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Santa Clara Vanguard’s tragic decision not to field a 2023 corps shocked the DCI world. Drum Corps Planet, Twitter, and Facebook exploded with elegies, eulogies, and touching memoirs. One of the common thoughts of the social media: if it happened to SCV, no corps is safe! Perhaps one day, we fans will ask each other, “How did you find out about Vanguard?” I received a DM from a former marcher who doesn’t spread misinformation. I then (privately) went to bigger fish—one of whom confirmed before the official gavel dropped.

Despite what many news outlets report, our country’s economic outlook is terrible. I just spent $7.59 for 18 store-named large eggs (non-organic: a dozen of those were $7.50), and I only feed myself — and not in New York City. Corps members and staffs cannot sustain on dry toast and Ensure, and if tours rely on diesel fuel, yikes! As a ’70s kid, I distinctly remember the ghastly recession (germinating in the ’60s): food price spikes, huge fuel costs, and more and more government intervention to “fix” everything. Sound familiar? None of this excuses the SCV operation, but it will definitely affect next summer for all teams and surely fits into the California corps’ ultimate decision.

Economy aside, why are costs so high? Well…drum corps used to have Identities that started with their look. We knew them by their physical familiarity. Remember how shocked the world was when Phantom Regiment came out in 1987? White and silver for the Tchaikovsky winter ballets. Genius. PR had been stale (4th to 10th in three years) and needed a jolt. We still identified with the traditional helmets and capes. Every year of that ‘edition’ had a gradual evolution of color, etc. but they still had the Regiment “look.” Today, most corps change uniforms—nay, costumes—every season. Out with the old. Even the Cadets feel they need to evolve. Sure, a sprinkle of maroon, a splash of gold… it’s almost patronizing.



Speaking of them, the 1983 Garfield Cadets were absolutely poverty-stricken. Yes, the country was slowly emerging from the aforementioned recession, but in the words of first-year director G. Hopkins, “I had no idea what I was doing” regarding finances. He added, “We were lucky to come out the other side of that.” Michael Klesch: “We had buses?” Breakdowns galore. Uniforms were a quarter century old. Mike Cesario: “Poor Aunt Nelly mending them from the inside.” Yet, they fielded a corps. Granted, they didn’t stray farther west than Whitewater, concentrating their efforts in the East, Midwest, and ultimately the South. They won DCI that year through talent and jaw-dropping innovations (jaws would fall much lower in the next two years). Not money. They did eat, I’m told, though GH recalled his marching years in the Crossmen: “There were some days we didn’t eat very much.” He also waxed, somewhat ironically, “If my daughter marched in those (Garfield) corps, I’d have me arrested. We were about getting from one day to the next.” Yes, those were different times with different generations.



The point being that money didn’t buy championships, Of course, the Garfield organization upgraded its stock once the alumni started throwing donations at them, so they did get new uniforms and buses. Whether they were playing Bernstein, Copland, or Schönberg (“Les Miz”), the corps-proper look was the same. Fine, change the guard’s costuming. It’s a FAR less expensive way to set a particular mood. Actually, the best way to establish the tone of a show is through MUSIC. Did it matter that the Cadets went all-black to highlight neon, the 10th element, in 2015’s “The Power of Ten?” All I remember is that the corps was the mid-July leader, sporting the 1934-sequels uniforms. That winning brass line and great percussion didn’t get them past fourth place. GE and Visual reaped no benefits from the added costs.



Once electronics became legal, a prevailing opinion was “more innovation. More creativity.” Ok, some of it definitely enhanced programming: the 2005 Cadets’ drumspeak and BD 2017 with Jerry Seawright announcing “Concord Blue Devils.” But singers? Remember Carolina Crown’s Finals night electronic debacle? You can’t tell me that with those superhero brass players, there wasn’t one who could make us melt playing instead. What about Garfield 1984? What if mics had been allowed? They’d have advertised for a Hispanic choruser to sing “Maria” and “I Have a Love.” One of DCI’s great legacies is Barbara Maroney deftly slaying those tunes on her old, battered mellophone. As Mike C. said, “She was breathing out of her ears.” And now all the corps buy new horns every year. I know they have agreements with manufacturers, but is this cost-effective?



