In the UK as across the Atlantic, show concept is now a big part of how a marching unit presents their music and movement – this made for a great days entertainment at Music Revolution, the first show of the BYBA & DCUK seasons. Eleven marching units competed, some performing in both competitions, each with a unique personality on the field.
Over the past few years Concord Allstars have been writing the textbook on how to field a very young corps with a show that is both suited to the ages and abilities of the performers and packed full of entertainment for the audience. This years show is another definitive example as they presented Under Pressure - a TV talent show with each tune representing a different contestant interspersed with comments from the ‘judges’. The musical selections from rock band Queen enabled the corps to demonstrate their ability playing different styles of music with some very nice ensemble playing from the brass and a new cohesion to their drumline. A bigger audience at their second performance in the afternoon gave them opportunity to show what a crowd pleaser this years show is.
Three corps had chosen a musical for their repertoire this year, the first to perform were Ibstock Scouts with The Sound of Music. The show started with a duet leading into a strong opening statement of The Hills are Alive. The performance continually revealed some lovely brass writing, not least a jazzy My Favourite Things that was handled well by a modestly sized horn line with plenty of punch. The energetic guard sported ledershosen made from curtains as in the film and had fun riding bicycles for one song. An abrupt ending suggested there’s still more to come which is good news for this well conceived take on a classic musical that took first place in the BYBA Contest Class.
West Side Story is well tested on the drum corps field and always provides opportunity for musicians to get their teeth into complex rhythms and emotive themes. But it also brings the challenge of stamping your own personality onto such familiar material. Phantom Knights did exactly that from the off with Tonight displaying a confident brass sound that belied the size of the corps. Effective flag work from the guard added to the impact as the show moved through fresh arrangements of some of the musical’s key songs. The drum line joined the guard taking up flags for a soulful Maria that featured a beautiful flugel horn solo. Good arrangements played by performers who showed no signs of being daunted by the complexity of the music resulted in a strong performance that earned them the top spot in BYBA Championship class.
The mood switched from tragedy on the streets of New York to international espionage and adventure as Comets Performance Ensemble took the field to deep ominous chords. With music and visual cues from films such as Entrapment, the show built momentum towards the theme from the James Bond movie Skyfall. Effective use of simple props such as the masked colourguard edging between neon ‘infrared security beams’ suspended between the brass players gave a sense of narrative to the show. There were lots of good ideas here to develop through the season for a show strong on atmosphere from this young corps.
Stafford Brigades took us ‘into the woods’ with a musical selection including Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, Greig’s Hall of the Mountain King, and music from the Sondheim musical. The movable tree props proved somewhat unpredictable in the open sided stadium which was a shame as there were very nice ideas around movement as the corps weaved between them. Particularly effective were the closing moments as the corps disappeared back into the woods. Congratulations to the performers who showed true professionalism throughout the show.
Host corps Revolution continue their trajectory of putting out pacey dynamic performances and their 2018 show, Imaginarium, has much to commend it. Very much in the contemporary drum corps style, the show blends original music and narration with a centrepiece ballad of John Lennon’s Imagine – a real showcase for the capable brass section. Plenty of movement focussing on strong solid shapes adds to the sense of purpose as the performance builds to a punchy ending. Revolution performed in both competitions providing opportunity to demonstrate some impressive cohesive playing throughout the show that was rewarded in their ‘Ensemble Music’ score in the afternoon.
This was Cadence Drum & Bugle Corps first visit up to the Barnsley competition although the corps will be travelling much further later this year as they visit the United States to compete in the DCA World Championships. Arguably the show with the most thought provoking theme today, i AM nature asked the audience to consider our relationship with the natural world as it explored earth wind, fire and water themes. This is a visually rich show with a committed colour guard performance and some stand-out visual moments such as the sea segment with the brass enveloped in semi-transparent blue material enhanced by flowing flag work. If the corps can project their sound into the stands a little more effectively this will be a show with real impact by the end of the season.
Perhaps the most distinctive concept of the day was from East Coast Elite whose show, Human Within, began with a ‘power up’ announcement and the ‘robot’ musical performers moving into position erratically whilst the guard assist dressed as lab technicians. An attention-grabbing opening sequence featuring the whole corps moving robotically led into a strong musical statement as the guard danced with spinning cog wheels. An inventive arrangement of If I Only Had a Brain from the Wizard of Oz set the scene as throughout the show a humanoid robot was brought to life. This role was played by various brass members who would solo as if the voice of the robot. Flowing movement from the whole corps complimented the music resulting in a show that scored well in music and visual effect categories and which I’m really looking forward to seeing again later in the season.
USA readers may have had chance to witness The Company last year when they travelled to compete in DCI. With a reputation for well-co
nceived and impeccably performed shows with high production values, they are always one of the units I’m most excited to see at the start of the season. This year’s concept of On The Spot has been taken literally by the design team with two ingenious circular platforms around (and on top of) which the corps move and whose repeating circle pattern turns out to be removable four-legged stools used as props for the musicians to sit and stand on. Musically the 2018 edition of The Company is as sharp as ever demonstrated with a technically demanding opening fanfare. The crisp drumline drive the music, with Radiohead’s Paranoid Android a triumph of punchy segments and smooth transitions between the more symphonic movements. The show as a whole packs plenty of crescendos and personally I appreciated the slightly lower volume of the synthesisers this year enabling the rich and bright brass section to be clearly heard. Collectively their performance took second place in the DCUK competition.
Clearly determined to build on the storytelling and emotion of last season’s Romeo and Juliet, Kidsgrove Scouts bring a musical to life this year with 24601 – A Les Miserables Story. A powerful show performed with intensity and a clear joie de vivre, this was probably the strongest start of season performance I’ve seen from the Scouts. The story is acted out with a small cast portraying the main characters assisted by an athletic and graceful colourguard who bring movement, colour and a deftness of touch to the whole performance – an aspect of the show reflected in the scores. The trademark Kidsgrove brass sound is as impressive as ever and there’s an overwhelming sense that the members just delight in entertaining the crowd. With as much emotion as you can probably cram into 12 minutes, there is plenty light and shade too, not least a (very young) live vocal and euphonium duet in There is a Castle on a Cloud. This show performed with utter conviction took a deserved first place in the DCUK competition.
The final performance of the day also brought some of the most idiosyncratic moments of the competition as Beeches Performance Ensemble presented their show Bounce. A trumpet and trombone duet introduced us to a home-written repertoire that matches momentum in the music with the three-dimensional movement on the field. The latter achieved by the use of large trampolines on which guard members not only bounce, but which are also upended and wheeled around the field to visual effect. The latin-esque rhythms of the opening number played by a forceful brass section and grooving percussion are interspersed with comedic ‘boing!’ sound effects which lend the show a real fun and entertaining vibe that perhaps masks the high demand of the writing. In a show with the colourguard regularly centrestage, the bounce theme is extended to flags on elastic straps and an all-round energetic performance. Beeches have set themselves a big task with such a demanding show but the gleeful determination of the performances from all sections suggests that they will achieve their aim and resulted in a comfortable third place position today.
Elsewhere there might be an ongoing debate as to tradition vs innovation in drum corps but British corps continue to seize the opportunity to put out great shows with plenty of entertainment. As a spectator I greatly enjoyed all the performances today and delighted in seeing corps trust their homegrown ideas. The sheer joy of performing was evident in every performance - well done everybody and good luck for the rest of the 2018 season.
Photos Courtesy - Glen Riley