Questions for the 2019 DCI season

Finally, we no longer have to rely on show announcements, uniform reveals and scouring YouTube for sneak peeks of each corps to satisfy our appetite for drum corps. In just a few short hours, props will begin to adorn the field, performers will stage their opening set and before you know it the familiar “Drum Corps International proudly presents…” will ring out across the stadium.

What should we be looking for this upcoming season? Here are a few questions I will be looking to answer:

Now taking the… stage?

Whether the buzzards, who circle the activity looking for something to complain about, like it or not drum corps has been following the lead of WGI and evolving more and more to a stage production. There is a lot of crossover between the designers working in drum corps and those working in the theater (beyond Blast!) or some other sort of stage work. Will we see that trend continue? Will corps continue to limit the amount of space they utilize on the field? I would argue some really need to. We will see what develops.

How does Santa Clara respond to the success of Babylon?

Vanguard has found a formula that really works for them. They started constructing that formula in 2017 and perfected it in their championship run last season with Babylon. So where do they go from here? Will Vanguard employ the “if it’s not broken don’t fix it” to Vox Eversio or will we see them continue to innovate and evolve the activity the way they did with Babylon? They asked a lot of each individual last season. My guess is, they will use the same formula but this might be a more for physically demanding show than anything we have seen before.

With the exception of the Blue Devils and the Cavaliers, no corps has consistently defended their championship from the previous season. Will Santa Clara be the next?

What will be the impact of restricting field judges to the sidelines?

Earlier this year, DCI announced some “competitive policy changes” for the upcoming season. These policy changes, including restricting the field judges to the sidelines, are part of the organization’s commitment to participant (and judges) safety.

1) Will corps be more strategic in placement or change how they design (particularly with the pit or battery) because of the new rule? I think we may also be an indicator of how confident a corps is with their percussion.

2) There are likely going to be some growing pains with this change. With that said, will there be any noticeable impact on how judges score or the scores themselves? This will be difficult to measure, but I can assure you, the corps will keep a very close eye on that and likely making some significant adjustments as the season progresses.

The Top 5 2019 Drum Corps Repertoires

There are three specific moments in the drum corps season that I live for the most. They include seeing each show for the first time (and ultimately their interpretation and design) and DCI Finals but my favorite time of the season? The preseason – when show announcements start rolling out. My imagination kicks into overdrive thinking through how a corps might interpret a theme or use the announced repertoire. You already know what a design nerd I am, so this really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

One thing I do seemingly every year is to listen to the music they announced. I listen for their potential. Their potential musicality and how it might apply to visual design. I have started a ranking of the corps repertoires based on that potential. As we approach the DCI premier, these rankings can certainly change as we await announcements from Santa Clara Vanguard, The Cavaliers, Bluecoats and the Blue Knights.

I have certainly been pleasantly surprised by what a corps can do once they put their mind to it (looking at you Bluecoats). So arrangements, talent and how they interpret their musical selections visually obviously all matter. So this ranking shouldn’t be construed as a prediction for how I see corps placing at the end of the summer. This is only based on what the potential the musical selections can provide. Also, I clearly don’t have a way to review or analyze something I have never heard. A lot of corps have some original music they are rolling out or they didn’t announce exactly what song they were using by an artist or composer. So those were left out of this ranking as well.

With that said, here are my preseason rankings of the repertoires and individual songs (announced so far) with the most potential to create great visual design and, of course, General Effect.

Top 5 Repertoires of the Preseason(as of 6/7/19)

1. Carolina Crown
2. Blue Stars
3. Spirit of Atlanta
4. The Cadets
5. The Academy

Top 5 Songs of the Preseason (as of 6/7/19)

1. Dark Clouds / Christopher Tin – Carolina Crown
2. Concerto No. 4 in F minor / Antonio Vivaldi – Blue Stars
3. Attraction / Emmanuel Sejourne – Spirit of Atlanta
4. Blueprint / Caroline Shaw – The Cadets
5. Dance I, First movement / Oliver Davis – The Academy

Drum Corps Fantasy Draft – Final pick

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With the final pick of the Drum Corps Fantasy Draft, General F. Fect Drum Corps selects…

Sean Vega – Percussion Caption Head

Confused? Surprised? I can hear it now.

“He’s not currently a caption head for any drum corps.”

You are absolutely correct. I only said I could not pull from a drum corps I have already drafted a staff member from. I never said I wouldn’t venture outside of drum corps.

During the 2018 WGI Finals, Michael Gaines tweeted out that we should be paying more attention to the innovations happening within WGI Percussion. There should be no doubt of the impact WGI is having on drum corps. Michael Gaines would likely relish the idea of having someone on staff with that sort of background and that is exactly why I went this direction.

