2008 Phantom Regiment Show Review

2008 Program:

2008 Repertoire:
Ein Heldenleben
Battlefield (from KA)
Dance of Exstasy from (Danses Fantastiques)
Toccata (from Piano Concerto No. 1)

The show begins with the corps in full character – Horns and percussion as Romans, guard as chained slaves. A trumpet fanfare from Ein Heldenleben starts the show, leading into the main Spartacus theme we all know and love from ’81 and ’82. The guard comes front and forms a human chain of chained slaves. This, of course, will not last. Let the Third Servile War begin!

The drill for the 2nd piece is fast paced, involving the hornline covering a lot of ground quickly. The music is very angry, stacatto, and in your face. Drumline is another out of this world group of performers and a strong contender for the percussion trophy in Bloomington. Two slave gladiators are fighting up front during all the noice. Once there is a winner (Spartacus, I assume), the “Romans” call for him to DIE!!! leading to the first “murder” of Phantom’s show.

The third piece is when Spartacus and the slaves first revolt. The horns trade difficult licks back and forth before the drumline takes over, allowing the horns to practically run all over the field before coming back in with the classical version of a drum corps park-n-blow. The mellophones finish the song with a giant unison note, courtesy of former mello player J.D. Shaw.

The Spartacus love ballad is next, performed by a mellophone who completely nails the solo, both in terms of music as well as expression. The hornline moves backfield during the solo, forming a heart with the mello soloist as the bottom point. Unfortunately, the love doesn’t last as a Phantom DM/Roman emperor steps forward to kill Spartacus’s love interest. This is murder #2 and the most effective of all the death we experience in this show. As Spartacus carries his love’s body off the field, screaming in grief and anger, the sound of Roman legions can be heard as the slaves gather their spears and shield and face off against the Emperor’s finest. Unfortunately, history does not change as the slaves are defeated and Spartacus is killed (murder #3).

The close of the show has Phantom returning to the Khachaturian ballet. As various corps members yell out the famous “I am Spartacus!” cry from the Kirk Douglas movie, the corps builds to a big finish, reprising both the opening fanfare and the love theme while coming to the front of the field to finish the show.

While the music captions (horns/percussion) are definitely championship calibur and the arrangements do an incredible job of showcasing this fact, the visual design is holding this corps back from contending for the 2008 title. While the corps does march well, the drill itself is not very interesting and it’s easy to ignore when theatrical moments occur throughout the show, such as the various murders. This show will not pass Blue Devils or Cavaliers and will finish somewhere between 3rd and 5th, in my opinion. There are rumors of a new closer for the show, but, as of San Antonio, I have not seen nor heard it, so it’s hard to say if it exists and, if so, whether or not it will be enough to push the corps to the top.

2008 Cadets Show Review

2008 Program:
…And The Pursuit Of Happiness

2008 Repertoire:
American Elegy
Round 4
Apollo Unleashed

This year’s Cadets program is essentially an episode of “This American Life” distilled into 11 1/2 minutes. The pre-show setup even includes radio “promo” announcements telling you to stay tuned for tonight’s episode. The corps begins along the sidelines and end zone lines of the field with just a living room set in the middle of the field.

The opening vocal is a direct quote from the Declaration of Independence stopping right before the line from which the show title is taken. The corps starts backfield , slowly swelling the music until they turn front and perform the main theme from “American Elegy”. It’s not a hit, per se, and the corps turns backfield once again as the radio narration returns. Unfortunately, it’s hard to pay attention to both the narration and the music, especially as the narration demands more attention. The narration is well rehearsed and the best Cadets have used since amplified vocals were allowed.

The second piece also starts backfield but is much faster featuring brass fanfares. The percussion enters the show for the first time as the horns turn front and gives the crowd the first real musical hit of the show. The drill is very clean and the Cadets should vie for Ensemble Visual this year along with Cavies, BD, and Crown, as well as others I have yet to review at this point. The music, while played well, does not distinguish itself much compared to other shows I have seen.

Section three of the show features back-and-forth moments between the brass and percussion, brass on the left, precussion on the right. The piece is another high energy selection with the tenors receiving the most crowd reaction to their solo. The audience also enjoys the screaming trumpet soloists which pop up throughout the piece.

