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

Detroit kicks off the 2018 drum corps season.

It is was a sigh of relief heard across the landscape and the moment drum corps fans everywhere anticipate the minute a champion is crowned from the previous season. Six of the best corps in the country curbed our appetite for entertainment, blowing our ear drums wide open and stimulating our visual senses. Another summer of drum corps and unbelievable pageantry has begun.

For the six corps that took the field in Detroit last evening, there is no more guessing about what they will be putting on the field. Typically, you can’t be too harsh or too quick to judge a corps first show of the season. They are, after all, still putting their programs on the field and working out whatever kinks or glitches they may come across. Sometimes, and even after I made it home after the show, I have to remind myself not to be too quick to judge.

Here are some quick thoughts on the performances last night.

Blue Stars – 62.00

The Blue Stars are one of the best storytellers in the activity and I love what they are doing with The once and future carpenter and really feel that they have a lot to “build” on (pun intended) and plenty to clean up. The design of this show takes us back to the type of design we have come to appreciate from the Blue Stars. They do have some nice design elements incorporated in this show, but they are going to have to improve the performance quality and beef up what they are asking the corps to do if they want to move up in the final rankings this season.

Phantom Regiment – 64.00

For the last several years, Phantom Regiment seemed like they were going to be the corps to staunchly hold on to the past. They weren’t really going to accept much in way of the innovation that other corps have adopted and succeeded with. Last night, Phantom showed that they are willing to move into the future and took a nice step forward with This New World. The corps replaced the traditional helmet with a hooded look that I must say I really enjoyed. In fact, I think they should have done that with last year’s show. I do have a slight issue with the props. While they do create some nice staging areas, they clearly had mobility issues getting them into place and I am not exactly sure how they fit into the show. Again its early, it’s my first time seeing them. Perhaps it will make more sense as the season progresses.

Boston Crusaders – 67.30

As it turns out, my guess that the Crusaders would take the literal path in their interpretation of S.O.S.. This is also something I am completely okay with because they did a bang-up job doing so. So that I can end on a positive note, let me get a few not so complementary thoughts out of the way. I am not so fond at all of the corps purple uniforms. To me, they don’t fit that show. There. I said it. The compass on the field is drawing a lot of criticism on social media because it is too much like the burning stakes from last season. I am “ok” with it, I wish they tried something different, but they can’t reuse that again next year for sure. That aside, this may be the best show that Boston has ever fielded. Yes, it is better than Wicked Games. The color guard is already looking like they are nearly finals ready and they have some very nice drill design. I would keep an eye out for Boston because they like they could be a force to be reckoned with this year. I was nearly close to ranking them ahead of the Cavvies.

Cavaliers – 69.35

I had a bit of a bipolar moment with the Cavvies last evening. When the show started I loved what they were doing. I loved that we got hints of the Rorschach test inkblots built into the drill. I loved the intensity that I have come accustomed to with the Green Machine. We also were reminded how capable this group is of powerful, energetic performances while infusing it with their new approach to show design. Then we got to Oh what a world. After I finally stopped laughing (which might have been the intent?), the only thing I could ask myself was… “What the hell?” Now the last few years, they have had sections similar to this where it has developed and improved over the course of the season. This year, I wouldn’t be shocked if they ditched that tune altogether. I will make one prediction. Those “skirts” the color guard puts on during that part of the show may not make it to the next show. That was awful and they need to be scrapped.

Carolina Crown – 70.00

The final performance of the evening brought us Crowns Beast. This was one of the most anticipated shows that drum corps fans couldn’t wait to experience. Rick Subel, the corps artistic director and production director, mentioned during the broadcast that this year’s program was turning away from the abstract style of show they attempted last season and back into a more conventional approach. This corps, with Subel at the helm and Jeff Sacktig writing the drill, has a powerhouse of a design and instructional staff. To be honest, this production has a very clean and even intricate design and the performance of the group is stellar as always. I am, however, not so sure I agree with the overall design approach. The corps is adorned with a very tribal look. They have bones scattered across the field, which I wish they had used in a more functional way and more incorporated into the show. Emotionally, I was never captured that there was some giant fearsome beast in my presence. Instead of bringing this dragon to life building a dramatic, dark, even fearsome setting, we were left unafraid. This show is too lighthearted and despite an image of a dragons head front and center – I am not convinced.

Bluecoats – 70.30

The Bluecoats treat us to Session 44 this season complete with massive and human sized yellow chairs scattered about the field. This was a very thoughtfully constructed approach to portray a jam session from the performer’s point of view. They have a young lady performing live vocals, something I typically abhor because they are usually terrible (looking at you Pioneer). She was fabulous and the Bluecoats were brilliant about how they incorporated her into the show. My initial gut reaction to this show was that I loved it. I loved it that I wanted and expected more. I failed to evaluate the total program for what it was. So much so that I initially had them ranked behind the Boston, the Cavvies and Crown. After I slept on it and pondered what they actually accomplished I came to realize I unfairly punished them. I was still looking for that one memorable visual moment, that I still need from this (and any) show. The Bluecoats deserved that top spot, and I am man enough to admit I was initially wrong.

