All-Royer Drum Corps Awards

A fan and alum wonders what “All-Madden”-style honors would be like for Drum Corps International.

Photo by Ken Martinson,

One thing that I always enjoy each football season is hearing who was selected for the annual All-Madden team. John Madden is a football icon, having been a coach (Oakland Raiders), color commentator for NFL telecasts, inducted into the Football Hall of Fame and front man for the hugely successful Madden NFL video games. The All-Madden team covers a wide range of areas, but doesn’t always look at the best football player on the field. Instead, All-Madden looks at the player who has consistently gone above and beyond in his performance on the field of play. Past All-Madden team members include Jack Youngblood, who played out a game with a broken leg, and Lawrence Taylor, who continually wreaked havoc on offenses throughout the league. The All-Madden team has come to symbolize achieving greatness on the football field.

So what if we took that theme over to the drum corps world? If we were to look at drum corps in the same light that John Madden looks at football, whom might we name an All-Madden team after in drum corps? Who in the world of drum corps would compare in stature to John Madden? While there are many candidates to consider, I believe one in particular stands out – Gail Royer, former Santa Clara Vanguard Director.

Royer started out in the drum corps world as a brass judge, eventually moving on to teach brass to the Sparks, a small drum corps out of Sunnyvale, Calif. This small corps eventually became the Santa Clara Vanguard. Gail has done it all – judging, writing the musical score, designing the show, teaching the horn line, working as the corps director. He was also instrumental in starting Drum Corps International along with Jim Jones, Dave Kampschroer, Bill Howard and Don Warren. Gail contributed so much to the development and growth of drum corps, so I thought it fitting to name these hypothetical drum corps awards the “All-Royer” Awards. Gail’s style and contributions to the activity, much like John Madden’s to football, cover all aspects of drum corps.

Here are my choices for the 2011 All-Royer Awards and the categories that will be looked at – Best Horn Line, Best Drum Line, Best Color Guard, Best Overall. Now I know you perfectionists out there will jump on this one because I said drums – “it’s not drums, it’s percussion!” But the captions listed above are what I’ve decided to go with, as they are more in line with what an All-Madden team would follow.

For this drum corps season (2011), we’re only going to look at the top 12 finalist drum corps, with the goal of expanding the list in following years. Selecting the winner of the All-Royer is not based on DCI scoring; criteria is again reminiscent of the All-Madden perspective in which the drum corps (or section) that best displays greatness is the one selected. And that’s the difference with the All-Royer Awards; we are acknowledging greatness, not necessarily best score.

All-Royer Horn Line

Winner : Madison Scouts
While Madison may not have had the best horn line from a precision and technical standpoint, their passionate, heart and soul, and “wall of sound” rattled the rafters of Lucas Oil Stadium. Emotion was the word for this group of kids, and you could see it on every Scout’s face on the field. These kids lived this show and were telling their heartfelt story. That “wall of sound” was there when they needed it the most, and in the end these kids ripped your heart out and made your eyes water. The finale had us gasping and saying “wow,” and had us up and out of our seats, screaming our heads off and cheering them on. They controlled the highlight moment for this year with the closer, “Empire State of Mind.”

1st Runner Up: Carolina Crown
It was close. Crown took a big chance going with a “Rach” theme, but damn if they didn’t pull it off. The horns were both clean and precise, and their excitement level made you want to run out to the edge of the stands, raise your hands out with devil horns and start screaming out, “RACH ON!” It even made me want to run down to the field and bust up a guitar! What a fun show; you could feel the joy these kids had in playing it this year. From the Queen opener to the “Freebird” ending, this horn line entertained and did it with an ear-to-ear grin on their faces. From soft elements of the program to the driving, pounding sounds, Crown performed and performed with incredible “RACH” style for their audience. Some said it was a bit cheesy but not from my prospective – this was a fun show, they had a blast playing it this year, and the crowd ate it up.

Honorable Mention: Phantom Regiment
Beauty and grace was the essence of Juliet. Beauty was the Phantom horn line this year. Simple songs with a familiar theme; this production drew such emotion from the crowd, always closing with a stadium of cheering fans on their feet. In all honesty, when I saw the show early in the year, I wasn’t sold on the concept. But from the San Antonio show on, this production really came together, and in typical Phantom Regiment fashion (“the Spartacus push”), they completely took over every stadium they performed in. Their grand finale touched our hearts and brought tears to our eyes – best Kleenex moment of the year!

