Madison Scouts have some ‘splainin to do.

One of my favorite times of the year is right before the start of the drum corps season when corps start to release details about their shows. Why? Because I am just a geek like that. It is like a game for me. What the hell are they going to do with this?

There are corps out there that make it really difficult to decipher exactly what they may have planned once they announce their show title or musical selections. Some release a full storyboard. Then there are corps who, because of their history, follow a typical pattern with their program year after year.

Before 2016, one of those corps that are typically obvious in one way or another is the Madison Scouts. Fair or unfair, they have been pretty consistent with regards to what judges and fans can expect to see and hear on the field. They were going to play jazz, and they were going to be kind of vanilla visually. It was a rare occasion to see them take the fork in the road to try new things and diverge from their formula.

Madison has had decent results when they tried to be different in the past. The best example of this was in 1997 and the highest ranking they would achieve since then. They were fifth that year at World Championships. Their show that year was “The Pirates of Lake Mendota.” It also happens to be my favorite Madison Scout show of all time. It was one of the rare shows by the Scouts where I felt like they put a conscious effort into the design instead of “hey we’re just gonna go out here, play a little music and make some pretty pictures on the field.” Translation: vanilla.

I saw that show live in Nashville, Tn. that year and remember hearing rumbles from the Scout “faithful” about the show. I didn’t understand the reaction then, and I certainly don’t understand why there was such a hyper-overreaction by the same dinosaurs reportedly had towards “Heart and Soul.”

While I have pointed out time and time again that there was without a doubt some major design flaws with “Heart and Soul,” it wasn’t THAT BAD. Hopefully, at some point, I will detail what changes I would have made to the show. I have not, however, explained why I have been so defensive of Madison this past season.

I will start this defense by asking a straightforward question to help make my point. When Madison announced that “Heart and Soul” was their 2018 program, what was the first thing you likely thought the show was going to be about? If you are like me, you likely said something along the lines of “ok looks like they are doing something about love and romance.” The news of having a female guest member kind of solidified that theory. Essentially, I was expecting the unsurprising and vanilla approach we have come to expect.

I was legitimately surprised – in a good way – the first time I saw the show. It was such a total departure from the obvious Scouts programs of the past. It was a necessary departure if the corps had any intentions of joining modern day drum corps, and, if the reports are true, one that the judges actually said needed to take place.

The Scouts ended up not having the season they had hoped for and anytime a corps with their history is knocked out of the final round is always heartbreaking. When any organization doesn’t live up to expectations changes and other corrective actions are likely to follow.

The corps announced that a new design staff is in process of being formed beginning with the hire of James Elvord as the corps new Artistic Director.

“This is a milestone event for the Madison Scouts, and a significant step toward a new direction for our program,” said Gregg Auby, Board Chair of Forward Performing Arts in the corps release. “We are pleased that Jim has come back home and we anticipate great things from his leadership as we begin a new journey in Madison Scouts history.”

Elvord is a former member of the Scouts and also played a role as the head brass instructor and program coordinator for the corps 1975 World Championship.

Nineteen. Seventy-five.

Elvord, now that he has his hands on the wheel, rightfully deserves every opportunity to see what he can do with the Scouts program in 2019. I cannot help but ask that with all the high profile designers, and even those up and coming, this was the best THE Madison Scouts could find?

There is only one way I can interpret this move by the Scouts powers that be.

This response likely means that the powers that be caved to the pressure of their dinosaur alumni instead of doing what was ultimately best for the corps. These are the same dinosaurs that unleashed all hell on the staff and members all summer long to such a degree that the corps had to delete their alumni page from Facebook. The turmoil unleashed by Madison’s alumni ultimately took a toll on the members and their performance. This move also means that the corps is taking the approach of out with the new and likely in with the old heading the corps right back down the same shit different day fork in the road.