Previewing the DCI Tour Premiere – Detroit, Mi.

The day has come soldiers! The start of the 2018 season is just mere hours away. All the mysteries about the upcoming season, for at least six drum corps, will be answered this evening.

Here is a schedule and a bit of a preview of what we might be able to expect to experience this evening after The Diplomats Drum & Bugle Corps get us warmed up (8:15 p.m.) for the competition.

8:35 Blue Stars

Show title:“The Once and Future Carpenter”
We’ve Only Just Begun – Paul H. Williams and Roger S. Nichols
Skyscrapers – John Alden Carpenter
Precious Metals – Thomas Newman
(They Long To Be) Close to You – Burt F Bacharach, Hal David
Images Oubliees – Claude Debussy
Rainy Days And Mondays – Paul H Williams and Roger S Nichols
I Won’t Last A Day Without You – Paul H Williams and Roger S Nichols

I always look forward to seeing the Blue Stars every year. They are the one corps that I feel like I can look forward to adding a unique and dramatic flair with somewhat of a French vibe to the field in a way that other corps don’t. I was a bit disappointed in their 2017 production Starcrossed as it came across more vanilla than I would prefer they be. I get the sense that this years program will be more in line with what I have come to appreciate with previous shows such as Sideshow and La Reve. Skycrapers by John Alden Carpenter and Precious Metals by Thomas Newman are some interesting pieces to keep an eye on to see how that they are interpreted on the field. The Stars are due to take a major step forward. I hope this is the year we see them push for a spot in the top 6.

8:53 Phantom Regiment

Show title:“This New World”
Finale (from Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium) – Aaron Zigman and Alexandre Desplat
Piano Concerto No. 3 – Sergei Prokofiev
A Child’s Garden of Dreams – David Maslanka
Picture Studies – Adam Schoenberg
New World Symphony – Antonin Dvorak

This New World sounds like a show for the drum corps purists out there, but Phantom Regiment has slowly, and likely begrudgingly, started to adapt to and accept this new era of the marching arts. I have a feeling they may use this show to further their transition to the present day, but never fear purists they will likely always keep their classic style in one way or another. I for one cannot wait for their rendition of Finale (from Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium). I get the sense that “like taking a bath in chocolate” feeling with that as the opener.

9:11 Boston Crusaders

Show title:“S.O.S.”
Salvation is Created – Pavel Chesnokov
A Breathless Alleluia – Philip Wilby
Marimba Spiritual – Minoru Miki
Sensemaya – Silvestre Revueltas
Extinguished – Ryan George, Colin McNutt, Iain Moyer and Michael Zellers
End Credits (from Cast Away) – Alan Silvestri
Amazing Grace/Traditional – John Newton, adapted by William Walker

I’m just going to be honest, I am not completely sure what to expect from this show. In one sense, they could go literal with the whole “stranded on an island” concept, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they will be a bit more abstract in their interpretation of “S.O.S.” One thing I am curious about is why “Sensemaya” has been a popular choice for corps the last few years. I wasn’t all that impressed by previous arrangements. That being said, while I wish Boston had chosen something more unique, I will give them a chance to make it work. Many believe this is the corps on the rise and they certainly took a huge step last year with Wicked Games over that mess from the year before. Will be interesting to see if they take another step forward this season.

9:29 Bluecoats

Show title:Session 44
Bird & Bela in B Flat – Don Sebesky
American Concerto – Patrick Williams
The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines – Joni Mitchell & Charles Mingus
Saro (Traditional English Folk Ballad)
Home (from Congo Square) – Wynton Marsalis
God Bless the Child – Billie Holiday

Editors note: I originally posted that they had not released their repertoire, and thanks to the #DrumCorps community on Reddit for calling me out on the mistake. All apologies to the Bluecoats for my little faux pas as they had released their musical selections.

In 2016, the Bluecoats set a new exciting tone and direction for drum corps. They created a more relaxed presence in how they outfitted the musicians on the field and added a dimension of performance not really seen before. They brought to the field what Blast! started and what SoundSport is continuing. Last season, the Bluecoats attempted to defend their title with Jagged line which, let’s face it, was a lateral move with a slight step back. We were so spoiled with “Down side up” that left us feeling “Okay that was a good show, but they didn’t do anything particularly remarkable.” They need to do better and continue to push boundaries and find ways to wow us like they did in the years prior. The Bluecoats have their magic formula. They know what it takes now. They need to have that wow factor again if they want those medals to be withing their reach this season.

