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Excitement Grows in Groups of Three, by Gary Dickelman, Drum Corps World staff 

As I watched the prelims and semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium, it occurred to me that the corps were more or less grouped in threes, especially among the top twelve. To be sure, there were remarkable performances by every corps, and it was clearly evident that the long season of rehearsals and performances were blossoming. But listening to how the crowd responded, and looking at the scores, there were clusters of similar performances in groups of three. Crown, Blue Devils, and Bluecoats evoked high decibels and clustered around 96-97 mark; Cavaliers, Cadets, and Santa Clara Vanguard perhaps slightly less (albeit enthusiastic) ovations with cluster around the 93-94 mark. Similarly for Blue Stars, Phantom, Phantom Regiment, and Blue Knights at 89-90; and Boston Crusaders, Academy, and Crossmen in the 86-87 range. And so on, down the line. 

I first noticed this with the ovations for Crown, which were more frequent, louder, and more frenetic. At the conclusion of the Bluecoats show, a spectator near me noted, "those last three were a few more notches up the ladder than the ones that performed earlier." Indeed. I guess the obvious performance quality difference is what makes a corps a medal contender.

Nonetheless, each and every show had its highlights, and there was a discernible improvement in every corps from prelims to semis. The Academy drew breathtaking responses from the crowd through its entire show, but especially for "Unchained Melody." The Cavaliers finale is a total joy, as it is amusing, exciting, and expertly performed. Madison’s "Judas" finale is majestic. Santa Clara Vanguard's finale carries a punch, and the post-show ending is vintage SCV. Phantom Regiment's soloists--especially the piccolo trumpet--are breathtaking! The Cadets, in my opinion, make outstanding use of the trombones' range and timbre. Blue Knights nail in with visuals and the cacophonous opening. Crossmen's opener and closer are remarkable bookends to an exciting show. Boston evokes fond memories of the corps' brilliant history, while the Troopers stun us at times with a brilliant brass ensemble. And how about those bronze medal, Open Class Legends? What a show! Performances in World Class by this corps, Blue Devils B, and Vanguard Cadets were equally remarkable. Congratulations to all for showing what a season of hard work can accomplish.

As for the top three, they are all amazing, each with a very distinct show. The Bluecoats perform a unique visual show, with a relaxed look. It is further underscored with jazz licks and performers sliding on orange ramps. The sudden appearance of a group or ensemble here and there, from behind the ramps, makes the corps appear much larger than it is. The entire show looks like fun, makes the audience feel good, and even included a wink from a soloist in prelims that went viral on social media. Bluecoats topped the field in prelims with about 0.9 between first and third, but that margin was cut to 0.3 in semis by Blue Devils and Crown. 

The Blue Devils performed a remarkable show both nights, underscoring its perennial excellence. What is so appealing about Blue Devils is the nuance added to otherwise routine constructs. For example, the finale of a piece in drum corps often ends with a linear or curved formation, laterally, across the field. BD did that, but with a random pattern of stragglers that seem to just make it into the formation by the final note of the piece. It’s simple, but effective in drawing interest and raising excitement. The entire show is vintage Blue Devils, with variety in props and music. Probably the most noticeable feature is how the trombones are applied. The Blue Devils simply announce the crowd, “we have trombones” – and use the slides and unique timbre of the instrument to put it all right there in your face. Nice show. 

Once again, if ever there was a corps that gets the crowd stirring, cheering, and on its feet before the first note of music is played, it is Carolina Crown. The magnificent “Relentless” gets the fans going by the mere appearance of the corps on the field. Crown evokes expectations of superhuman brass, an impossibly talented guard, tightly integrated percussion that truly makes music, and a story that carries you along from one remarkable level to the next. The corps is a cohesive unit that is, ultimately, bereft of separate sections. Yet there are always features and remarkable performances by individuals who should be mentioned. Like Derek Vereen, the remarkable dancer/rifle, who seems to float through the air in the opener, then punctuates the “Medea” fanfare with one huge toss and catch, just after the entire guard creates a wave of tosses. And a little later, the exotic dance and fight for the beautiful Roxanne (Merrily Lyons), where tubist Matthew McGarvey gets involved in the action. Elijah Milan Falcon may get shot by Alex Wahl early in the show, but his character is ever-present, subsequently, as a ghost, who carries the tension between vigilante justice and mercy through the remainder of the show.

Taylor LaPrairie is absolutely brilliant on trombone. In fact, the entire reproduction of “El Tango De Roxanne,” from Moulin Rouge—including the barroom brawl—is spot-on perfection. During the semis an on-field judge managed to get in the way of one of the featured one-on-one fights. He managed to get out from between the two brawlers, thanks to an almost imperceptible hesitation by a very professional Crown member. Is it finally time to get the judges off the field?! The clip of this that went viral on social media suggest that is the case; Steve Rondinaro, in a Facebook response, emphasized the point. But I digress. In this piece, one cannot miss the remarkable battery—especially the “royal” snares—which accelerate tempo with a very precise rudimental segment, featuring signature Crown body movement.

Gilbert Villagrana’s “Hallelujah” solo, and duet with French horn Alex Wahl, soars to the heavens and makes the heart swell. The refrain from CrownBRASS is breathtaking; I can still hear the echo of that heavenly chord, which was accompanied by a gasp from the crowd. And on into the finale, which now features the signature Crown formation, but that’s not really the final punch this year. It is the shift from vigilante justice to mercy that catches us off guard, in a most delightful way. And if by chance you missed any of the remarkable CrownGUARD during the show because you were mesmerized by the CrownBRASS, watch them in the finale, near the right end-zone and in front of the retreating stagecoach. The dance moves are phenomenal. This is truly the gold standard of contemporary guard, hands down! 

The entire stadium was on its feet long before the closing chord. DCI fans love Carolina Crown. And what a performance! The margin between Crown and Blue Devils was closed to 0.063 in semis, and between Crown and Bluecoats, 0.338. A tight race. But make no mistake. Members of Crown want to create the most entertaining show for the fans. Draw such a response from the crowd as in semis and life is good. Winning is a byproduct of outstanding performance. In my view, these top three are all winners. As it is posted on the Crown white board prior to every show, the competitors are “friends.” It is performance excellence that is the heart and soul of Carolina Crown. 

Thank you to our friend and Crown Advisory Board Member Gary Dickelman for contributing this article and to Roxanna Lynne for the photography.

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