Here is my response to you dinosaurs. It’s not about you. The days of “your drum corps” is extinct. Hold on to your memories. Cherish them even, but leave them in the past. Let the Scouts evolve. “Heart and soul” wasn’t the issue in 2018. It was your hearts and souls.

DCI’s Best of 2018

During the week of Finals, I posted a survey asking drum corps fans to submit their nominees in various categories. The results of that not so scientific survey are finally tabulated below with some of my own picks.

Who do you nominate for best overall concept/show design (and you are buying what they are selling)?

Survey says… Santa Clara Vanguard Rounding out the top three are Boston Crusaders and Bluecoats.

My pick… Santa Clara Vanguard. If you follow me on Twitter this is likely not going to be a shock at all. I have said this many times, but Babylon is and should be considered the greatest program ever performed in drum corps. All the elements that came together in that show were perfectly constructed and choreographed with some of the most masterful use of design to music and staging I have ever seen into a well rounded program.

Who do you nominate for best drill?

Survey says… Santa Clara Vanguard Boston Crusaders and Blue Devils also received votes.

My pick…Santa Clara Vanguard I am in full agreement with Boston in the second but, but I really struggling to understand how Blue Devils, who barely did that much drill made the top three at all. It was basically a football field sized winter guard show. Who would I put in the third spot? Tough call. Crown did some nice things on the field despite the tragedy that was their show. If you look at how they used drill in combination with staging, I think it would be a mistake not to mention the Blue Stars.

Which corps had your favorite selection of music this year?

Survey says… Santa Clara Vanguard Rounding out the top three are Bluecoats with Boston Crusaders and Carolina Crown with a tie for third.

My pick…Bluecoats. This one was really tough for me to answer, because Vanguard’s musical selections were a very close second. That being said, Bird & Bela and God Bless the Child are some of my favorites. Disagree with the Crown pick by fans. Do they have a fantastic horn line? Absolutely? Did their music fit their show? Absolutely not. This was particularly good year for ballads which makes for plenty of honorable mentions. The first goes out to the Blue Stars “Close to you” and The Mandarins “True Colors.”

Who do you nominate for best color guard?

Survey says… Boston Crusaders followed by Blue Devils and the Cavaliers and Santa Clara Vanguard with a tie in the third spot.

My pick… Boston Crusaders BAC’s guard was just ridiculous and the show was set up perfectly for them to succeed. Honorable mention is going out to the Blue Stars who also looked very impressive. Blue Devils and Cavaliers should be on this list, but in Finals, they both did not have very solid performances.

Which corps do you nominate for best flag designs?

Survey says…Boston Crusaders with the Cavaliers not far behind. Blue Devils and Santa Clara Vanguard round out the third spot.

My pick… Blue Knights. Thank you for being bold enough to use neon Knights. Not only that, but there was some nice designs that really fit well with their show. The big flags that draped the sideline at one portion of their show are a bit iffy for me still, but all in all the rest of their designs were spot on and added to their program.

Which corps do you nominate for best props?

Survey says… Santa Clara Vanguard with Bluecoats and Blue Devils rounding out the top three.

My pick… Santa Clara Vanguard Those stages are a big reason the design of their show was so successful. I am shocked more votes didn’t come in for either Blue Stars or The Academy. They both are good examples of how their props were used to enhance the design of their shows.

Which corps do you nominate for best uniforms?

Survey says…Santa Clara Vanguard Cadets took a distant second followed by the Bluecoats.

My pick… Blue Stars I really had a difficult time deciding between the Stars and the Blue Knights. The Blue Stars really took a huge risk with these costumes which I really appreciate how they made it work. I think going forward more corps will begin to adopt similar costuming in their shows.

Which corps do you nominate as the most improved corps for 2018?

Survey says…The Mandarins ran away with this caption and for good reason followed by Spirit of Atlanta. The surprise here is Boston Crusaders coming in at third.

