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          2011 DCW On-Line: Allentown, Pennsylvania – Friday Night

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          by William Aldrich-Thorpe, Drum Corps World staff (aldrichthorpe [at] gmail [dot] com)

          The Cavaliers easily outdistanced the Phantom Regiment this evening with their powerful and unusual production titled “XtraordinarY.” The Rosemont, IL, corps led across all of the major captions and took all but one sub caption for nearly a clean sweep.

          What a fantastic evening of drum corps. The weather was nearly perfect and the crowd tonight was loud and appreciative of every unit that graced J. Birney Crum Stadium. This show always has the feel of coming home to many as this was where many come in contact with old friends and former competitors. The conversations you hear around the stadium ran the gamut of prior competitions performed long ago, but still strongly remembered to those lamenting another drum corps season quickly coming to an end. Will this too be a season of many discussions for the years to come? Only time will tell.

          The Cavaliers, Rosemont, IL, Drum Corps World photo by Jeff Hiott

          It was definitively The Cavaliers’ evening as they took the field with a very tight program that seemed to gain more fans and stay in the hunt through the entire season. What a production — percussion, brass and color guard were a masterpiece of musical and visual integration that left you breathless.

          This corps every season seems to find a way to introduce something new to the marching arts. Over the years we have seen marching machines, expanding and sling shot forms, and marching members carried aloft. This season they brought stilted color guard members to add to the vertical texture of the program as their form velocity and their tight integration of all of the percussion, brass and color guard added to the amazing visuals and sheer enjoyment of the show.

          Then, to top it all off, the corps makes you topsey turvey as percussion tenors and brass alike are literally turned physically upside down. What an amazing production. The performance was nearly spot-on and it still felt that they had not peaked performance-wise as we come into the last week before the big show in Indianapolis. Beyond the members and staff of The Cavaliers, the audience was the big winner this evening.

          Jubal, Dordrecht, Holland, Drum Corps World photo by Hans Kloppert

          Bringing the “world” to drum corps, Jubal brought their international style of to the field and it was highly appreciated by the fans this evening. Performing their 2011 production titled “Back to the Future,” it was an interesting mix of some old school drum corps mixed with a more modern approach. The corps kicked off with an old time off the line (OTL) with music and a visual package. The color guard was working well and they represented the theme clearly. Musically, the corps had a good sound with a nice dynamic range. Jubal was crowned this evening as the International Class winner.

          What a simply gorgeous musical and visual production the Phantom Regiment brought to this eagerly awaiting crowd. The program is simply titled “Juliet” and the overall concept was both easily understood and much loved. Boy did they ever live up to their billing as one of the most lush and sonorous brass lines on the field. The musical show was like tailormade for this specific brass line. One of the favorite musical moments is the ballad A Time for Us that is from the 1973 “Romeo & Juliet” movie. It was a great moment, with the solo dancer with the shako/helmet. It was well-placed and beautifully timed.

          Percussion displayed a real talented line this season and it was evidence how well the corps was scoring. Of course the color guard is the anchor of the visual show with their strong choreography coupled with huge flag productions and well-timed weapons work. This was a well-balanced corps in all elements and was a huge hit for the fans.

          “It’s A Brave New World” was the 2011 Bluecoats’ production and it was a monster musical and visual extravaganza. First off, you have to give a nod to the highly clean and powerful percussion section that was both exposed and very expressive. That, coupled with a powerful brass line, made this one heck of musical dynamic duo. What seemed to hold this program from truly challenging the top corps this evening was in their visual and overall general effect performance. The show has some outstanding moments, especially during the cool Radiohead number Creep which had the stands rocking. Solid performance tonight and the audience was still highly appreciative of the production.

          Next was probably one of the most anticipated performances of the evening. The Madison Scouts have been gaining a huge following over the past couple of seasons and their 2011 production titled “New York Mourning” has been a major favorite all season long. “Beautiful Morning” gets more and more strained and sorrowful as the program moved through various aspects of being in New York City and the segment was fantastic in its inception and execution. Madison’s tribute to 9/11 has matured and is so subtle that it is still able to take you by surprise.

          Their production has great communication with the audience and the show is a lot of fun despite the gravity of the theme. The color guard is very athletic and performed with outstanding style. Musically the brass seems to get tighter and more expressive. They execute very well and are highly emotional at times as they reflect the varying moods of the program.

          One of my favorite numbers is at the end with the corps rendition of Empire State of Mind. It is a fantastic piece of music in itself, but Madison’s rendition was a masterpiece. It expresses the resilient attitude of the people of New York in the face of tragedy and strife. The fans were taken on a great ride and they responded with several standing ovations.

          With music anchored in the outstanding box-office film “The Bourne Identity” and a smattering of “The Matrix,” the Blue Stars electrified the crowd with a high-paced production titled “Re-Bourne.” It was an outstanding production that had many first-timers wondering, “What is that big scaffolding rig for” as it was being wheeled on to the field prior to the start of the show. If you were not completely out of breath at the conclusion of the rollercoaster ride, then you were simply not paying attention.

          It has highly-recognizable numbers coupled to a visual production that just screams fun and a drumming book/execution that will possibly scare a few corps next week at the championships. It is the total package that sells this program. Color guard is mean-looking with their very “punk” outfits and their even meaner equipment performance. You need a few viewings to truly catch all the various color guard tricks that just keep coming and coming. Fast-paced movement, both up and under the large scaffolding stage of the cityscape, they had a massive, pulled-out-of-their-seat reaction from fans has to give the Blue Stars much to be pleased about this season.