All-Royer Drum Line

Winner: The Blue Devils
This was an extremely tight category with so many great drum lines competing this drum corps season. Between the The Cavaliers, The Blue Devils, Santa Clara Vanguard, Bluecoats and others, we were all very fortunate to see truly great drum lines raise the bar on percussion (OK, I said percussion, but I meant drums). Without a doubt, the drum lines this year have risen to new heights, and The Blue Devils led that push. One thing that makes The Blue Devils stand out is their ability to excel at what they do while making it look utterly effortless. These guys mesmerize with their skill and style. I found myself completely “lost” in their section, oblivious at times to the other parts of the show going on. The Blue Devils drum line is that great!

1st Runner Up: The Cavaliers
The Cavies have taken drums to new variations of performance, literally turning the drum world upside down. Who can forget seeing that moment for the first time? The Cavies move around the field as if they have no instruments on – these guys fly around while maintaining the rhythms like they’re standing still. While most of us would be on the ground, choking and gasping for air, they can keep up the relentless tempo and lay it down on the field with their fascinating stick work. Whether they are on top of their drum or upside down – they nailed this show. They deserved to take the Sanford Award home this year.

Honorable Mention: Santa Clara Vanguard
Seeing the Santa Clara Vanguard drum line this year brought back memories of Fred Sanford (whom DCI’s top drum trophy is named after), standing in front of the SCV drum line, drum sticks in his hands “dut – dut – dutting” away. “Tight” is the word that comes to mind with this drum line. These guys play together like they’ve been doing it since birth. This drum line brings back visions of the strong SCV drum lines of years past. You saw greatness within that final push, the drum line plowing forward like a cowcatcher on a train as they broke their way through the corps. I see Sanford Awards in the future for these talented kids.

All-Royer Color Guard

Winner: Carolina Crown
Being a color guard member with Crown this year must have been a total blast. From the moment they take to the field, firing up the crowd, clapping (boom-boom-clap) and singing (“We will, we will Rach you”), they owned the stage. This guard completely embodied the emotion and theme of Crown’s Rach Star program. Magnificent rifle work, great flag work, dance … you name it, they nailed it all. They were the rockers and the groupies. Watching guard member Herbert Washington work the crowd was a joy to watch. Looking into the eyes of those kids, you saw the joy and passion of performance, over and over again. They were having fun. Crown’s guard consistently performed with precision and finesse, making us all believe there was no place on earth they would rather be right now than right here, working the field for us.

1st Runner Up: The Cadets
My first thought upon seeing this show was “How cool it would be to be a demon?” From the time the corps enters the field until the very end, these Cadets have you in complete suspense, waiting to see what is going to happen next. Division, threat, battle, and finally victory … this guard guided us through it all. The field battle in slow motion was perfection in movement. This was one of the more complex guard shows, with one guard on the “evil” side exuding strength and arrogance, while the opposing guard on the “angelic” side personifying grace and poise. I watched this guard evolve over the season, from the early show in Albuquerque, to Denver, San Antonio, and finally DCI Finals. These kids developed and grew in their roles with every tweak and adjustment throughout the season, becoming more “angelic” or “demonic” every step of the way. Their skills with equipment were second to none. They consistently performed with precision and elegance, and the crowds responded. And they never stopped moving. The Cadets’ guard brought it all together at precisely the right time, and it was pure joy to watch. The beauty of this finale brought us all to the gates of heaven.

Honorable Mention: (tie) Santa Clara Vanguard/Phantom Regiment
I couldn’t make up my mind as each of these corps captured me in such different ways. With Phantom it was the grace, beauty and elegance of the Juliets – pure poetry in motion. And then there is SCV’s color guard – haunting, dark, endlessly hunting their next victim. Constantly in motion, writhing in the agony of hell, they never stopped moving and entertaining us with their powerful dance movements, captivating us with their equipment skills, such as throwing those large (and awkward) batons high into the air, apparently catching with ease before pounding them on the ground in success. The choreography of Phantom’s color guard was perfect as they danced across the field from end zone to end zone, whirling and moving as one. The effortless symmetry and beauty of their movement belied the endless hours spent in practice in the pursuit of such perfection. Both guards performed without gimmicks and props and presented a pure color guard show that was always on the move and hit the marks.