My pick…Mandarins and Spirit of Atlanta Yes I am cheating a bit, but I have a good reason for listing both. The Mandarins have been inching their way up to the Top 12 over the last few seasons finally breaking through this last season and in a big way. That kind of move cannot go understated. However, look at what Spirit also accomplished. In 2016, they were 18th (and I could argue should have probably been lower) to pulling themselves out of design hell and nearly knocking the Crossmen out of Finals to take the 12th spot.

Which corps was the most disappointing in 2018?

Survey says…Madison Scouts, however, Carolina Crown was only 8 votes behind. Phantom Regiment filled the last spot in this category.

My pick…Carolina Crown Madison’s show was far from perfect, but at least you know what they are trying to do. A recent World Champion shouldn’t have the kind of question marks Crown’s show had to keep them alive. Crown should be expected to do a lot more than what they did with Beast. They were lucky to be ranked as high as they were. Yes, Madison is also a former multi-World Champion. The difference is, Crown knows who they are and should be. Madison is undergoing a bit of a change of identity. 2018 was a good step in the right direction for Madison and hopefully their alumni open their eyes and start to understand that.

You are allowed to pick one corps and one moment from their show. What was your favorite moment of 2018?

Survey says…I mean, is this really going to be a surprise? Santa Clara Vanguard “My Body Is Not A Cage”. This vote really wasn’t even close. This portion of Vanguard’s show was a beautiful arrangement that really captured the audience. SCV’s mello sustain and, of course, the horn snap also received plenty of mentions.

My pick… I can’t disagree with My Body is a Cage I have had that portion of the show stuck in my head almost all season and I have been as mesmerized by that portion of the show as all the other drum corps fans out there. This was such a good season for drum corps, one of the best in my opinion. My runner up would go to Olivia and the Bluecoats The Drycleaner from Des Moines. Olivia probably doesn’t get enough recognition she deserves for her part in the show, and her vocals in that section were phenomenal.

2018 was one of those magical seasons.

Every so often, the stars and planets align just right where drum corps fans are treated to a season full of magical, unforgettable programs and iconic performances supporting some of the most innovative designs the activity has ever seen. The quality of the programs drum corps provided in 2018 is certainly no exception.

This past season brought about a change in drum corps. For years now, the color guard nearly held sole responsibility of playing the character roles on the field. Now we are starting to see a transition to where the entire corps plays a larger role where everyone is asked to do more to tell a story.

DCI’s 2018 World Champion Santa Clara Vanguard production “Babylon”
Santa Clara Vanguard, like the Bluecoats in 2016, raised the bar to a whole new level that will forever define what drum corps is from this point on. Their program, Babylon, set an entirely new standard for the activity. No longer can a corps trot out on the field without depth, meaning and careful construction of the overall design of their shows. It is always refreshing to see a group take distinct musical elements and use them to create visual brilliance. The use of their multi-level “skyscrapers” around the field was a master class in staging and design. If you were not absolutely stunned and completely mesmerized by what that corps accomplished on the field this year, you clearly have no soul. To go on record, once again, Babylon was the greatest show any corps has ever put on the field in the history of the activity.

DCIFinals2018-43 2.jpgThe admiration for Babylon doesn’t mean that no other corps were also impressive this past season. The Blue Devils used a number of props to recreate the famous Nighthawks painting by Edward Hopper. The Bluecoats allowed invoked Billy Holiday’s spirit in Session 44 with a rousing rendition of God Bless the Child. We witnessed poor souls being saved from a deserted island by the Boston Crusaders while the Blue Knights took us to ancient Egypt. The Blue Stars brought us the carpenters, both literally and figuratively, while the Mandarins brought a dancer back to life on their path to their first appearance as a DCI finalist.DCIFinals2018-20

You can find the final rankings with scores here.

2018 was a good year, like 2016, to be a fan of drum corps. Most of these corps really went out of their way this year to push the envelope, raise individual performance levels and created plenty of memories that fans will be replaying in their heads on an infinite loop.

That is until the 2019 season kicks off about ten months from now.

Where do corps need to make improvements?

