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Zak Sadir, the Superman of the Bluecoats

Gripes and Greatness - 2014 DCI Review

This is my personal review of many aspects of the 2014 Drum Corps International season. I won’t review every corps, but some corps and situations just leave me with more ideas or opinions than others. Photo credits to thedrumcorpsfan and myself. In no particular order…

The Colts: Maybe my favorite show concept of the season. Designers Marc Sylvester and Wayne Harris really showcased their talents here. The Colts should be very happy to have them on board. Many people don’t like narration in a drum corps production, and as soon as they hear someone speaking they are immediately turned off. And that’s fine. If it doesn’t fit your taste, then it doesn’t fit your taste. However, this was something different. This wasn’t just words spoken over the music. This wasn’t narration, it was acting! This was a theatrical piece. The Scarecrow was a character within the show, as were the color guard, the brass, and the percussion. The Colts developed a new piece of the drum corps show puzzle. The actor playing the Scarecrow relied on the corps to support his story, and the corps relied on the Scarecrow’s story to finish the ideas of the production. A dark and spooky tale fitting the original Wizard of Oz themes against the music of Pink Floyd and Radiohead. I thought it was fantastic and I envision good things ahead for The Colts. Next year, click your heals three times and repeat, “there’s no place like Finals.”

Judging: I’m not a judge, I accept that. But with 37 years of drum corps experience, I think I have a fair understanding of what judging entails and what should be rewarded or critiqued. I’m generally in agreement with the final placement of the corps, although I have to reflect on the Blue Knights later in this essay. What I’m most concerned with are the inconsistencies within certain captions. Case in point being Color Guard. Do the judges want to reward cleanliness, consistency, and adherence to the overall GE of the program, or do they want to reward difficulty, achievement, and innovation? Now you may say, “Why can’t they do both?” Actually, the answer is they can, and they should. But they don’t. When you look at the color guard of the Blue Stars and their 4th place finish, you feel good about the judging. They rewarded what they probably should reward. Great effort, presentation, and achievement to the level of difficulty they elected to write into their show. But then you look to see who won the caption. The Blue Devils? These two color guards are almost diametrically opposed in their design. Streamers, sitting on chairs on the sideline, whipping their hair extensions back and forth, individuals spending nearly the entire show on the same side of the field, very low ensemble difficulty (the list of grievances goes on and on); however clean and Generally Effective it was. Again, if that’s what you want to reward, fine. But then you can’t positively reward a guard that does the opposite of that.

Blue Knights: While most fans in the stadium seemed pretty satisfied with the Cadets being passed by the Bluecoats for 2nd place, I know more than a few that were left feeling the Cadets were somewhat defrauded in finishing 3rd. But the real victims at Finals were the Blue Knights when Phantom Regiment passed them for 7th. Their show, “That One Second” was, in a word, stunning. From the overall show design, through each section and caption, this show left me mesmerized.

The horn line was outstanding, and loud! Percussion so tasteful, powerful, and supportive. The guard was spot-on for the entire production, consistently milking emotion from the crowd. And the drill design, with brilliant staging throughout, coaxing your eye to where the designers wanted the fans and judges to focus at every moment. How this show wound up dropping to 8th place, I cannot explain. However, it is interesting to note that from 2009 through last year’s Finals, the Blue Knights averaged a loss of 0.90 points from Prelims to Finals. This year’s drop was only 0.675 points, but it was enough to lose a spot in the Final placement. Still, I was enamored with the show design and concept, and I anticipate further greatness from BK in the future.

The Cadets: Having paid attention through the planning stages of the 2014 production of “Promise: An American Portrait”, I wound up disappointed with the final rendition of this program. At the start of the season, it was clear that this corps was incredibly talented and had the makings of a championship corps. All the usual Cadets production earmarks were there; from the outstanding and intricate drill design, to the powerful and soul-stirring horns, to the solid and tight drum line, through the talented and expressive color guard. But in the end it appeared to me that they lost their way leading up to Finals. The proficient show design should have been enough to carry this corps to a solid finish. In an effort to squeeze some additional GE points out of the program, the designers added super-sized photos of what was supposed to be average American faces around the field, a large pull-up rendering of the Capitol rotunda back-field, and a bright Star Spangled Banner unfurled from the top of the stage behind the front ensemble. Rather than rouse the patriotic soul in all of us, this really appeared more like desperation. I wanted this show to be the classic Cadets program it promised to be, but I wound up feeling the corps was distracting everyone from itself. That is why I felt disappointed.

DCI: This organization continues to improve their product year after year. Lucas Oil Stadium also improves in cleanliness of sound for this event every show. Drum Line Battle returned this year after their introduction last season on Finals Saturday, and this year saw the implementation of Sound Sport as well.

These are two fine additions to the overall DCI line of products. But the most impressive aspect of the 2014 season was simply the high levels of quality entertainment from so many of the individual corps. This season was outstanding from top to bottom.

Quick Hits:

At the current pace, I estimate two, maybe three seasons, before an Open Class corps makes it to World Class finals. The question is will it be BDB, or SCV Cadets?

Congratulations to 7th Regiment for making it through to Semi-Finals. So happy to see another corps taking the next step in their march toward excellence.

The Cavaliers were the 2nd most improved corps from their first show score to Finals score. The Blue Devils scores showed the most improvement but that’s only because of their outrageous Finals score.

The Bluecoats converted me to a fan this year. The last few years have been approaching the greatness they finally showed this year but they never really got me until this Tilt production.

I am amazed that Santa Clara Vanguard wasn’t more recognized for their drill design this year. Tight formations, easy to read, with smoothly detailed transitions. I though it was one of the best I’ve seen in the last few years, from any corps.

For continued Drum Corps related information, critiques, humor, and photos, you can follow me on Twitter @CorpsTweets, or on Tumblr at Drum Corps Critic.

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August 9th, 2014. Finals morning, the Bluecoats age outs play Autumn Leaves for the corps to wake them up one last time.