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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Suggestion/Secession: Here We Go Again

We're nearly three years removed from seven of DCI's top corps issuing a manifesto demanding change of the Association. After that change included the Tour of Champions concept that featured these corps prominently, I thought the dissenting faction had been appeased. But not unlike realignment in college sports, the beat goes on.

Earlier this month, the same corps put forth a lengthy letter again asserting a desire for change. Having resigned from board positions following the last communiqué, this one demands return to the board and a restructuring that would place decisions squarely in control of these seven, assuming they were on one accord regarding said decision. This time, they are a little more explicit with the "taking our ball and going home" threat.

The dissonance here seems quite similar to the friction that is ultimately tearing the Big East as we know it asunder. The G7 - the name commonly used for The Undersigned (Great, Greedy, or a host of other adjectives, depending on which side you come down on) - would play the role of the Catholic 7, who have already announced their departure from the Big East. The difference here is that while there is a fundamental disconnect in the Big East between the schools that play major college football and those who do not, there's not a divider nearly so clear between these seven corps and the rest of the activity. Is it competitive? Hardly; one needs look no further than this past season to find the last time these seven failed to be the top seven corps on finals night. Is it philosophical? Perhaps, but it's well documented that there are many things on which The Cadets' George Hopkins and Blue Devils' David Gibbs don't see eye to eye, and that says nothing of the other five corps. Simply put, it would seem that the only clear mutual interest of these corps is, indeed, the mutual interest of these corps.

The argument goes that as top-ranking corps, these groups are the ones who put butts in seats, and the model of the Association should be set up to reward them with control accordingly. It's a structure I've compared before with the BCS, and it's not lost on me that while that structure is giving rise to a playoff after this next season, the system will still, at its core, reward the haves and limit access for the have-nots. But is the assertion that those seven corps pack stadiums an accurate one? With absolutely no data to back this up, I'd examine it thus:

The way I see it, there are five primary groups that make up the average drum corps crowd. Those groups, in approximate order, are:
-Friends and family of current marching members
-Folks who are simply fans of drum corps
-High school (and to a lesser extent, college) bands
-Corps alumni
-People accompanying any of the first four groups.

Let's say for example that the seven corps were to cleave off into a separate entity - We'll call it Music in Motion, or MIM, as that's the name of the apparently already incorporated splinter group. How will this new group play with each of the audiences mentioned above?

Friends and family will, of course, follow their marching member, whether they march with DCI or MIM corps. DCI may find itself with more concentrated audiences however; anecdotally, the MIM corps recruit more nationally, meaning that even a "home show" is less likely to be full of local products than the DCI shows may be.

Fans of Drum Corps may side with the MIM corps, as they do tend to be, on average, competitively stronger. That doesn't necessarily mean they would turn their back on DCI as we know it, and of course if they are fans of a specific corps, they'll likely side with wherever their favorite corps ends up.

Decisions for marching bands will be made by directors and staff. This could be a toss up. DCI already has a tried-and-true product that directors can feel comfortable supporting. On the other hand, Hopkins' ties with USSBA may make the MIM product more attractive to bands that affiliate with US Bands.

Corps alumni, of course, are likely to be loyal to wherever their corps lands. Strictly numerically, this favors the DCI corps.

The big caveat here is that DCI will be, for better or worse, a known quantity, while MIM will have to prove itself and gain goodwill after a potentially messy breakup from said known quantity. Much as the Big East's two sides will ultimately determine who keeps the name and all that goes with it, it is clear that in this case, DCI will remain while the MIM corps will be seen - again, for better or worse - as secessionists. How will this play out with sponsors, supporters, and even venues as they go forth to set up their own tour? Will the move alienate fans? What's more, how much will MIM's product continue to resemble what we currently know as drum corps? Part of this group's platform is continued evolution of the activity, and the elephant in the room here seems to be the addition of woodwinds, which is likely to push many out of the door, especially if DCI is still providing a woodwind-free environment.

DCI - the entire body, as it currently stands - is in the midst of its winter meetings this weekend. What we will see after that is anyone's guess.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2012 Year In Review

We're a good three weeks into 2013; I suppose it's high time I did last year's year in review, eh?

Live Events
SoCon Tournament - after UNCG heated up to end last basketball season, I decided to make the trip west to Asheville for some SoCon hoops. I caught a day's action, which for me meant four games and eight pep bands. Definitely a trip worth making; got some good pictures and video too.

Mr. Parets' Retirement - I made the pilgrimage to Delaware as my esteemed former high school band director celebrated his retirement after 36 years at the helm of the Alexis I. duPont High School Tiger Marching Band, a career that included multiple trips to the Rose Parade, St. Patrick's Day in Dublin, the Lord Mayor's New Years Parade in London, and the Vatican, but most importantly, touched the lives of thousands.

Lacrosse in Charlotte - While clearly not known for being a hotbed, I did catch a couple of lacrosse games in Charlotte. American Legion Memorial Stadium played host to the ESPNU Warrior Classic, a college lacrosse double header featuring Rutgers vs. Syracuse and Hofstra vs. UNC. Two weeks later, a new era began as the Charlotte Hounds opened their first ever Major League Lacrosse season against the Denver Outlaws.