Vega is the Program Coordinator and Battery Arranger for RCC Percussion. RCC is the reigning WGI Percussion World Champion with 5 other gold medals and who has never placed any lower than fourth in the activity. This isn’t to say he lacks any drum corps experience. Vega marched with the Blue Devils tenor line from 1994 till 1997 and joined their staff the following year through 2010. During his time with the Blue Devils, they won six world championships and four DCI High Percussion Awards.

I spent a few hours watching several indoor percussion groups to find a guy that I thought would be the best fit and bring another dimension to the design team. I wanted someone who could bring that element from the indoor activity, but someone who can be counted on to develop a technical clinic with the percussion section and has also had a taste of the overall design process.

Sean Vega fills both needs. Look at the shows RCC has produced while Vega has been on staff. He brings that unique element I want to see how he influences the design process and rounds out this rock star staff.

Drum Corps Fantasy Draft
First pick – Michael Gaines – Artistic Director/Program Coordinator
Second pick – Matt Harloff – Brass Caption Head
Third pick – Lindsey Vento – Visual Caption Head
Fourth pick – Michael Townsend

Drum Corps Fantasy Draft – Fourth Pick

With the fourth pick in the drum corps fantasy draft, General F. Fect Drum Corps selects…

Michael Townsend – Color Guard Caption Head

For those who know me personally, they would have probably thought that this was the most difficult decision. There are so many incredibly talented people who are worthy of this selection, however, to me this was a no-brainer.

As color guard caption head, Townsend has led two separate color guards to capture the George Zingali award for best color guard, including Boston Crusaders first ever caption award. BAC’s guard was transformed overnight in Wicked games under his tutelage. They performed more confidently and with a lot more authority and that trend continued the following year in S.O.S.

Remember when The Academy made finals for the first time with Drum Corpse Bride? Townsend was their program coordinator and is also the program coordinator for 2018 Bands of America Grand National Champion Carmel High School. Oh and he is doing all of this while working with the color guards for Avon High School, Center Grove High School and Northview High School. All of which have had a strong showing at both Bands of America Grand Nationals and in Winter Guard International. Those programs combine over 16 WGI Scholastic World Class medals while Townsend was also on staff for two Independent World Class championships with Pride of Cincinnati and now six BOA Grand National Championships including the aforementioned 2018 Grand Champions Carmel High School.

Excellence follows Townsend whose pedigree is impeccable which should be no surprise as he has performed for and worked with some of the best designers in the activity including Michael Gaines, Keith Potter, Andy Toth and Adam Sage. His color guards are notoriously professional, technically sound and his innovative and fresh approach to color guard is second to few. Just watch a few of Carmel’s guards. They perform way above the average high school guard.

That makes him the perfect choice to lead the color guard on this staff.

The final pick for caption head comes your way on Monday. I think may be a bit of a surprise.

Drum Corps Fantasy Draft
First pick – Michael Gaines – Artistic Director/Program Coordinator
Second pick – Matt Harloff – Brass Caption Head
Third pick – Lindsey Vento – Visual Caption Head

Drum Corps Fantasy Draft – Third pick

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With the third pick in the draft… General F. Fect Drum Corps selects…

Lindsey Vento – Visual Caption Head

This selection was, perhaps, the most difficult decision of all because there is a vast amount people who easily qualify for this role.

Lindsey Vento serves as the Artistic Director and Program Coordinator for The Academy. She has been involved with music education and the pageantry arts for almost 20 years as an instructor, designer and artistic director in WGI, BOA, including 2018 Grand National Finalist Blue Springs High School, and, of course, DCI with The Academy. If you missed their show, Blue Springs High School was quite something to behold. Vento helped create an creating, yet daring and energetic

One of the reasons I chose Vento was because she also has a theater background with the Lyric Opera of Kansas. Why is that important? One of the little-known facts about Michael Gaines is that he also has experience working in theater. There are some similarities between what Gaines helped design for Babylon and what Vento did with Academic. Both provided unique staging in their shows but also found an effective way to incorporate the use of props to enhance the design.

Vento is someone who I think design junkies like myself should keep an eye on and I would be very curious to see what sort of design elements she, Gaines and my next pick could dream up…

Speaking of… the next pick is coming your way Friday!