The summer music tour has officially reached crunch time with less than 30 days till finals week in Indianapolis. Every corps is looking at how they can improve their show before then, so why not help them out with a few suggestions, including from drum corps fans out in cyberspace?

It is really difficult, much like with Santa Clara Vanguard, to find much of anything wrong with the Bluecoats show. I will say this… I want MORE “God Bless the Child” at the end because I don’t think I can ever get enough of that. Aside from that, there are a few times with how they position the chairs at times that are a little distracting particularly when they lay them down to expose the pink underside of the chairs. I would like to see them make a “44” with the chairs but can see how that would be a bit difficult. However, it isn’t enough for me to say it needs to change.

“A tiny, tiny change to an otherwise great show. When the singer vocalizes the Saro theme at the end of the ballad right before half the horn line steps on the chairs, take her part out and just fill with a bar of frontline filler,” says /r/DrumCorps subreddit user Shemptacular. “While she’s a beast in every other part of the show, that brief section just always underwhelms because the horn line is so much louder and it doesn’t blend super well.”

Blue Devils
Remember back in the day when the guard basically stood in the back and the corps did most of the drill work? The Blue Devils have completely flipped that script. The guard is doing the majority of the work while the corps is basically performing series after series of park and blow. Dreams + Nighthawks is a great performance and a great concept, as we always come to expect of the Blue Devils, but we should be expecting more from them.

“Work on those transitions from movement to movement so the show feels more cohesive,” says BonzaiBoy on Twitter. Transitions are so often ignored in design and this is a great point.

Blue Stars
I really do love this show, and the Blue Stars will upset a few of their compadres in World Class this year. That being said, I think the tarps need to go, or they need to be altered to be more useful somehow. Perhaps use them to show what the carpenter has built by moving/reshaping the tarps around to make something.

”Clean, clean, clean,” suggests @DrumCorpsAF on Twitter. This is the case for most corps but when they do the Blue Stars could make a nice run into Finals. Also, I suggest you check out his podcast!

Boston Crusaders
It is difficult to find anything wrong with this show. My biggest complaint is the corps uniforms. I wish they had gone with a different look. Another suggestion is to stage the drill in the forest during the drum solo better. They do weave in and around, but I would like to see it appear more tribal and aggressive than it does.

This show has really started coming together, which actually brings me to my suggestion on how the Cadets can improve this show. I like how they are using the stages throughout the show, but I think they need to do something with those stages to bring them together at the end in some way to symbolize unity. I still don’t think this is a finished product by any stretch.

“Keep your props only flush to or perpendicular to the front,” suggests Twitter follower @bonzaiboy. “When the angles are slightly off on one prop, it all falls apart.”

Carolina Crown
Ugh. I have some serious issues with this show and with some of the musical selections, particularly the last three, as they do not seem to fit what this show is trying to convey. They are too light-hearted to musically portray a beast. This corps is so talented and it is going to waste. The green flags they originally had in the closer are borderline amateurish, but it looks like they ditched those in St. Louis. They need to fix the placement of the bones so they better resemble one dead beast instead of a beast that looks like he was diced up and then left for dead. The see-saw has got to go. It’s not adding anything to the show. There is some excellent drill design in this show but doesn’t utilize the props in any way. There is a lot to be said that Pioneer has better looking and better use of their props than a former DCI World Champion.

/r/DrumCorps subreddit user Starbuck seems to agree that something needs to give with Crown’s props. ”Crown needs to fix their props. If they’re bones/ ribs then align them. If they’re claws, repaint them and put them in groups of three or so. I just don’t get them and it’s distracting. Grrr.”

I still struggle with the Colts show “True Believer.” It is is another example where it a show is performed fairly well but two plus two doesn’t equal four. I guess I could go read their description of their show, but should I really have to just to understand what they are attempting to do? For example, the beds are a very random prop for a show about a being a true believer. I don’t see how they fit.

