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Dear Aunt Mildred:

Here I am, waiting for my plane at Orlando International Airport. I’ve just finished watching three days of the Drum Corps International Championships. Editor Rick, you may know, asked me to do coverage of DCI for Masters of the Marching Arts. Wow!! What a responsibility!! I immediately accepted the assignment. However, now I’m thinking, can I do this? Do I have the observational skills? Do I have the critical acumen? Did I pay attention enough to inform the thousands of readers who weren’t there what really went down in Florida? And, now I have to say that I’m just not sure. You see, Aunt Mildred, I want to write a classic piece on Orlando – something really memorable, but so far I’m staring at a blank sheet of paper.

I had thought about a conventional report, you know — Well, the Blue Devils won (again), yawn; everyone screamed when Madison came on, yawn. But, that doesn’t seem very memorable, now, does it? So I’ve come to realize that I need your help. Because while my writing pad is blank, my mind isn’t, and there are a number of questions nagging at me for which I don’t have the answers. So, maybe you can answer them for me — or pose them to some of those drum corps VIPs for me, because, unlike you, I’m not on a first name basis with all these folks. So, here goes.

1997 Blue Devils

1997 Blue Devils

First the judging: Now, I must commend the judges at Saturday night’s final competition. I felt that they called it right from 12th place down to first place. Congratulations. My only disagreement is with the best color guard award going to the Blue Devils. I felt that Cadets’ guard was better, but they won last year. So, do you suppose that they’re supposed to alternate the award? You know, Cadets one year, BD the next. And while we’re on the subject of color guard, could you ask George Oliviero how can it be that there is a separate score for color guard (10 points) that doesn’t get counted in the total score? I don’t understand that. However, this is minor. I have a more weighty judging question.

First, Aunt Mildred, take a look at these brass and percussion performance scores from Thursday’s Quarterfinals:

Brass:                                                   Percussion:
Blue Devils – 9.7                                    Blue Devils – 9.9
Santa Clara – 9.6                                   Santa Clara – 9.8
Cadets – 9.5                                           Cadets – 9.7
Phantom – 9.4                                        Crossmen – 9.6
Madison – 9.3                                         Cavaliers – 9.5

Is there something strange about these scores, or is it just me? Was BD’s brass exactly one tenth better than Santa Clara, whose brass was exactly one tenth better than Cadets, etc. I don’t think so. Doesn’t it seem that these judges are not scoring the corps but, rather, ranking them? I don’t think this is the way it’s supposed to be with judging. If you peruse the score sheets for the other nights, you will see more examples, and this disturbs me. Doesn’t the system allow for greater discrimination? Could you ask George about this one, too? Well, enough about judging. On to the corps.

1997 Santa Clara Vanguard

1997 Santa Clara Vanguard

My first corps question is one that I’m happy to ask. How did the Crossmen get to be so popular this year? I’m asking this because the Xmen provided me with my biggest thrill of the weekend with their finals performance. When the corps marched on the field, a spontaneous outburst of fan affection rolled through the stadium – kind of like the wave, but with no standing up. The Crossmen responded with a superb performance that earned several standing ovations. They got the biggest hand of the night. (Well, maybe Madison got a bit more, but I have to subtract the knee jerk hype response from the Madison audience, so Crossmen win here.) This is all the more astonishing now that the Crossmen are part of The Evil Empire. I mean Youth Education in the Arts, the Cadets conglomerate. Could it be that joining YEA was not such a bad move for the Crossmen? Could you ask Crossmen Director Brian Walsh about this?

Next question: What was with the Glassmen and Blue Knights this year? Last year both these corps were pretty pathetic. However, in ’97 both were terrific. Each had a well conceived and well executed show, and both corps performed with more verve than I’ve ever seen from them in the past. How, Aunt Mildred, do you think they did it? I was quite impressed.