While each section of the show deals with the protaganist’s “pursuit of happiness” in different areas, the music does not change enough to reflect those different pursuits. Except for the opener, each piece is essentially a variation on a theme – fast-paced, tense, with lots of notes for both the brass and percussion. Eventually, the music blends together to the point where it’s difficult to distinguish which piece of music is which. What’s more, since there isn’t enough time to do a true radio show, it’s hard for the interview narration to convey more than just the intros into each section. Sarah Jones talks about what she was pursuing, but doesn’t have the opportunity to go into details.

Despite these issues, there are great musical and visual moments throughout the show, including the end of the fourth section, the last full musical selection of the show. The closing moments have the brass and percussion form a smiley face (think “Eat ‘n’ Park” cookies) and, as with the opening, the horns playing backfield.

Unfortunately, the way this show is designed, the narration is given the chance to shine at the expense of the rest of the show. There are great moments for the brass and percussion, but they are just that. The rest of the time, the music is either filler between narrative moments or background underneath those moments. As a result, this show could suffer from a performance caption standpoint. Also as a result, I do not see this show placing higher than third as shows like Blue Devils and Cavaliers have a more balanced and complete package at this point.

2008 Carolina Crown Show Review

2008 Program:

2008 Repertoire:
Toccata and Fugue in D minor
Barber of Seville
Ninth Symphony (Ode to Joy)
Mid Summer Night’s Dream #9
Suite Bergamasque (Claire De Lune)
One Hand One Heart (from West Side Story)
Somewhere (from West Side Story)
Hngarian Rhapsody
Festive Overture
1812 Overture
Appalachian Spring
Hallelujah Chorus

The corps begins at the end – the end to the Candide overture, playing it backfield before going into the first big hit. The opening drill is very kalidescopic and fun to watch, while the first big brass hit is glorious. 80 horns and 16 tubas have that kind of effect, even when listening to the camcorder field on the Fan Network recording. The drum line has improved over last year and is a classic Lee Beddis book, full of tasteful writing which packs plenty of punch for the fans.

After the Candide ending intro, Crown plays the overture from the Barber of Seville. This piece feature the first insertion of another piece – specifically, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy melody from his Ninth Symphony. The baritones are very strong near the end of Seville. The piece ends with a “Shave and a Haircut” quote for a little fun.

The mood changes with the ballad of the show, Claire de Lune. This is performed in a very straightforward manner for most of the piece, but, in the middle, West Side Story’s One Hand, One Heart makes an appearance, followed by segments of Somewhere near the close of the piece. Michael Klesch does a wonderful job of integrating these melodies into the arrangement with seamless transitions between the different pieces. The end of the ballad features the trumpets playing a wonderful chord backfield while the low brass plays the haunting final notes to WSS. This may be one of the most moving musical moments for 2008.

The tempo picks back up for the drum solo, which also features the tubas performing the most famous of Franz Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsodies. Not wasting time, however, the corps goes right into the closer, which is a medley of Candide, the 1812 Overture, Appalachian Spring, and Festive Overture, before finishing with the closing strains of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. I have heard the closer described as a composer who is trying to find the perfect ending, but thinks of so many that he ends up using them all, a very apt way to finish a show titled Finis. The drill finishes in a crown formation. The crowd finishes on their feet. Crown could very well finish in the Top 3 for 2008 with a very balanced package of powerful brass, tight percussion, and exciting visual.

Box Center Episode 2008-6 – Interview With the Abbotts

After over three months, the latest episode of Box Center is finally available for download. Join Drum Corps Planet Managing News Editor Kevin Gamin as he takes a look back at a wild DCI regional weekend, looks forward to the drum corps events of July 19th and 20th, and features an interview with the Abbott family, a drum corps family which is a little different than the norm.

Listen to it Now!

2008 Cavaliers Show Review

2008 Program:

2008 Repertoire:
Busido – The Way of the Warrior
Ronin – Masterless Samurai
Ken-jutsu – The Art of the Sword
Fumeiyo yori shi wo – Death Before Dishonor

The Cavaliers, as with Machine and 007, totally embrace the theme and character of their show from the very start, with the drum major bowing instead of saluting. The opening drill is symmetrical, which adds to the effect of Michael Gaines writing. The Cavaliers’ horn sound is very distinct – Instead of four different types of horns, you hear the sound of the same horn in four voices. The pit is in the same samurai uniform as the guard this year. The drill is incredibly clean for July, but I expect that with the way the Cavaliers utilize the dot system. The rifles in the guard aren’t white, but are what I would guess a bamboo-esque color. A great moment in the opener occurs with the horns in rapidly expanding and contracting boxes, chanting loudly while the percussion plays distinctly Japanese rhythms, complete with Taiko drums. The guard finishes the opener in some kind of Japanese symbol – not yin-yang, but close, and most likely related to samurai.