Blow the show up and start over. This whole concept of trying to tell a story the way they are just isn’t working for them. The Crossmen have a similar issue to my complaint about Spirit of Atlanta the previous few seasons. They are trying too hard to make something work. The Crossmen’s approach is a conversation I have had with a few drum corps fans who seem to agree. I have been really thinking about how they should approach the design of their shows going forward. I really think they need to adopt a similar concept to what the Bluecoats are doing. You have an idea, versus a theme or story, you translate on the field in a similar fashion to the Bluecoats “Down Side Up” and now this year’s “Session 44.”

I am still not overly thrilled with the “Men reading fashion magazines” section of the show, particularly because it is in such stark contrast to the rest of the show, which I admit is probably part of the point. I will also admit that that section brings a smile to my face and even makes me chuckle. They have added a new element to the red tarps now where the unfold into these strips of white with colorful inkblots on them. But I want more from those tarps. I want them to reshape the straight lines and transform the entire field into one big Rorschach inkblot. I am a little disappointed they don’t have any dialog asking the fans “what do you see?” throughout the show. That was what I was sort of hoping to see more of.

This is a very generic show for Genesis with very lackluster design in the drill. Every show should have something special about it in their show, something memorable. I am not sure this show has that element. The last time I saw Genesis, the color guard really needed to a lot of cleaning. During the DCI regional in St. Louis they had improved but with a void of that visual element, this corps ceiling in 2018 is very low.

Jersey Surf
I would have liked to see the corps adopt the corps uniforms in the different color block colors. I realize it may not be financially feasible for the corps, but it would add a nice touch. The blue in the uniform pulls out the blue color block too much. Either they have someone out or they have some serious holes to fill in the drill. Either way, they need to address it because it is making some of the sets look very dirty. That yellow backdrop is also positioned way too far back. They should bring that further up so that it doesn’t get too lost in the show.

“Maybe if they broke up the color into blocks similar to a Mondrian, it would help,” suggests Twitter follower @kevingarmin. This is actually a great suggestion which would play well with my suggestion about the uniforms.

Madison Scouts
I differ with a lot of fans about Madison’s show this year. Most want the opener re-written, but for me, it is the last third of the show that needs to be addressed. At the St. Louis regional, they seemed to lose a lot of energy as the show comes to a close. That needs to be addressed and they can start with the “stress” portion of the show. The drill needs to be more frantic in its design so that it appears a 1000 times more fast-paced than it currently does and there needs to be a musical element suggesting the heightened RPM of the heart. One other thing I would like to see is the prop transform somehow in the show particularly during “Shape of My Heart.” I just feel that it could have a greater purpose than to reveal the female soloist (who is fantastic by the way). There are at times I feel that the drill doesn’t flow very well with a few awkward transitions. Some of the transitions just do not fit very well musically. It is almost as if “hey we have this many counts we’ll just move them here and make this.” This isn’t just an issue with Madison though. The drill needs to be designed more purposefully and more carefully with more deliberate and planned transitions.

Here is a fun little suggestion from /r/DrumCorps subreddit user JesuSpectre on a change to the female soloist representing the soul in Madison’s show. : Madison simply needs to make the female soloist a doctor. She can be imaginary, she can be a figment of his anesthesia state, she can be an angel of death. But if you put her in a lab coat with a stethoscope, at least you can explain in real world terms what she’s doing there around the topic of medical heart trouble. It’s shocking that audiences are asking basic questions about what this show means, and Madison simply won’t even do a simple informal iPhone Youtube interview to explain it. The design team is broken, hiding, and no one wants to take responsibility.

I personally disagree with that last part about the design team Despite some issues I have with this show, they are not getting enough credit for what they have done in my opinion. I also disagree that a YouTube video is the best way to clarify what they are trying to accomplish. Judge won’t be looking at YouTube for that answer. They want it answered on the field.