          Tonight, Wyoming Troopers just edged out the Glassmen by under a point with their highly entertaining program titled “The Road Home” replete with an actual road. First off, the corps’ new uniforms should be noted as they stepped a small pace away from their more traditional styling. Many in the audience seemed quite pleased with the change as it still gave you the basic military style, but a more modern leaning that should work well for the corps moving forward.

          The corps’ use of the brown road made sense and musically it was a delightful program with delicious tones and hues. The whole program seemed made up of ballads, though beautiful as they were performed, it seemed not to stretch the performers as other programs this evening.

          I liked what the percussion section was playing when they were actually playing, but it seemed they were not given too many options to strut their stuff. Color guard was smooth and engaging, and appropriate to the production overall, however, I would have loved to see more velocity to promote more dynamic expression. This was a good performance and nice production that may have been worked to the level of the performers for this season. The audience was still enthralled and they responded in kind.

          With a cool title for their 2011 production, “My Mortal Beloved,” Glassmen brought to the field a rather intriguing performance of a love affair between an immortal and a mortal. This is one of those productions that you need to pay very close attention to in order to clearly understand it. Musically, the production was adequate and told the story well using music from Beethoven, Moonlight Sonata and amodern number like Luigi Creatore’s Can’t Help Falling in Love to tell the story of a forbidden love found, love lost and love reacquired.

          Percussion was on fire tonight and was a standout with strong expression and very clean performance. Visually, the program seemed at times too crowded and the focus of the program was fuzzy with the two main characters lost in all the activities. The audience seemed to fall under the Glassmen’s spell as they loved the interplay between the immortal and mortal characters.

          Sometimes one of the most special drum corps moments happens with neither design nor planning. This evening it occurred when Glassmen had just completed their opening number and in the early notes of Moonlight Sonata when across the sky a large flock of Canadian Geese, in near-perfect formation, flew low over the competition field. One could only speculate how much general effect points they achieved. It certainly wowed the audience this evening.

          With a very long show title, “The Forty Thieves: An Ancient Tale of Spices, Toxins and Perfumes,” the Mandarins took to the field and performed a very nice production. I was not able to recognize the music, but what I heard was quite interesting. The show seemed designed to be performed between the 30 yard lines to maximize the volume of the smaller brass line. Percussion was a delight, they performed very well and the impact and attacks were expressive. There was much props and some action placed into the show to promote the 40 Thieves theme, but a lack of wow moments to create more than a respectful reaction from the audience. I do have one question — why did all the members fall down at the end of the show? Very perplexing!

          It started with a pretty cool show title, “Sinvitation 7,” and they introduced a new “live” sound to the front ensemble with the addition of an electronic violinist to the mix of guitars and we have the 2011 production of Teal Sound. When I first saw the violinist as the corps was setting up for their performance, I was not too sure I would like the “intrusion.” I was so wrong. What an impressive sound. I was blown away with the quality of the effect, but also with the ferocity of the performance. It was soulful as well as dynamic and it was a great addition.

          I did however take some umbrage with the highly off-balance of volume that seemed to exist from the front ensemble to the rest of the corps. It was simply way too loud and abrupt at times that it made enjoying the overall program quite difficult. Beyond just volume alone, the variation of quality from the taped samples and sound effects, then the handoff to the rest of the brass and percussion, is just too big a dynamic change.

          I was intrigued by the program, but I had some problems identifying the seven deadly sins. The show was cool in concept, but I do not feel it was fully developed and lost some focus. Musically the show had a big old school chart feel, but there were some very nice spots that came close to getting me into the program. Percussion had nice performance spots and their feature was one visually. The color guard costuming was very cool and they perform quite well overall, with appropriate style to befit the show concept. My hats off to the design team for pushing the envelope, bringing the quality of the performers up. Curbing the front ensemble balance to the rest of the corps will help the show be a winner.

          Cascades had me interested early-on with their 2011 production titled “Pandora, a Dark Gift” as I was trying to connect the large orange-colored outlined boxes that surrounded a more nearly solid orange box. Musically, it was quite solid with both brass and percussion, selling the story of Pandora’s Box. The show starts with the lead dancer presenting a simple black box that I would have thought would be more bejeweled for its supposed power to change the world. The use of the box outlines was pretty cool and opened the show nicely.

          The large fabric walled box offered a cool design concept, but a challenge as well for its size and how it affected some of the design choices. The color guard did a great job this evening and it was fun to watch how the large orange box was incorporated into the production. Though the design concepts seemed solid, the execution did not seem to really gel as smoothly as would be necessary to be truly effective. It was a nice, enjoyable program.

          Celebrating their 50th anniversary, Pioneer put together a 2011 production aptly titled “Celebrate.” A solid visual and musical program, one of the standouts this evening was the bass line which had all the right stuff. This corps has such a rich history in the activity and Director Roman Blenski has been an outstanding leader and mentor to all of its members. The corps also hosted four members from the South African Field Band Foundation this season, as they have for a number of years. These amazing young people travelled a half a world away to learn about drum corps and to bring it back to their respective bands. Check out the amazing outreach program that these Field Bands promote regarding AIDS and AIDS prevention while they travel around South Africa and their success in bringing the word to their friends, families and all the people they touch with their important message.

          In summary, the evening went extremely well. Perfect temperature and outstanding drum corps performances. We could not ask for more.

          Posted by on Wednesday, August 17th, 2011. Filed under DCW On-Line, FrontPage Feature.

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