Vanguard and the Blue Devils finished in 1st and 2nd place during the 2018 Drum Corps International World Championships in both World Class and Open Class while Bluecoats and Gold rounded out the top three respectively.
In the 2018 Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championships, California corps showed off their musical and visual skills, with five of the six World Class and Open Class medalists originating from the Golden State. The corps tackled deep-meaning performances and shined light on topics including the importance of communication, inclusion, and treasured time with loved ones.
Santa Clara Vanguard Climbed to the Top
After 19 years of consistently improving and striving to reclaim the top pedestal, Santa Clara (California) Vanguard won its first DCI World Class championship title since 1999 with a score of 98.625. Vanguard has won seven DCI championships overall. Vanguard had been battling with the Blue Devils (BD) over the last couple of years, finishing second to BD last year.
Along with that gold medal, Vanguard nearly swept the caption awards, receiving the Donald Angelica Best General Effect, Fred Sanford Best Percussion Performance, John Brazale Best Visual Performance, and Jim Ott Best Brass Performance Awards. The Boston Crusaders, which placed fifth overall, received the George Zingali Best Color Guard Award.
“It was a very exciting year for us, coming off of the energy from last year in general,” says Shaun Gallant, Vanguard corps director and director of programs. “Just overwhelming joy and what an honor, all of those feelings … It was about maximizing the potential of what we were doing and trying to be the best Vanguard of 2018.”
For his role in leading Vanguard to the top in just the second year in his current position, Gallant won the Dr. Bernard Baggs Leadership Award.
Creating a modern-day version of the ancient Mesopotamian kingdom through its sets and costumes, Vanguard’s show—“Babylon”—focuses on the importance of communication and working together to build a city from the ground up. Performers used silver multi-tiered platforms to help construct that village, and the show included dynamic songs like Peter Gabriel’s “My Body is a Cage” and Peter Graham’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” along with a dance break.
Carl Huang says that he will always remember the energy that erupted from this show into the audience. “Seeing everyone on the field push to the very end of the production, and hearing everyone in the crowd leap out of their seats before we were even halfway done with the closer was beyond anything I had ever experienced as a performer,” Huang says.
Struggles and Strengths
While the performers may not understand building a city, they know all too well the hardships that come with communication and societal pressures, which made it easier for the musicians to grasp the concept of the show, Gallant says.
“That struggle to communicate, that struggle to fit in, is all something that in this day and age every young adult goes through, especially with social media,” Gallant says. “It’s a natural evolution of being human, having the struggle to communicate and find your way in this world.”
Communication is also something Santa Clara Vanguard staff members emphasize, especially in youth safety and protection. As the drum corps activity evolves and updates to provide safer environments and conditions for members, Vanguard continues having open conversations to make sure “everyone is comfortable about every topic and they know who to speak to,” says Charles Frost, executive director for the Vanguard Music and Performing Arts organization.
While the corps continued its competitive energy, this season was not without hardships. The group’s food truck was totaled in an accident in July, which could have been a season-ending incident for some corps. However, the ensemble persevered through this struggle, with the help of the drum corps community, Gallant says. “We were able to turn what could have been an extreme negative into an extreme positive,” he says.
The Blue Devils’ Dream of Nighthawks Earned Silver
With perhaps one of the most complex shows in its history, the Blue Devils from Concord, California, took the silver medal for its show “Dreams and Nighthawks,” scoring 97.350. This season continued the corps’ impressive 12-year streak of being in the top two.
“This year’s production was very complex, very complicated, so we’re really proud that by the end of the season, they were Blue Devils,” says corps director Patrick Seidling. “They took the field, and they were instantly entertainers, and they had moxie when they needed to, they had swagger when they needed it. You could tell they enjoyed performing the show and performing for the audience.”
Personifying a Painting
The Blue Devils reconstructed a 3D version of the famous 1942 Edward Hopper painting “Nighthawks,” which shows people in a late-night downtown diner. What set this show apart from previous years, Seidling says, was not only the American mid-century music from artists like John Adams, James Newton Howard, and Aretha Franklin but also the depth of characterization the members took on. Hopper never explained the people’s backstories, leaving it up to the viewer’s imagination, something that the Blue Devils played upon. While painted panels created a blown-up replica of the famous painting, the characters inside that art came to life on the field.
“We let the members’ personalities define the characters,” Seidling says. “It’s like any good stage play where you give the actor lines, but then you let the actor breathe in [his or her] own life and [his or her] own imagination into the character.”
While the personification added uniqueness to the show, creating props and costumes was the biggest challenge. Since the corps wanted to be authentic to the original artwork, the set and costume designers went to work matching the props to the painting while giving the corps the flexibility to transport them on the field and in a semitruck. The colors of the painting also had to be cohesive with the costumes, Seidling says.
In addition, the Blue Devils as a whole had more new members than veterans this season. Color guard captain Alyssa Citero says that all members had to maximize their potential and tap into their storytelling skills. Though 22 of the 44 color guard members were rookies this year, the choreography challenged everyone’s skills, and no one could hide during the show, she says.
“If we were going to be undeniable, it was going to be everyone, all 44 members, showing all of DCI what the Blue Devils color guard has,” Citero says. “The color guard, for as new as it was, was able to work and push extremely hard all summer long. To be their captain and see that growth in each individual was so rewarding though it was also the most challenging aspect.”
For drum major C.C. Waggoner, this show continued to push the performers to new heights, challenging their execution of visuals and music. He adds he was “content with the show” and felt the Blue Devils were “on fire.”
