This past August 11, the California-based Santa Clara Vanguard won the Drum Corps International World Championship, their seventh overall title since 1973 and their first since winning in 1999. SCV’s 2018 production of “Babylon” led the way in Indianapolis, earning the corps a season-high score of 98.625, as DCI came to Lucas Oil Stadium for the tenth consecutive year. The competition has evolved exponentially in the past few seasons, as was notably evidenced with this year’s theatrical displays of large props, costume changes, and performers, who were continuously on the move.
In addition to winning three other caption awards in the brass, visual, and general effect categories, for the third year in a row the Vanguard took home the Fred Sanford Best Percussion Performance Award—their fourteenth High Drum Award in the corps’ history. That honor is named for Fred Sanford, the former SCV percussion arranger who taught the Vanguard drumline when they won their first five drum titles.
The first minute of “Babylon” was performed entirely by SCV’s front ensemble. “The main theme of our show was ‘My Body Is a Cage’ by Peter Gabriel,” said Vanguard music coordinator, percussion arranger, and caption manager Paul Rennick at the event. “Sandi [Rennick, Paul’s wife and longtime co-arranger] went to town, and the musical introduction was one of the highlights of the show. The rhythms of our powerful opener [Peter Graham’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”] kept the energy level high.”
SCV’s program included excerpts from Graham’s “Metropolis 1927,” which Rennick infused with a New Orleans groove; “Apology” from the Automata soundtrack by Zacarías M. de la Riva, during which the snare line performed on a ramp; and “Club Sound” by Gent & Jawns, which added an element of hip-hop to the corps’ overall production. “I don’t think any of the performers got tired of hearing [the program],” Rennick said. “And I honestly enjoyed every show all season. I also thought our final performance was the best one, which was a great way to end.”
Although they traded wins with the Vanguard during DCI’s first three 2018 shows in June, the Concord, California–based Blue Devils couldn’t top SVC during the rest of the season. The Blue Devils finished second at the finals with a score of 97.35 and placed second in drums.
The Blue Devils’ program “Dreams and Nighthawks” was based on the 1942 Edward Hopper painting “Nighthawks,” which famously depicts four people in a downtown diner late at night. Musical selections in their film noir–styled production were written by John Adams, Simon Dobson, Earle Hagen, James Newton Howard, Carole King, Paul Lovatt-Cooper, David Raksin, and the Blue Devils’ music director and arranger, Dave Glyde.
“We had to decide how to portray the [program’s] villain, so that’s why we used some of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal,’” said Scott Johnson, the percussion director for the Devils. “That was our first percussion feature and the one where the snare line did the moonwalk. From there, it went into what we called a cross-modulation, where the pit starts fast and ends slow while the battery starts slow and ends extremely fast.”
Johnson explained that the second percussion feature in the program’s closer was based in part on a piece that a Blue Devils alumnus, Amir Oosman, wrote for tenor drums and South Indian konnakol vocals. “I took snippets of that and put together a little tenor feature and, thanks to an electronic sample, we played the vocals along with the tenor piece,” Johnson said. “It’s very different for the activity, but extremely fresh and, I think, pretty exciting. That [section] went into a snare feature, which was about space. There was a lot of space between all the little [licks] they played, so it was extremely difficult to execute with all the cold attacks.”
The Canton, Ohio–based Bluecoats, who won the DCI title in 2016, earned the bronze medal this year with their Billie Holiday–inspired show “Session 44.” Carolina Crown, from Fort Mill, South Carolina, took fourth place and third in drums with their intense program “Beast.” Two corps made significant improvements this season: Massachusetts’ Boston Crusaders continued their climb, reaching fifth place, with their show “S.O.S.,” which was complete with a moving circular stage; and the Mandarins, from Sacramento, California, earned their first spot in the elite top-twelve rankings with the Stravinsky-esque “Life Rite After.” And Santa Clara continued their domination during the Championships as the Vanguard Cadets won gold at the DCI Open Class World Championship Finals in Michigan City, Indiana, earlier in the week.
Championship Saturday also featured the sixth annual DrumLine Battle, held in Indianapolis’s Pan Am Plaza. Nine drum lines, including three from Canada and two differently abled groups, competed in the tournament-style bracket. Calgary Stampede, from Alberta, Canada, was crowned overall champion, besting Oregon, Wisconsin’s Shadow line to win the Drum Corps Division bracket as well as Indiana’s Elkhart Central High School, the Independent Division Champion, in the final overall round.
The 2018 DCI Performers Showcase
The Performers Showcase, sponsored for the fifth year by System Blue, allowed individual corps members to display their solo and ensemble chops at the Indiana Convention Center on August 8. Winning percussionists in nine categories represented five different corps.
Scott Johnson, the Blue Devils’ percussion director, told MD at the competition that he’s a big fan of the event. “It’s great for the performers’ own creativity, plus they get a chance to show off their skills,” he said. “I encourage all of them to do Individuals, and we’ve been very fortunate.” Blue Devils’ members won four categories this year. “We actually get members because they know they can do Individuals, [an activity that] isn’t allowed by a lot of drum corp. Our organization is a big believer in this event.”
For the second year in a row, Zachary Hudson, a twenty-two-year-old, third-year member of the Blue Devils, won three Individual and Ensemble awards, including the Best Individual Multi-Percussion title for his original drumset solo. Hudson was also a member of the winning Blue Devils Percussion Ensemble, with keyboard percussionist Michael Tran and synth player Garrison Goodwin, who played an original arrangement of “L’oiseau qui danse” by the Canadian band Tennyson. The trio also helped the Blue Devils take home the Mixed Ensemble award with Hudson’s arrangement of Lettuce’s “Lettsanity.”
“This was my fifth year in both the drum corps and solo competition, and I wanted to challenge myself a little bit more,” said Hudson, a senior music industry and jazz major at Middle Tennessee State University. “I’d always done a drumset solo, but this year I played over a live looping setup using Ableton Live, a Novation Launchpad, and a MIDI controller.”
What’s it like to play drumset in a world-class drum corps like the Blue Devils? “It’s very different from playing drumset anywhere else,” Hudson told MD. “My job in the ensemble is to connect the drum line’s tempo to the front ensemble, so I have to be able to understand all of the drum line parts and how they relate to my parts and the front ensemble. Sometimes I listen to the bass drums, but other times I’ll listen to the snares for the tempo. Or I’ll just turn around and watch their feet for timing.”
Two members of the Santa Clara Vanguard drum line also won percussion awards. SCV rookie Cameron Cavender won the Best Individual Snare award for his original solo “Chot Hocolate,” and Josh Hirner, a fourth-year member, took home the Best Individual Multi-Tenor title for his original solo, “Penteract.”
Other award-winning percussionists included marimbist Nicholas Soden of the Blue Devils and timpanist Tanner Effinger of the Raiders. The Colts, from Dubuque, Iowa, took home the Cymbal Ensemble title, and the Portland-based Oregon Crusaders won the Bass Drum Ensemble category.