Drum Corps Fantasy Draft
First pick Michael Gaines – Artistic Director/Program Coordinator

Second pick – Matt Harloff – Brass Caption Head

Drum Corps Fantasy Draft – Second Pick

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With the second pick in the Drum Corps Fantasy Draft General F. Fect Drum Corps selects…

Matt Harloff
Brass Caption Head

Harloff, a Yamaha Performing Artist and member of the DCI Hall of Fame, has been the brass caption head for Carolina Crown since 2003 and an Assistant Band Director for Avon High School, a perennial contender in Bands of America and Grand National Champions in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

During his time as caption head, Crown’s brass received the Jim Ott Memorial Award or Excellence in Brass five times between 2009 and 2016. Harloff was a member of the Star of Indiana from 1989 through 1995 including as drum major in 1993, the corps final year of competition with Drum Corps International.

I am no brass expert (though I did play percussion, tuba and baritone), but it doesn’t take much to tell that the Crown brass has been a well oiled machine under Harloff’s leadership. Jim Ott award(s) aside, all you have to do is listen to the Crown brass to know how dominant that section has become. My feelings for Beast are well known, but even I have to tip my cap to the quality, balance, boldness, and power of their sound no doubt has had the same impact at Avon High School.

While I do feel he is a fantastic choice to lead the brass section, I would not want the brass arranger to follow. Yes, the arranger has certainly helped in building one of the best brass sections in the entire activity, but… well… there are better and I would want Harloff to seek them out as he builds his brass staff.

There are plenty of fantastic candidates that could have been drafted for this position, but Harloff has been a major contributor to Crown becoming a powerhouse and a force to be reckoned with. Their rise to prominence is a direct reflection of his work. Those qualities alone give me enough reason to want him taking the reigns of my brass section.

Pick number three coming your way on Wednesday… who will it be?

Drum Corps Fantasy Draft
First pick Michael Gaines – Artistic Director/Program Coordinator

Things we don’t want to see in 2019… or ever

As innovative as some drum corps can be, there are some in the activity who are also guilty of poor design and use along with recycling and over using. Unless a group has found a unique or innovative use, there are things we just cannot endure for yet another season. In some cases, there are some things we need to hit the pause button on and others we need to just delete for all eternity.

No more terrible or dysfunctional props

Santa Clara Vanguard for a long time have been one of the most innovative in drum corps. The last few years in particular Vanguard, along with the Bluecoats, taught us the importance of proper design, function and the integration of props in a program. It wasn’t just merely that their props were constructed well, they found ways to integrate props into their show and use them to serve a function in the overall design.

Then you have some that, let’s face it, took a sloppy even lazy approach. On the DrumCorpsAF podcast, I pointed out that Carolina Crown, a former world champion and a corps we have come to have very high expectations for, took a less than stellar approach with their props this past season.

The props, a series of bones shaped structures and a see-saw, were meant to represent the “beast” their show centered around. The bones in particular were obviously cheaply constructed and did nothing to help add clarity to their the approach they wanted to take with their concept and served absolutely no function. Instead, I found that the props further confused their design.

The future of drum corps is clear. Props must now meet three criteria: a professional appearance, functionality and add an element to the overall design. The days of we are just going to set these right here and do our thing are now in the past. It is essential that props are as much of a performer as the corps members are. They must add dimension and, especially, clarity to the design. Crown’s props last season were more of a distraction than served any meaningful purpose.

Sure there are lots of corps who could have also done better with props. Do we even want to start with Phantom Regiments modified monkey bar props? Yes finances are always an issue. But here is a lesson my mom taught me a long long ago… if you can’t do it right… don’t do it at all.

No more false advertising

How many corps last season did you watch a show and end up asking yourself “What was that?” We definitely had plenty of head scratchers, including Phantom Regiment, the Crossmen and Crown. Quit trying so hard. It is ok to be abstract in the activity, but not so much to the point where if you have to take to social media, YouTube or the DCI broadcast to explain what your show is about or trying to accomplish for anyone to understand… then your design is a failure.

Also, not everyone can pull off the role of being a storyteller. Sometimes it is best to just have an basic idea or concept and run with it. Some corps just need to quit trying to hard.

Other things I don’t want to see…

  • No more hideous uniforms. I am all for bold and daring, but no one wants to be inflicted with 12 minutes of eyesores.
  • No more round stages… unless you found a way to really innovate how they are used, I think we have seen enough round stages for a while.
  • No more fire. I love you Boston Crusaders, but I think we have officially reached overkill status on that for a while.
  • Stop overusing trombones. They are among the bottom feeders of my favorite instruments as it is and at times their use is just downright annoying.
  • Pump the brakes on New World Symphony. I was never the biggest fan of the piece and I’ve heard about all I can take for at least a decade. If I’m being honest, I would be happy to never hear it again.
  • No more choirs. I think it is time the Cadets choir took a little summer vacation. Yes, they are quite good, but now your using them because you can, not because it adds anything to the show.
  • No more over relying on your color guard to handle the bulk load of performing while the corps proper has a 2 minute park and blow session – every 2 minutes.