Monday, August 14, 2006

Music In Motion

I had the distinct privilege of attending the Drum Corps International World Championships held in Madison, Wisconsin this past weekend. I say that it was a privilege because I know exactly what it takes to participate in this event and this activity. It takes a near fanatical committment to excellence, to teamwork, to performing and, most of all, to drive oneself to perform at a level that you never thought was possible. I marched two seasons with the Garfield Cadets (as they were then known) and that experience did more to shape my life than anything else I've ever done.

Camp Randall Stadium. Not a very pleasant place to watch an event like this, even after the renovation (which, on this side of the stadium, was basically a coat of paint). My guess is that the crowd was around 22,000. If only I had ordered the tickets earlier, I could have had better seats. My wife and I went to semifinals the night before and we were about the same height, but 25 yards closer to midfield.

This is a shot of the opening set for the performance by my old corps, now known as The Cadets. Their show was a vairation of the "Alice In Wonderland" fantasy. It was (in my opinion) one of the two best visual presentations of the night. And yet, the defending champions finished in fifth, falling below a corps that performed well, but had a fairly straightforward production. Why was that?

That's a very complicated question. Visual is only one caption. Music score and execution is considered, as well as marching skill. But the Cadets have been the leading innovators in the activity for the last 24 years and have never taken it easy. Theories abound, but I can summarize it this way. Judges can be a capricious lot. Judging panels change from performance to performance, so it makes sense that scores can vary based on that. Anybody who watches professional sports knows how frustrating it can be when officials are inconsistent. There's really nothing that can be done about it; we're human, after all. But the judging community is also a caretaker of the activity, and sometimes it takes that role too seriously. They can either squelch innovation or promote it. Sure it's a fine line, but this year I think they got it wrong in the case of the Cadets. They just didn't seem to get it.

Also not getting it was the audience. Back in the day, crowds were much more expressive at high points in the performances. In 1984 our performance earned three standing ovations during the course of the show. There seemed to be much more electricity from the stands, and that fed into our performances. That was missing Saturday night. I can come up with several reasons. First, all the best seats go to the corporate sponsors these days. I'm sure they are fine folks, but they can be much more buttoned down. Second, is show design. How's that you say? After all the innovation over the last 25 years, shouldn't the powerful sound and lightning visuals just pull the people out of the seats? I don't mean to come across sounding old, but I think the complexity of music arrangement and visual design has exceeded the audience's capacity to absorb it all and truly appreciate it. I look at what those kids do now and marvel at how I possibly could have done the same thing when I was their age. The show designers select music that is not easily recognized by the mainstream music public and the arrangers often take extensive liberties with their arrangements. It's always been a tough line to draw, and I think the trend needs to come back to the public.

The participating corps assemble on the field for the presentation of the awards. Over 1600 young men and women, who have given their sweat (and sometimes blood) for the last 9 weeks now learn how well they did. The finale is an emotional moment for everyone. It's the end of a long road, and for those who are "ageing out" it's doubly emotional. This is the last time they will take the field. And that's before they announce the scores.

On this evening, the winners were The Cavaliers, from Rosemont, Illinois by less than half a point. For those who are interested in seeing more, there will be a 2 hour production of the contest that will air on ESPN2 on Tuesday, September 5 at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

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1 astute observations :

  1. Aesthetic said...

    I've always admired the precision.

    Aesthetic (Callisto)
    Hey Rich, how are you going? Just thought I'd let you know that I'm still around, despite having got rid of Blissed (bittersweet about that). I enjoyed your support of Blissed, thanks so much.

    Anyway, I have created a photo Blog called Pleasant Avenue) - which is less all-consuming. I'm still a visitor to TBTFS so I'll see you 'round.