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DCI World Championship Finals, 2016 Edition, by Gary Dickelman, DCW staff

What I love most about DCI Finals night is the increased energy. There are longer lines of fans at booths purchasing just one more favorite souvenir, squeezing into overflowing stands, deafening ovations, and, of course, performances that are cranked up a few notches from the night before. The experience is what Steve Rondinaro often describes as “electric.”

From Boston Crusaders drum major salute to the final lick of Bluecoats remarkable show, the competition is somehow more exciting than the previous two nights. With the exception of the corps that will be awarded the Founders Trophy—and given the opportunity for an encore performance—you witness the final performances of a season’s effort of over 80 days that include a month of Spring training, followed by the road trip of long rehearsal days, frequent performances, middle-of-the-night transports, sleeping on gym floors, nursing sore muscles and injuries, and simply perfecting the show beyond what is otherwise humanly possible.

The Boston Crusaders made finals for the 18th time. Did we hear the same brass section that we heard the night before? Boston was on fire tonight. Perhaps because it was a hard fought battle for the 12th spot. The ovations bestowed on BAC telegraphed the crowd’s pleasure with “Quixotic” and the impressive performance by a very young corps. The intensity of the now famous keyboardist (on social media) was evident in each performer tonight. Congratulations!

Arguably the most admired corps of the night was The Academy. “Drum Corpse Bride” is thoughtful, interesting, exciting, and expertly performed. It’s great to see a new face in finals, especially one that has excelled like Academy. While there are countless high points to the show, the skeletons get the prize. Those front ensemble performers donning skeleton masks and playing keyboard ribs in the graveyard is so creative—and I might add, a favorite of my eight-year-old grandson. But I must say, the haunting “Unchained Melody” flugelhorn solo remains for me a highlight of 2016.

The Crossmen’s “Continuum” was wonderfully performed at finals. The bookends of the show that is the corps locked arm-in-arm, end-zone-to-end-zone, is wonderful. Brass is phenomenal and growing stronger each year. Great performance by Bones!

The Blue Stars were charged tonight in the final performance of “La Reve.” This dreamy show that includes original scores and the music of Benoit Jutras and Richard Wager is a fantasy delight. The choreography (I didn’t say “drill” this time) is amazing, especially the series of concentric and overlapping ellipses formed by the brass and guard. Superb! Another great year for Blue Stars.

I had to rub my eyes to believe that this Phantom Regiment was the same one I saw in Atlanta two weeks ago. The improvement was remarkable. To be sure, the show “Voice of Promise” is vintage Phantom with its morphing geometric patterns, wonderful guard, and mix of classical and contemporary pieces. The highlights clearly include the soloists on platforms up front, especially the closing segment that includes a piccolo trumpet, trumpet, mellophone, and baritone. Remarkable young musicians and performers!

I’m a bit worried about “next Thursday night when the sun goes down.” We are told, “Oh, what a lovely night that would be.” “The Great Event” ponders endings and beginnings in a most aesthetic way, with futuristic effects that evoke feelings of courage in the face of change. The opening is a wild ride of brass and percussion, and the drill is amazing. Blue Knights’ show is another example of the influence that WGI has on DCI these days, with familiar props and choreography that we see so often during the winter activities. Great performance by the Blue Knights.

“Awakening” surely underscores Cadets brass. The powerful score that opens with trombones and includes vintage French horn excerpts from “Pines of Rome” is impressive. Cadets explore new territory this year with a different look, a different approach, and a very simple story centered around statues. The final notes I scribbled at the conclusion of the show are these: “Statues lose, humans win.” I believe that is what the fight is all about on the pedestal, where, in the end, the statue confronts the conflict over which state is most desirable. A physical fight ensues between the statue state and the human state, with the statue losing. It is an interesting show, innovative, and frankly, very brave of the Cadets to attempt such change.

“Propaganda” places the Cavaliers right back where they belong, as the energetic machine that we’ve come to know and love. The show is amusing and entertaining as it draws you toward the cacophony that is a blizzard of visual and auditory advertising, politics, and, well, propaganda. The trombones in the finale add to the chaos in a most positive way. To 2016 I say, “Make the Machine Green Again” – which is exactly what the corps did on retreat, as it appeared in its vintage colors.

Santa Clara Vanguard earned the high percussion award again this year. “Forces of Nature” is SCV, pure and simple. So many of the patterns, vignettes, mellophones licks, and quiet moments reminded us on this finals night of who is the great Santa Clara Vanguard. Deafening ovations were well deserved!

