tower that lit up with LED lights to represent the signal. The show featured music from the movie “Wall-E” in the opener and “The Sound of Silence” as the ballad when the signal stopped, creating a silent curiosity among the townspeople portrayed by the color guard. The closer included music from the TV franchise “Stargate.”
“We used a musical palette that was a little more sci-fi, so it could be implied that the signal was coming from outer space,” Sodawalla says.
2017 was a year of continued growth for Legends, both in terms of membership and staff. “We had a number of new people that joined [the staff], and we’re settling into new expectations and responsibilities—passing the baton in a lot of ways,” Sodawalla says.
While the size of the corps has remained about the same, audition numbers have increased. When Legends was a newer corps, it would accept nearly everyone who auditioned, but this year, it had to turn away about 250 people. “This year we had over 400 individuals audition,” Sodawalla says. “Those who [remained] know they earned that.”