1997 Glassmen

1997 Glassmen

Aunt Mildred, I was thinking that with this victory, the Blue Devils have probably established themselves as the best corps of all time. Over the past four seasons they have lost only six times and three of those losses were by 0.1 – truly a remarkable record. On the other hand, who cares’? At Orlando the Blue Devils were perfect; they didn’t make any mistakes. Yet, they were only able to generate polite applause from the fans. Why is a corps this good so dull? Why did I get the feeling I was seeing the same show for the third consecutive year? Will the Blue Devils ever try anything different? I really hope so. Could you please ask David Gibbs (BD Director) about

Now, Aunt Mildred, I have some difficult and painful questions to ask you about the Cadets of Bergen County. And let me lay my bias on the line. Over the last decade this has been my overall favorite corps. There I’ve said it so here goes. Question 1 : When is hard too hard? Question 2: With all these second place finishes, have the Cadets become the Phantom Regiment of the ’90s? Question 3: Are the Cadets too snobby? These questions are, I believe, related. Early this season the Cadets trumpeted their ’97 program as an effort to play the most notes ever played. Well, la di dah. Yes, this may have been the most difficult show ever done. However, was it too hard? In the final competition the Cadets were soundly defeated by BD in the three performance captions–a full point when brass, percussion and visual are combined. The Cadets never truly perfected this show. This was not to say that it wasn’t spectacular and awesome. It was. However, the Cadets corps of a few years ago honed their performance skills to a sharpness I didn’t see this year. In fact, I haven’t seen that level of perfection the last three years. Moreover, these recent Cadets shows are so hard that, I would wager, they limit Cadets membership to a select group of highly talented and highly trained musicians. And, they can’t win. Aunt Mildred, has the Cadets’ philosophy gotten just a bit out of hand? Do you think that George Hopkins (everyone knows who he is) would be too insulted if you posed him these questions from a loyal and faithful fan? And while you’re at it, please ask him why the Cadets can’t play their horns louder. Once again this year, the Blue Devils’ ensemble sound was clearly superior in Orlando.

1997 Phantom Regiment

1997 Phantom Regiment

Here’s another philosophical question for you, Aunt Mildred. Why are so many corps so stubborn? Here’s an example. Phantom Regiment insisted on putting just about no color on the field this year. Everyone was in black, and the guard used just one fairly drab gold flag for the entire show. Although I do not know this for a fact, I’ll bet lots of folks suggested that Phantom add more color to a dull show, but they never did. Here’s another example. Madison’s staff, rumor has it, doesn’t’ go to critiques and doesn’t listen to judges. Why not? Supposedly, they want to entertain the fans, and don’t care about winning. However, in a way, this is a bit odd, for if Madison cared so much for their fans, you think that they would try harder to win. What could possibly make their fans happier than another Madison DCI title?

Well, Aunt Mildred, as you can see, I’m getting a bit carried away with criticism. Let me not end my letter to you on a negative note. My criticism is only aimed at judges and staff, not on all the marvelous performers who graced the field in Orlando. Because, despite any faults that might have been on display at DCI this year, this was probably the greatest collection of junior drum corps that ever competed in a national competition. So could you do me one more big favor and call up each of those 1200+ performers and thank them for their great performances and for bringing so much excitement and pleasure to all of us old time drum corps fans. Oh, yes, and get a few quotes.

I guess I had better sign off, Aunt Mildred. It seems that I’m asking a lot of you, but you’ve just got to come through for me, and as soon as possible. Maybe if you get some answers for me, I can pull together at least a passable article on Orlando. So, please hurry… and thanks.

John Fitzgerald



My Dear John,

It is indeed a pleasure to hear from you. I have enjoyed your work tremendously.

You are a gifted author and a distinguished contributor to MMA. Your work bestows a national approach to what was a parochial publication. You are also quite inquisitive, my dear boy.

I am afraid it is too late to reply to all your queries in this issue, but I assure you your thoughts have been passed on and responses will be forthcoming. Please read Mr. Oliviero’s article, my dear. He honestly deals with some of your inquests. Thank you so much for writing.

Most Sincerely,

Aunt Mildred