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.

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.