All-Royer Best Overall

Winner: Madison Scouts
At every single show I attended this year, as I mingled and worked my way through the crowd, the question of the night was always the same: “What time does Madison go on?” As that time approached, people would be hightailing it back to the stands to make sure they got back in time to see the Madison Scouts. Why? Simple – these people wanted to be entertained, and entertain Madison did. Call it “old school” drum corps or whatever you like, but Madison has it and consistently delivers it well. Like Jack Youngblood playing football with a broken leg, Madison goes out on the field, warts and all, and delivers a show that brings you to your feet screaming. From the trademark “wall of sound” coming from the horn line, to the fast-paced color guard flying through the newspapers, to the percussion line putting out the sounds of New York … it all came together with this show, and they captivated audiences wherever they performed. And they carried it off in a simple scout uniform (no fluff). The melody of Madison’s “Empire State of Mind” continues to echo though my head as I remember riding the wave of emotion with the crowd around me as we stood in unison, feet cheering and wanting more.

1st Runner Up: Carolina Crown
Boom-boom-clap, boom-boom-clap! Who knew that drum corps could be so much fun. What a joy to watch Carolina Crown on the field this corps season. It was a show of “Rach Stars,” with Herbert Washington lighting up the field with his constant smile, flying rifle tosses, never missing a beat, always making it look so effortless. From beginning to end, this corps had you in the palms of their hands. Old school? No. Innovative and entertaining? Yes. I’m still humming “Paint it Black,” and it’s been days since DCI Finals. If you want to party on, then this is the corps to do it with – from the mosh pit, to their signature Crown, to the finale of “Freebird,” Carolina Crown truly “RACHed” us this entire season. I would be thrilled to see Herbert smash his guitar just one more time.

Honorable Mention: Blue Knights
Consistency is the operating word here. When the Blue Knights debuted their 2011 program, “An English Folk Song Suite,” it was immediately apparent that a new BK had emerged. We were treated to a lighter, melodic musical program and fluid drill. As many of the corps were moving up and down in the rankings throughout the year, it seemed that the Blue Knights were quietly and consistently climbing the ladder. With a nod to a couple of “old school” drum corps greats (the 27th Lancers and Anaheim Kingsmen), they quickly became fan favorites as the season moved on. Blue Knights improved show after show, all the while keeping their audiences fully entertained. It wasn’t a gripping show like Madison’s, nor did it have some of the heartfelt moments of Phantom, but it embraced that old-school charm that we’ve all come to love from years past. It was as though these kids of 2011 were channeling some of that old 27th Lancers and Anaheim Kingsmen sound into this beautiful program they made their own. “Sure hate to follow the Scouts!” was heard over and over this year, but the Blue Knights did just that on a number of occasions throughout the season, performing with confidence and dignity, winning over the hearts of their audience.

That wraps up this year’s All-Royer Awards. Some of you will agree with some or all of my choices; many will probably disagree with my choices. But it’s not the DCI judges’ scores that win the hearts and minds of the drum corps fan; it’s the drum corps kids on the field, night after night, performing with all they have to give, selling their show to us – the fans. That is what reaches out and touches so many of us. And that is why we keep coming back to see drum corps each season. These kids put their heart and soul into each show, staring up into this sea of faces at the conclusion of each finale, reveling in the applause we send down to them. Yes, I marched “back in the day” but what a different world that was. I’m truly amazed at the level of performance required of these kids today, knowing I could never measure up (this ain’t your mama’s drum corps anymore!). The electronics, the guitars, the talking … like it or not, these are components of drum corps today.

I looked at the crowd at this year’s finals, and the stands were filled from end zone to end zone and top to bottom. So it’s obvious to me if you don’t like today’s drum corps, there is someone else more than willing to fill your seat. Some call it progress, others just another evolution of the times. I’ll bet some people freaked when the forward pass was introduced into football. So to me it’s just the next level of drum corps, and these kids will carry it forward, having a blast performing it along the way.

About author

Jesse Amador

Jesse L. Amador is a charter member of the Santa Clara Vanguard, where he played baritone with the Sunnyvale Sparks in 1966 and with the Santa Clara Vanguard from 1967 to 1972. An IT Specialist with more than 38 years of experience serving with the Department of Defense, George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, and National Security Agency (704th MI), Jesse's past experience includes serving in a CIO/director capacity in Seoul, Korea; Tokyo, Japan; Honolulu, Hawaii; Seattle, Wash.; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; Fort Meade, Md.; Naples, Italy; and most recently the Missile Defense Agency in Albuquerque, N.M.

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