ACC Baseball Tournament - this one was a bit of a whim, but I'm glad we did it. NewBridge Bank Park, home of the Greensboro Grasshoppers hosted the ACC Baseball Tournament here in Tournament Town. it was a beautiful night, and we caught Wake Forest vs. UNC, for free, actually, thanks to the kindness of some strangers. What's more, the ballpark has a playground, meaning Anastasia was plenty entertained as well.

FirstBEAT and NightBEAT - While I thought this would take place last summer when she was an infant, Anastasia attended her first drum corps shows this past summer. She brought her drumsticks and was playing along. Brainwashing in effect.

O's game - when up in MD visiting over the summer, we took in O's vs. Indians at Camden Yards. While that particular game was a setback, it was cool being there for part of what turned out to be a monumental season for the O's. It was damn hot that day though - I was further Baltimored out in an UnderArmour UMBC polo.

CrownBEAT - I was fortunate that there were three DCI shows in the Carolinas this summer, the last of which was a mere hour away in Durham. Instead of paying to attend this one, I took the opportunity to be a lot rat, catch warmups, and get some video that's up over on the YouTube page.

USF vs. Temple - We made a "what-if" a reality and paid a visit to my home turf in early October to see my parents visit Eastern State Penitentiary, and of course see USF take on Temple. Tailgated with some fellow Bulls and took in a game in the stadium where my pro team plays. USF lost this one, which seemed to be about par for the course this year.

SC State vs. NC A&T - It's just this side of shocking I hadn't been to an A&T game before, considering they are across town, have football, and more importantly, have a stellar marching band. I picked this game intentionally for the 2-for-1, as I knew South Carolina State's Marching 101 was traveling, and I was treated to a great band battle with a side of football. Footage from this on YouTube as well.

ACC Championship - My friend Josh from Miami was in the general vicinity on championship weekend, and he didn't have to twist my arm too hard to convince me to head to the ACC championship game. Ironically, James, who's an FSU alum and lives in Charlotte, found himself unable to go because of work, but we still got to hang out with him both before and after the game, and he got to see his team in the Orange Bowl, so all's well that ends well.

Biggest Surprises
USF Football - Sadly, I've grown quite accustomed to the midseason collapse from the Bulls. I didn't see it starting in the 3rd game and not letting up all season. With Skip Holtz dismissed at the end of the season, I'm hoping for greener pastures with Coach Taggart.

Realignment - I'm not so much surprised that it reared its head once again as how it came about. The Big Ten reaching extraregionally and grabbing College Park and Rutgers crushed about the last I ever knew about regionality in college sports. The subsequent blows - Louisville to the ACC, the Catholic schools leaving - help solidify the Big East's role as an also-ran conference for the foreseeable future, and that's if a conference bearing that name even continues to exist.

Looking Forward to in 2013
Hoops trip - I made the commitment to finally make it back to UMBC for pep band alumni day, almost 10 years to the day from the last time I touched a drumset in the RAC arena. I'm tentatively planning to try and pair it with a couple of other college hoops games on the way up to Maryland, and my boy Brian may be joining me.

MLL All-Star Game - Major League Lacrosse is bringing its All-Star Game to one of its newest markets, Charlotte. I plan on making my way down for it.

Indy? - It's not yet a definite, but my wife and I have mentioned the possibility of going up to Indianapolis for DCI World Championships. My brother-in-law lives there, and we'd like to get up to see him, so this would make for a great excuse to pair the two.

Random Acts of Football - While I don't yet have the means for a full season tour, my friend James, with whom I've typically hit FSU games, and I have talked about taking in some games to which we have no apparent connection. We hope to catch at least one this coming season.

Here's to 2013!

Halftime Entertainment

Honda Battle of the Bands

The Pro Bowl has been on shaky ground for years now. and it's been whispered that this weekend's could be the last. The physicality of football simply doesn't allow for an All-Star game that can simultaneously be a true representation of the sport and offer a low probability of injury for the game's best. The result has been lackluster play, an inaccessible game, and what amounts simply to millionaires getting paid to hang out in Hawaii. Not surprisingly, it is the weakest of all of the major sports All-Star games.

Typically during the same weekend, the Georgia Dome comes alive as eight HBCU marching bands take center stage in the Honda Battle of the Bands. Marching bands are inextricably linked to football, and while this doesn't always ring true at the professional level, this would be an excellent change for the NFL to get back to this pairing. The Pro Bowl could downsize to a skills competition - the most attractive part of the weekend anyway - and hold it in Atlanta, a far more accessible city on the Sunday before the Super Bowl. The day before, the NFL could throw a bit of muscle behind the Honda Battle of the Bands, making it the official "halftime" between conference championships and the Super Bowl and televise it, either on a usual network partner or on NFL Network. It would fill the void left by the Pro Bowl, should the NFL ever take it out back and shoot it, add entertainment unique to the NFL under their corporate banner, extend the Pro Bowl/Super Bowl week festivities, and provide an accessible, enjoyable experience for fans who have otherwise been left in the cold.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

For Baltimore, and Maryland...