Keep adding more interaction with the stage,” suggests @DrumCorpsAF on Twitter. Trust me, these changes are coming. This is a show fan’s should always look for plenty of changes to as the season progresses. The way they are putting this show together piece by piece is all completely intentional. This is a corps that is going to make real noise this year.

Music City
Have some cleaning up to do on the drill. My one suggestion would be when the corps is doing that push during Hallelujah that they get the guard it a more firm set. It looks half scattered and half a half circle. I would almost prefer a more obvious half circle. Green flags blend in too much with the grass and I think they may actually be too small.

Twitter follower @DrumCorpsGeek suggests that Music City use use less sound effects and rely on the corps natural musical ability.

Compared to Carolina Crown’s beast bones on the field, Pioneer’s props are actually not too bad. However, this is a corps with an absence of talent needed to truly compete in World Class. I would suggest they move the props in to shorten the field even more (perhaps in a similar fashion to how Santa Clara positions theirs at times) to keep the horns closer to the sideline. If they had a corps that could produce more sound where they have the props positioned now would be fine. That is just not the case with Pioneer. They need to keep their design to stay between the 20’s and in front of the hash marks until they can develop a better sound. I think it would also be a nice effect to have the drill weave in and around the dragon.

Phantom Regiment
The much-maligned hoodies are much talked about this season and fans have made it clear how they feel about them. As far as I am concerned, they do look nice, but the problem is they just don’t fit this show. They actually fit last year’s show better than “This New World.” Phantom needs to add some sort of detail to their props, perhaps paint them in the same color scheme as the tarp at the front. While they do at times create some nice staging areas they do not stand out on the field enough. The brown blends in too much with the grass and they almost get lost. Besides their use for staging, I keep hoping I will watch and finally realize what the purpose of the props are but I have yet to find that answer.

Santa Clara Vanguard
What can you possibly complain about or want to fix? This is probably one of the best designed shows in terms of staging that we have ever seen in drum corps and Vanguard is already nearly executing like it is already finals week. It is very difficult to find much of anything wrong with this show. They have the obvious cleaning and fine tuning to do, but I don’t think there is much of anything I would actually change.

Twitter follower @DrumCorpsGeek suggests that the Vanguard ”Uniforms need a little color” adding that they are the bland side.

Spirit of Atlanta
I don’t have too much to “knock” on Spirit’s show. As with many of the corps, they do have plenty of room for improvement and plenty of things to clean up. During their “Doors of opportunity” segment there is one section where a group of the corps goes behind an angle of doors that I don’t really get anything from what they are doing. Why not use that time to play around with the doors instead? The other section I suggest some changes need to be made is during the “When one door closes, another one opens” section where I think the doors could be at alternate angles in a grid of sorts on the field and have the drill play through and around the doors better to play off that thought process better. Spirit has some nice little staging set up but it’s not being used effectively as it could be to generate a nice visual moment to the music.

I couldn’t ignore this suggestion from /r/DrumCorps subreddit user Einsteinium_Es99: Spirit of Atlanta needs to make their uniforms even tighter. I did ask for clarification on what they meant by that comment, but I did not get a response. I am also not sure I want to know either.

The Mandarins’ Life Rite After Division II

There is an evolution occurring in drum corps. Not just with the innovative and provocative productions the corps are putting on the field, but a resurgence of new corps joining the tour and established Division II and III corps taking on new challenges and rising to new heights.

One corps slowly made their way to the World Class ranks and is showing signs that they could be making history this summer with their first ever appearance as a Top 12 finalist at the World Class Championships on August 11. The Mandarins Drum and Bugle Corps, however, are no strangers to winning big as a member of Drum Corps International.

The Mandarins, originally founded in 1963, have won total of 8 championships. Seven of those titles were as a Division III drum corps spanning from 1987 to 1999 and a Division II championship in 2001.
In 2003, the Mandarins made their move to join World Class competition. Since then the corps has been a semi-finalist a total of nine times just missing a Top 12 finish by 0.925 points to the Madison Scouts last season. Their recipe for their success is pretty simple.