9:47 The Cavaliers

Show title:“On Madness and Creativity”
Black Angels – George Crumb
The Triumph of Time – Peter Graham
Bolero – Maurice Ravel
Rose of Arimethea – Hans Zimmer
Orawa – Wojciech Kilar
Vanishing Act – Lou Reed
Alicia Discovers Nash’s Dark World – James Horner
Unraveled – Michael Martin, Michael Mcintosh and Alan Miller
Oh What a World – Rufus Wainwright

If you pay a little attention to the costuming that The Cavaliers revealed you might notice a familiar pattern. It very much resembles that of the Rorschach Test, a psychological test using inkblots. If that is an accurate correlation, I hope they found a way to use that and interact with the audience. It would certainly make sense of the “madness” in the title of their show. The Cavvies have really put together a nice musical program as we have always come to expect. Fair warning. Get those ears ready for Black Angels and I have a feeling that The Triumph of Time is going to a bit wild. Is this the show that gets them back to the top of the podium? It has been interesting to watch this evolution of The Cavvies and their approach to show design. I have a feeling we’ve only begun to see how “crazy” they can be.

10:05 Carolina Crown

Show title:“Beast”
Symphony No.8, Mvt 4 – Anton Bruckner
Build A Pyre – Ryan Lott; Son Lux
Destination Moon – Paul Raphael
Myth Forest – Stig Nordhagen
If I Fell – Lennon-McCartney
Blow It Up, Start Again – Jonathan Newman
Epiphanies – Ron Nelson

Unpopular opinion time. Crown needs to live up to their potential. I am not, however, going to go so far as to say they have been a total disappointment. Crown could have won with Inferno in ’15 and, in my opinion, didn’t have a strong enough of a performance at finals which let the Blue Devils sneak in and snatch that victory away. In 2016, they followed that up with one of their best shows they have put on a field with Relentless, but ruined it with changes to the closer that were pretty lackluster. Yes, spare me the commentary, I realize and understand why they made the changes. They were even changes I supported, however, they are capable of better than they finished with. To be fair, I always felt that ’16 was the Bluecoats year to lose from the first time I saw their show anyway. It was going to be an uphill battle for anyone trying to knock them off that perch. That brings us to last season. I am still not sure how I feel about it. It wasn’t terrible? It’s obvious they have have some of the best staff in the business and a ton of talent on the field. It was just a strange show that I never really felt invested in or could find a way to appreciate. This year they bring us Beast which a lot of corps fans, including myself, seem to be very excited about. Like the Blue Stars, Crown has brought to us a unique style all their own and I have no doubt this years program will be any different. Triple Crown is still one of my all time favorite drum corps shows. As for their musical selections, I have a warning for those purists out there, Crown might be using vocals during Build a Pyer. Musically Destination Moon offers a lot of visual opportunities that I hope Crown takes advantage of. I’m curious to see how they fit Blow it up, Start again into a show about a giant beast, whereas, Ephiphanies seems to fit right in with what you would expect from a show with that title.

Rating the 2018 Drum Corps Uniforms

Greetings soldiers! The inaugural contest to kick off Drum Corps International’s 2018 season is just days away in Detroit, Michigan. Of course, I’ll be live tweeting the event with my usually colorful commentary. You can follow along at @GeneralFFect Of course, I’ve laid out my battle plans to cover the upcoming season for all my soldiers out there!

Like the rest of you, I’ve been just as antsy as Drum Corps fans everywhere waiting for the season to get started. The corps, those who have been kind enough to share that is, have been teasing us all year thus far with these show announcements and uniform reveals. All that is doing is dangling a carrot in of our hungry noses. That being said, it has started plenty of discussion and helped satisfy our needs for the artistry they are putting together now to quench our thirst. As mentioned, one way they have driven us into a frenzy is with the release of some uniform reveals for the upcoming season.

Drum corps has evolved in every phase of the activity over the last several decades including design, instrumentation (yes including the ever controversial electronics) and even uniform design. 50 years ago, the entire corps took to the field marching and dressing in a attire I swear was ripped right out of my closet. In time, the color guard eventually began to transition away to a more relaxed costuming. Fast forward to the last few years where the entire corps is adorned in more elaborate costuming more befitting their show. Those crybabies you’ll hear in the stands this summer are the same that once complained about all the dancing and electronics that now permeate the activity. Now they’ll be crying due to the eventual disappearance of uniforms resembling a military.

My own personal fashion sense aside, even I can’t deny that the activity has evolved to new heights with show design and performances exploring ideas never possible before. Now, if this years costuming designs revealed are any indication, uniform design has begun to catch up. Some groups have pulled off these more elaborate uniform designs than others. Some have had me scratching my helmet and left me wondering what the hell they were thinking while others have presented some sharp designs and stunning works of art.

To help you soldiers get through these next few days, I figured why not have a little fun and issue a rating for each corps uniforms (for those who have revealed their look)? The maximum rating a corps can get is four stars. The ratings will be based on my first impression of the design itself, the creativity and uniqueness of the uniform and maybe a bit about how I think they will look on the field. You can think of a one star rating as “That was a snoozefest soldier! You can do better than that!” or “That mess just plain hurts my eyes!” Where four stars likely means “HOLY VERSACE BATMAN! That is one sharp look soldier!”

Blue Knights


Blue Stars


Carolina Crown

Carolina Crown 2018Source:@CarolinaCrown

The Cavaliers



34128771_46276896413632Source: @GenesisFenixCam (Instagram)



Spirit of Atlanta