Bluecoats Achieved Third in 44th Season
Rounding out the World Class category at third place with a score of 96.950, the Bluecoats from Canton, Ohio, was the sole non-California drum corps to place in the top three of the World Class and Open Class categories at the 2018 DCI World Championships. Ending the season with a bronze medal was a “proud” accomplishment that rewards the corps’ hard work this year, says David Glasgow, the corps executive director this season and dating back to August 2003.
The Artist’s Journey
The Bluecoats’ show, “Session 44,” was inspired by Billie Holiday’s recording of “God Bless the Child” as well as its own 44th season, but the show tells the overall artist’s journey—whether in music, literature, or art—from the anxious dives into the unknown when creating new pieces to the excitement when his or her hard work pays off.
“This was definitely one of the best drum corps seasons I’ve ever been a part of,” says brass section leader Nicole Oliva. “It was really nice to come home with bronze because it reinforced our hard work and how good we felt about the season.”
Two things that set this show apart from previous performances were featuring vocalist Olivia Hayter and giving all 150 performers unique uniforms that “portray the individual artist in all of the performers,” says Glasgow, who will now serve as executive advisor to the corps. (Mike Scott, the corps previous business development manager, was promoted to CEO.)
Glasgow relates the show to his own emotions and the process undertaken by corps staff and performers when writing, designing, and performing a new program each year. “You throw a bunch of ideas together and hope they all come together and work,” he says. “Part of the artist experience is you never quite know how it’s going to be perceived until it’s out there. It’s a metaphor for that experience.”
For some performers, the personal connection to the show was rooted even deeper. Oliva says that the English folk ballad “Saro” stood out as her favorite musical number. “Saro” is more than just a ballad about a man in love, she says, as it also describes her connection to the drum corps universe.
“At one point in the song, he says, ‘I’ll dream of Pretty Saro wherever I go,’” Oliva says. “For drum corps, after Aug. 13 or whatever it is, you’re separated from all 150-something of your friends, so for the lyrics to be, ‘I’ll dream of Pretty Saro wherever I go,’ it’s like I dream about the corps wherever I go. I dream about the music we made and the friendships and relationships that we’re going to have forever.”
The Vanguard Cadets Defined the Unexpected
The Vanguard Cadets earned the Open Class championship for the second year in a row, taking home the gold medal with a score of 80.075. They also received Best Brass Performance, Best General Effect, and Best Percussion Performance awards.
Featuring songs like Queen’s “Bicycle Race” and Eric Whitacre’s “Fly to Paradise,” the Vanguard Cadet’s “Off the Wall” show taught the audience to expect the unexpected and push their imaginations.
“[Audience members] were not disappointed wherever they looked on the field, that’s for sure,” says Steve Barnhill, Vanguard Cadets corps director. “We wanted to entertain them with things they recognize along with things they weren’t expecting.”
The Visual Package
The Cirque du Soleil-style performance included a dance break and sudden movements that required flexibility, making the white, orange, and black one-piece uniforms ideal. A multi-piece uniform restricts performers’ movements and limits the visual capabilities while the one-piece made almost any visual possible, Barnhill says.
Compared to last year, the corps was more confident in its overall package, Barnhill says. The Vanguard Cadets revamped its visual package last year about midway through the season, creating a stressful scramble.
“This year, we had the visual package in mind with what we wanted with the music, and it was just a matter of putting all of the pieces together to make sure everything was lined up the way we wanted it,” says Barnhill, who received the Dr. David Kampschroer Leadership Award. “We had a better handle on the props. We had an understanding what to do visually with the kids. We were very confident, so once we had everything put into place, then we knew we would do quite well.”
Blue Devils B Seized Silver
Only 0.475 separated the Blue Devils B (BDB) from the Vanguard Cadets with BDB finishing second with a score of 79.600 for its show, “The Other Side.” The corps also took home Best Visual Performance and Best Color Guard awards.
While proud of the silver medal, BDB staff coordinator Chris Nalls says his main pleasure emerged from seeing the corps’ growth—from bumping into each other during those first rehearsals to executing complex visuals and music through the season.
“What I remember the most is … being at the top of the stands as they finished the show and feeling the tears start to swell up because we had come so far,” Nalls says.
Inspired by the Disney and Pixar movie “Coco” and Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday, BDB brought two worlds together to show audience members that their loved ones never completely leave them. While the color guard sported stylized rib cages, and the percussion showed sugar skulls on their drums, the horns and drumline performed songs including Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party,” Adele’s “Hello,” and Nino Rota’s “A Time for Us.”
“The show celebrates that one time where everyone can get together and be together, whether it’s in memories or in reality,” Nalls says.
This season was not without challenges as BDB experienced three bus breakdowns, but performers persisted, says drum major Oliver Bishop. “Through all of the hardships and obstacles we faced together, that we were still able to pull [off] a silver medal was amazing,” Bishop says. “It’s nice to feel that we earned what we got and that it wasn’t just handed to us.”
Gold Won Bronze
Founded in 2005 by Donald Flaherty, Gold received its first Open Class medal with a score of 76.750.
“Once they called that Gold got third place, you got a feeling of, ‘Oh my gosh, all of this work we’ve put in through the summer, all of those long nights finally paid off,’” says trumpet player Chris Mora.
Trying to show the audience what the world looks like to someone with special needs, Gold performed “Through Our Eyes,” using original music by Scott Director. The group’s black and white uniforms and colorful flags showed the wide range of ways that individuals with special needs see their surroundings.
“It was a little scary … because the show could have been either really cheesy or … kind of insulting to people with special needs, so we were trying to walk a very delicate line,” Flaherty says. “… [But] we had lots of people come forward with stories and say they really … appreciated what we were doing.”
Gold also received the Most Improved recognition.