“As most programs in the arts the recipe always starts with management, administration and staffing,” says Ike Jackson, program director for the Mandarins. “I think a lot of people would say you must have the talent in order to be great at what you do, but I would disagree with that. I would say the kids are always ready. We just have to find a way to bring that individual ability to a level that’s worth appreciating.”

The Mandarins productions have always been a corps with a sophisticated yet thoughtful presence on the field. In 2016, the “Forbidden Forest,” really opened a lot of eyes for many in the activity. Not only was it a beautifully designed show, but you could see a few things starting to happen for the corps. They were more mature. They were more confident. They were certainly more talented. All of those characteristics carried over as the corps took the next step into 2017 with their show “Inside the Ink.”

The Mandarins are breaking new ground this summer with their 2018 production “Life Rite After.” The corps takes us on a journey of the “Chosen One’s” soul into the afterlife by three spirit guides. The “Chosen One,” represented by a dancer, is carried into another world that the corps describes as not heaven or hell, but a world where artistry has endless possibilities. They bring this world and her journey to life with repertoire that includes “String Quartet #8 in C minor Opus 110 (Allegro Molto)” by Dmitri Shostakovich and “Spiriti” by Thomas Doss. The Mandarins also bring a beautiful rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” to the field. It is during this portion of the show that symbolizes the dancer’s acceptance into the afterlife and is a moment that will quite possibly grab at your own soul. It will be a musical moment that fans won’t soon, if ever, forget. It may very well be one of the best musical moments this season. Just be patient fans as the best is yet to come.

“The plan for us this year is to continually bring out new pieces, parts and ideas to the overall design. There is still more to come,” says Jackson about this year’s production. “I truly feel this is the best way to keep the corps members engaged and involved as well as those who follow us through the season.”

“Life Rite After” is a carefully constructed and designed program complete with functional props, better than average staging, eccentric, yet, beautiful costuming and the ever important memorable visual and musical moments all programs should have. The members of this corps have clearly bought into what the staff is trying to build this year. The Mandarins have slowly introduced new elements and improvements to this seasons production and it has paid off in dividends.

“The Mandarin’s will continue to push the envelope from a creative and musical standpoint,” says Jackson adding that they will “always try to design shows that allow the audience to be a part of what we’re doing on multiple levels.

There is one thing that I believe is already certain for this corps in 2018. Not only will the Mandarins make the top twelve for the first time, but I predict they may be ranked as high as ninth or tenth heading into the final event. This group is that good, and this production is that fantastic.

Update 07/09/18: Quotes from Ike Jackson, the Mandarins program director, were added to this story.

General Effect matters and here’s the proof.

At some point, I fully expect someone to ask me why I would create a blog that looks at the marching arts solely from a general effect and visual perspective. Well, there are a few reasons why this site is dedicated to these categories.

First, I am by far not an expert musician or an expert in musical evaluation. That isn’t to say that I can’t draw a correlation between how a music interplay’s with the visual portion of a program. Sure, I was a band geek having played guitar, tuba, baritone and even some percussion. I have not, however, written any music or taught music to any group on the field. I may have, on occasion, asked a director “Hey, can we do this musically to support this visually?” a time or two.

I have, however, helped develop a program, written drill, taught color guard and even participated in theater. Growing up, my mother dabbled in a variety of visual arts so that experience helped me look at the arts from different perspectives.

More importantly, this site is dedicated to the design of the overall program and its visual elements because they matter the most – particularly when it comes to the general effect category. Don’t believe me? Here is a quick statistic, based on data provided on, where the corps who has won overall GE, has taken home the top prize.

In 2015, The Cadets swept the music category but finished fourth overall behind Carolina Crown, Blue Devils and the Bluecoats. All three of those corps were top three in the general effect category. The following year, the Bluecoats ranked first in general effect, but second in visual and music.