SCV’s production of “Miss Saigon” used the percussion to recreate the eerie sound of helicopters. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! They won the GE Percussion number all week in Dallas. If they did that last year, we all know it would be piped in, right? How about BD 2014? The Fellini theme with the super-8 projector noise through speakers could have been done with percussion. Think of it: they might have scored 99.75 with said music innovation.



Today’s pre-shows are basically setting up and plugging in equipment. I’m told some corps spend SIX FIGURES on electronics. Good Lord, the pits look like Twisted Sister concerts rather than drum corps shows. Of course, there’s those all-too-common awkward moments of silence as the “deejay” is on his back troubleshooting under an amplifier. In my opinion (maybe contrary to judges’ sheets), corps cheat when it comes to staging. A soloist can be just anywhere and play into a mic. Darn it, I want my BD soprano quartet on the front sideline wailing. It’s far more personal. Back to ‘85 Garfield, I recently learned that the brass quintet in “Jeremiah” happened to be the five people in that part of the drill who could best leave the form to move down front. Talent everywhere there. Also, George Zingali’s “Candide” stopped with the soprano soloist in drill prominently as front and center as possible. Is staging even a thing anymore? Well…in that above-mentioned soloist’s case, maybe a mic would have been better to close “Appalachian Spring.” Oh, that rotten applause.



I’m still wondering why it was so necessary to allow corps to have more members. How are upstart corps supposed to get to World Class when they need so many more? Sure, more members mean more dues; another result is more food and overall costs. 128 was quite workable, with the big groups averaging 64 horns. I never saw the 1979 Spirit of Atlanta, but did anyone complain that the brass wasn’t strong enough? I’ve previously written about that 1986 Blue Devils‘ company front near the show’s end. I recall the Maxell Cassette Tape ad. (Age 30 and under: Google “cassette tape.”) The dude slumps in a chair as his butler puts the tape into the player. As it blasts the colossal “Ride of the Valkyries,” dude’s pant legs and scarf blow back, and he casually grabs his wine glass before it slides off the table. Yes, that was the experience from the 20th row.



I’m not saying that DCI should revert to 1979. G horns aren’t marketable; Bb horns are in abundance; I’ve made the best of that, though I’ll rehash that I hate hearing DCI’s Greatest Hits brought down a step. “Rocky Point,” “One-Eyed Sailor,” and “Eternal Glory” are far more glorious in their earliest forms.

In these times, we the people have to cut costs. If we’re buying eggs, gas, and heating fuel, something has to go. Dining out, new automobiles, and other non-essentials have to wait. Hopefully, the head office of DCI can understand this for its own survival. Streamlining the corps must be considered as well as touring. Being in Ohio, I’d pay good money to see Crown, Boston, and Cadets on a “first tour” in the East, Midwest, and South. Who wouldn’t get tickets to BD, SCV, and BK? Of course, the smaller corps would show up, as well. Keep things regional! Save travel expenses! Why is this so hard? Bring back Whitewater for an everybody-slugfest. It certainly helps build suspense by the time Indy rolls around. If Drum Corps International is to sustain itself, measures must be taken and FAST! The one diet I would recommend is FAR LESS PROPS. Maybe Bloo can afford an extra 18-wheeler to haul around their gargantuan sets, but “keeping up with the Cantons” could drive many corps into the poor house. Santa Clara is an enormous wake-up call. Mr. Acheson and company, stop hitting the snooze button.

Featured Image: 2012 Santa Clara Vanguard by Robert Claypool
“DSC_5689” flickr photo by robert.claypool shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license