The final trio of competitors—Carolina Crown, Blue Devils, and Bluecoats—battled it out in finals, as there was a mere 0.3 separating them in semifinals. While each fan had a favorite among the three, I think this year many were favoring the Bluecoats, for a number of reasons. Surely the show was remarkably innovative, full of energy, and the most winning show throughout the year. And like 2013 when Carolina Crown broke the glass ceiling, we fans like to see a new face in the list of world champions. To be sure, any one of the three could have taken the title, but it was Bluecoats’ night. Perusing social media following finals, corps members from Crown and Blue Devils posted heartfelt congratulations to the Bluecoats as they presented warm, thoughtful remarks about the amazing season they experienced with their respective corps. Bluecoats earned the high general effect award in addition to taking home the gold. Well deserved! The costumes, ramps, jazz licks, winks, and excitement are etched into 2016 memory.

The Blue Devils met expectations with “As Dreams Are Made On” as it was powerful, precise, innovative, amusing, and entertaining. The museful story of dreams and fantasy begins with a wave by members with interlocked arms, followed by a physical wave produced by a blue tarp with performers running underneath it. Priceless! So much happens in this production, it’s difficult to know exactly where to look. But then, it doesn’t matter, as something remarkable is happening wherever you look. Congratulations to the Blue Devils for earning the silver medal once again.

Carolina Crown’s “Relentless” was arguably the favorite show this year, as measured by applause, standing ovations, obvious decibels, averaging caption scores throughout the season, and general ad hoc comments peppered throughout social media. Crown earned the Jim Ott award for best brass, the George Zingali award for best color guard, the John Brazale best visual award—plus the bronze medal, in a very, very close race with Blue Devils and Bluecoats. As a long-time writer for drum corps world, following and reporting on many DCI shows, I am more than pleased that Crown was recognized for its outstanding guard. I’m a brass and percussion guy with experience in 1960s drum corps. I have always admired the guard, but never paid too much attention to the craft. That is, until I was milling around Allentown’s J. Birney Crum stadium a few years ago following an Eastern Regional show. Crown’s guard continued to rehearse after the show, until just before the buses pulled away. I’ve seen this year after year, show after show, and my eyes continue to open wider at the superhuman feats I witness.

If CrownBRASS is the gold standard of its caption, then CrownGUARD must similarly occupy that space. There is more meaningful movement, more coordinated equipment tosses and twirls to complement and emphasize the music and choreography than any in the activity. The steampunk costumes this year were delightful—as wonderfully integrated with the show theme as they were in last years’ “Inferno.”  There were so many features in “Relentless” where the guard truly shined. I could call out individuals—Merrily Lyons, Steve Griffie, Angie Mayhue, Derek Vereen, Emily Birdsong—and so many more. I would simply have to list them all. Such a wonderful, dedicated, talented group, infinitely deserving of the Zingali award.

What more can be said about CrownBRASS? Michael Klesch’s arrangements, Matt Harloff’s leadership as brass caption supervisor, the entire brass staff, and most importantly, the brass players themselves, are extraordinary. Fans flock to catch the brass in the lot, as if drawn by a huge magnet. An expectation has been created to experience your hair being blown back at regular intervals throughout a Crown show. This was clearly evident during “Relentless,” where I counted fans on their feet at least five times during Crown’s finals performance. If the majesty of fanfares and finales are not enough, the heavenly sounds such as those in “Hallelujah” speak to the performance excellence of this brass line. Remarkable. Just remarkable.

The Visual award was returned to Crown this year for its breathtaking presentation of “Relentless.” When you take apart the complete visual package you realize that every section is painstakingly integrated. I notice in some shows that so many different things are happening that it is difficult to know where to look, and if you look at a specific feature, you might lose the thread of the story. Not so with Crown. From the trajectory and positioning of the stagecoach, to the costumes, to the drill patterns that point to the action, to the music that unfolds the drama and suspense, everything visual, everywhere on the field, contributes to the story and to our enjoyment of the show. Such presentations have become classic Crown. Outstanding.

And what of Crown percussion? You don’t win all of those other captions in its absence. Percussion is best experienced as a part of the fabric of a show, of a performance, that neither distracts nor overpowers. It is the heartbeat of music. 2016 has been an impressive year for Crown percussion, stepping a few rungs up the ladder, and with a style that is exceptionally musical.

Congratulations to all of the finalists. A very special shout out to Bluecoats for earning the 2016 DCI gold medal and breaking the mold. What phenomenal general effect! A tip of the shako to Santa Clara Vanguard for top percussion, and to Carolina Crown for top guard, brass, and visual. I can’t believe the season is over. Now what do we do? I guess we watch the DVDs and Blu-rays that will, hopefully, be available earlier this year than last. And we will anticipate an equally exciting 2017.   

Thank you to Gary Dickelman for contributing this article and to Roxanna Lynne and Lightroom Zen for the photography.
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