Want to get into the Top 12? You had better be in that range at the end of Semi-Finals, another trend the last 10 years. There are some exceptions, but they were all with those hovering around vying for that last spot. No corps has ever ranked lower than 13th in general effect in semi-finals and made the cut for the Top 12. The only exception the last ten years is the Madison Scouts who ranked 14th in general effect in 2008. In that year, both the Crossmen (12) and Colts (13) ranked higher but did not make the Top 12.

Judges have already had an initial look at the majority of the corps in World Class this season. So far, the corps overall rankings are nearly identical to their GE ranking. No other category matches up to the overall ranking as well as general effect does. The only corps who are bucking the trend are the Bluecoats, Carolina Crown, Crossmen and the Blue Stars. However, all are currently ranked in the Top 12 as of 6/23/18). The Bluecoats are two spots shy of their GE ranking mostly because of their terrible score in total music. Something I figure they will be correcting quickly. Crown and the Crossmen are both ranked one spot below their overall rank.

Yes, the visual and music categories are important. I am not going to insert any sort of notion otherwise. However, even early in this season, you can see the disparity between how a corps is ranked in the three categories compared to their overall ranking in the chart below (based on scores as of 6/23/18).

Corps Overall Rank GE Rank Visual Rank Music Rank
Santa Clara Vanguard 1 1 2 1
Blue Devils 2 2 1 2
Bluecoats 3 1 3 5
Cavaliers 4 4 3 3
Carolina Crown 5 3 4 4
Boston Crusaders 6 5 5 6
Blue Knights 7 6 7 7
The Cadets 8 7 6 9
Phantom Regiment 9 8 10 8
Mandarins 10 10 8 11
Crossmen 11 9 11 13
Bluestars 12 12 9 10
The Academy 13 11 12 12
Madison Scouts 14 13 14 14
Colts 15 14 13 15
Troopers 16 15 15 16
Genesis 17 16 16 17
Pioneer 18 17 17 18

Previewing MidCal Champions Showcase – Clovis, Ca

Two nights in a row of drum corps come to the field this evening. Unfortunately, if you’re not able to make it to Clovis, Ca, then you will be missing out on what six more corps have to offer. Don’t go panicking or having withdrawals just yet because FloMarching will be broadcasting from Stanford, Ca. and Akron, Oh. just a day from now.

Till then we have six more corps that are about to take the field in competitions this evening. For those of you on the east coast, the times below are Pacific Time.

7:50 Troopers

Show title: The New Road West
Black Parade – Chemical Romance
Toward the Splendid City – Richard Danielpour
Canyon Echoes – Robert W. Smith
Both Sides Now – Joni Mitchell
Original Music – Robert W. Smith

8:08 The Academy

Show title: Academic
The Imitation Game – Alexandre Desplat
Annie Lisle – H. S. Thompson
Academic Festival Overture – Johannes Brahms
The School for Scandal (Overture) – Samuel Barber /
The Four Sections – Steve Reich
Keating’s Triumph – Maurice Jarre

8:41 Mandarins

Show title: Life Rite After
String Quartet #8 in C minor Opus 110 (Allegro Molto) – Dmitri Shostakovich
Spiriti – Thomas Doss
True Colors – Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg

9:17 Blue Knights

Show title: The Fall and Rise
Sun King – Beatles
The Rite of Spring – Igor Stravinsky
Exit Music for a Film – Radiohead
Welcome to the Machine – Pink Floyd
Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper/Robert Hyman

9:35 Santa Clara Vanguard

Show title: Babylon
My Body is A Cage – Peter Gabriel
Journey to the Center of the Earth” – Peter Graham
Metropolis 1927 – Peter Graham
Apology – Zacarias M. di la Riva
Club Sound – Gent and Jawns

9:53 Blue Devils

Show title: Dreams and Nighthawks
Music by John Adams Simon Dobson Paul Lovatt-Cooper James Newton Howard Dave Glyde Carole King David Raskin Earle Hagen