I offer first the disclaimer that this is not a bandwagon jump. I'm an Eagles fan, and have never disguised this fact. But I'm also married to a woman from Baltimore, the city that educated me, and whose professional football team has a product of Delaware at the helm. So yes, during the Eagles' recent collapse, I've got some love for the Ravens. I guess what I'm saying is:

Go Ravens.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Future

The future. At least that's what Drum Corps International called it when unveiling its new project yesterday shortly after 4pm. DCI is expanding its brand to include Drumline Battle and SoundSport, two additional competitive outlets that reach beyond the standard junior drum and bugle corps for which DCI is known. Drumline Battle will invite drumlines and percussion ensembles of 30 or fewer marching percussionists (it specifically states no pit or grounded percussion) to compete, while SoundSport allows for competition of ensembles of 5 to 50 performers, regardless of instrumentation. There are no age restrictions in either.

A quick glance at DCI's new endeavor.

This could be an exciting new development, but frankly, the grand unveiling yesterday left me with more questions than answers. What I see immediately is that this serves as a bit of a "great compromise" that can bring more into participation with DCI activities. The lack of age limits means that participation is no longer restricted to those 22 years of age or younger; the freeform nature of both aspects may attract non-corps style marchers and musicians; and perhaps most significantly, the lack of instrumentation restrictions means that for the first time, there could be woodwinds participating under the DCI umbrella.

Still, little else was revealed about how competition will take place and be judged/evaluated. The release mentions virtual competitions and live events, but I expect more will be revealed in time. There is no indication of competitive classes or divisions, which I would consider a crucial element when casting a net this wide. For example, under SoundSport's currently limited guidelines, a standard rock band could be competing with an emergent drum corps or an accordion ensemble. Drumline Battle could pit Santa Clara Vanguard's cymbals against a Taiko ensemble from Japan or Cold Steel from North Carolina A&T's Blue and Gold Marching Machine. While this concept intrigues me, I will also concede that few are qualified to evaluate each ensemble on a sheet that would be fair to each one's individual style.

Still, some of these matchups produce what could be the most exciting about these new endeavors. Imagine a competition in the Carolinas where Carolina Crown's contras faced off against South Carolina State's Thunder Brothers sousaphone line? Or VCU's Pep Band taking on a reemergent Southwind corps? Or the Cavaliers drumline blocking up against the University of Illinois'?

While I'm grading the move as an "incomplete" until there's more information - and I'm led to believe there should be at least a bit more this coming Wednesday - there were, as expected, already some vocal critics. I saw more than one person on Facebook and/or Twitter equate this to DCI's answer to WGI. Another bemoaned that corps are already compared to the movie Drumline enough (I've mentioned this rift before).

I'm cautiously optimistic, but I have just a couple of concerns. The first is ensuring quality. After all, the lack of age limit has every has-been considering putting together a group right now (I know I am!) and other groups that are already formed but may not have the chops to participate in other competitions may explore this avenue. This is great for access, but if the goal is to produce high-quality virtual and live events, there has to be a threshold for participation. My second concern is that in a world where many find their entertainment dollars scarce, my fear is that this actually competes with drum corps as we know it. After all, if this provides a more accessible marching/athletic music fix, some may choose it over the traditional DCI show. Alternatively, traditional shows already being a known quantity may make it difficult for these new endeavors to thrive. Regardless, I wish DCI the best of luck in this and look forward to learning more.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


Alabama's football team has once again writ her name in crimson flame. In the weeks approaching the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame, the word "dynasty" was batted around quite a bit. The Crimson Tide have won three championships in the past four years, and while definitions differ, most would consider that a dynasty on today's landscape.

There's no denying greatness in what Bama has just done, but what has been the greatest dynasty of the past 30 years? For starters, I use 30 years as a metric not as the ESPN era, as the Worldwide Leader is wont to do, but because it is (roughly) my lifetime. When I posed that question to several friends, the answer was unanimous: Jordan's Bulls. Indeed, the Chicago Bulls won six championships in eight years, and the two interim years were the two when Jordan had retired, meaning that the Bulls went a consecutive 6/6 with #23/45 leading the squad. It doesn't get much better than that, but there are a few that approach.

Elsewhere in Chicagoland, the Cavaliers won five championships in seven years between 2000-2006; a feat bolstered by the fact that they won the silver in the two years without a championship. The five championship threshold was only met a few times, and only once in a shorter time period, with Jimmie Johnson's five consecutive NASCAR championships.

There is one streak in process that threatens to eclipse all of the above, however. Presently, the Blue Devils have won four of the six championships since 2007. The two they haven't won have been silver medals, including the 2008 loss to Phantom Regiment by a mere 25/1000 of a point. What's more, they have been dominant in Open Class as well, with Blue Devils B winning three championships in a row from 2009-2011. While most sports/activities don't have the same sort of ability for wins at multiple levels, nor do most corps have a B corps, what the entire Blue Devils organization has been able to put together is nothing short of a dynasty.
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