Drum Corps Fantasy Draft – First pick

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

Michael Gaines
Artistic Director/Program Coordinator

The first pick of any draft is meant to set the cornerstone of your program. This person leads the entire staff in the construction and design of the show. The artistic director/program coordinator is ultimately responsible for the final product and there are few that I would trust more with that responsibility than Michael Gaines, an inductee into both the WGI and DCI Hall of Fames.

I know a lot of you who follow me are not one bit surprised by this pick. Nor should it be. I first fell in love with Gaines approach and style back in the early 90’s when he started an independent winter guard named Escapade, a group I continue to admire to this very day.

Need more convincing? Success has followed him where ever you look. DCI. WGI. BOA. You name it. Here is just a sample of his resume:

  • We just witnessed the greatest show that has ever stepped foot on a DCI field with Babylon. I still defy anyone to prove otherwise. It is no accident that it was Gaines first year as Artistic Director and what SCV accomplished in 2018.
  • He was a member of the design staff for all 7 of The Cavaliers World Championship titles. In over a decade writing drill for The Cavaliers, the corps won 5 World Championships and had an average placement of… 2nd.
  • He was also involved with Carmel High School Marching Band who, oh by the way, just won Bands of America – again.
  • He has worked with numerous programs in WGI, particularly with Pride of Cincinnati who has won multiple championships in WGI. If you want a real treat of his work indoor check out Escapade’s The Doors; Hydrogen Jukebox (both some of my all time favorites). Pride of Cincinnati’s Alcatraz, and it would be a total failure not to mention one of the greatest shows to ever grace a WGI floor Everybody Hurts
  • .

  • He has helped create some of the most iconic, innovative and thrilling shows in DCI including shows like Niagara Falls (2000); Four Corners (2001); Frameworks (2002); Machine (2006) and, naturally, Babylon (2018).

Gaines designs are always exploring. They are always pushing the boundaries for what is possible in pageantry. However, they are always balanced and well thought out. He is arguably the best designer in the activity and that is the kinda guy you want leading your program.

The second pick in the draft coming Monday!

Drum Corps Fantasy Draft

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By now, most corps likely have their staffs solidified for the 2019 season and hard at work building a program for the 2019 season.

There is no shortage of talent at the top of each caption in the activity. Many of those leading their respective captions are not only developing young talent but also innovating the pageantry arts to new heights.

Whenever a new pro sports team is entering its league, often they have a supplemental draft where they pull existing talent into the fold from other teams. Let’s say I were to start the General F. Fect Drum Corps as a new World Class Corps for the 2019 season. Since the corps would be a new member, a draft of sorts would take place to fill their staffing needs. What would that staff look like?

I decided to have a little fun in the offseason and draft my own rock star staff. However, as with anything, there are rules. So I am setting a few rules for myself to follow:

  • I cannot draft more than one caption head from the same corps. This does not include technicians and other assistants as each caption head would likely want to bring his or her own people into work on their team.
  • This is a staff that has to have a stylistic synergy. For instance, while they probably could adapt, how well would a Brass caption head of a corps known for using an abundance of classical music work with a percussion caption head who has mostly worked from a jazz medium? Could work, but in all likelihood, a match in medium would probably be the better fit.

So the question is, what do I want from my staff?

First and foremost, I want a staff that has proven it can construct a solid program while pushing innovation in the pageantry arts. I want my staff to have a solid instructional background that can identify and develop talent, brings out the most in their performance and create an environment the members feel welcome in and enjoy the total experience.

And with the first pick in the Drum Corps Fantasy Draft, General F. Fect Drum Corps selects… well you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow to find out.

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.

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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.

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 FromThePressBox.com, 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