The second piece features a lot of pitch bending in the horns, a wonderful effect which also shows the strength of their ear training and ability to play in tune in general. The drill features both regular time and double time marching, with forms flowing through each other, another Gaines trademark. At one point, the horns form a block triangle, which, in and of itself, isn’t a big deal, but the transition drill to get there is incredible. Another great drill moment features a circle of tubas pushing down through a rectangular block of horns. As it does so, the horns scatter as if water yielding to a dropping stone.

The third movement opens with a classic Cavalier move not seen since 1998 – snake drill! This movement again features Taiko drums and chanting, as well as plenty of drumline high sticking and movement. The horns and guard get into the act, as well, complete with a guard member taking down a horn player.

The next movement starts off with the horns forming what appears to be Japanese writing before moving into a major statement, including more chanting and drumming. The tempo picks up after the statement and corps goes into pure Cavaliers Finale mode. While watching the multi-cam video from Denver, there is a great shot of the pit taken from the side as they literally ram 16th note runs in unison, followed by another where they’re pounding the snot out of their keyboards and cymbals while the horns and percussion punch out musical stabs.

Like Blue Devils, this is a championship-calibur show. There is, however, one weakness: The music. There are no major melodies throughout the show which remain with me and, while the corps has one of the best balanced hornline sounds in DCI, it does sacrifice some volume and impact to do so. This hasn’t stopped the Green Machine in the past (5 titles in 8 years attibute to that) but it does give other corps an opening a chink in the Green Samurai’s armor, if you will.

2008 Blue Devils Show Review

2008 Program:
Constantly Risking Absurdity

Main Theme from Sweeney Todd
Phrygian Gates
Bach Intervention
Serenada Schizophrana
I Will Wait For You
The Untouchables

Similar to last year, BD’s pit opens the show before the corps is announced. The music from the pit matches the the mood of both the show (Constantly Risking Absurdity) and the actions of the guard, who use balance poles while pretending to tightrope walk on the yard lines.

The show proper begins with the horns playing chords backfield. It’s a typical BD hornline – In tune and powerful. Percussion actually dominates the intro with the snares and tenors on some kind of small single tenor drum, creating a very interesting effect. Once the percussion finishes with the single tenors, the tenors have a cool moment where guard members carry their drums and rotate around the tenor line as they play.

I’m not very familiar with the Sweeney Todd music (yet) but I do enjoy the Gordon Goodwin quote they use from his take on the Bach Intervention in C (or D, can’t remember that right now) minor. This is also one of the better drills from BD.

The 2nd piece is purposely schizophrenic, with the hornline playing backfield at a slow, chorale tempo while the drum line plays very phrenetically, interspersed with stabbing melodies from the horn line.

The corps uniform has received many alterations this year. The silver sequins on the front of the uniform are now a plain white material, matching new large white plumes, providing a strong contrast in colors on the uniform. The stripes added in 2006 are still there. Also added is a type of skirt on one side of the uniform, black on the outside with white trim and white on the inside.

Near the end of the ballad, the balance polls form a stick figure on the field which looks like a tight rope walker. Either that or one of those strange figures from South America you can only see from the air. Either way, it’s very cool.

After the ballad section of the show, the drum line expands on the body movement used during their solo a la last year. It is a very intense, difficult moment, both visually and musically, and they pull it off incredibly well.

The closer sounds like the close of a movie, most likely about acrobats or circus performers from teh sound of it, complete with closing theme pronouncements, a reprise of the pit theme from the pre-show, and a high-paced, loud ending. the corps also forms the stick figure which appeared earlier in the show, turned 90 degrees, almost as if it’s Superman flying across the field, before moving into the big finish.

This show has the total package and the corps is already performing it at a championship level. It will be difficult for other corps to top this show, although not impossible, but I forsee a 2nd straight title for BD in 2008.