THE LOSS OF BRAND IMAGE
“Today it’s like funky marching band drills they used to do in the 1960’s. There was no left, right or up and down. They would run to a spot and play. They might as well do an animal act.” Steve Chorazy
“I’ve had my fights with drill designers! It got to the point I’m arguing with a color guard instructor about MUSIC! When it gets to that point, I told the director its time to leave.” Frank "Fast Frankie" Nash
“There is no percussion score anymore. Ten points?! It’s basically a visual show. It’s like the sheets they used back in the 40’s! GE was 40 points and drums and horns shared two GE music judges.” Bill Kaufmann
“There were a lot of 16th note check patterns because tempos increased so drastically. The sticks had to be brought down." Gus Barbaro
“You guys from the 70’s built this thing. You were the foundation. You thought it was going to turn into something awesome. It didn’t turn out like you thought it should.” Chris Perna
"The way things have gone..... the band directors did it to themselves." Bob Schreffler
"Don't you hate it when a rock band comes on stage and apparently the drummer has decided that somehow it's cool to wear a funny hat? George Carlin (Comedian)
As design experiments on youth accelerated in the 1980’s, drum corps began a numerical and marketing decline selling socialist educational trends and design fads to band directors who became defacto publicists for art experiments practiced upon their own students.
Nothing has changed in 100 years of drum corps: people respond to company fronts, high horn notes, a blast that sends you back a few rows, unison movement and the visual excitement, momentum and power of unison, fast drumming.
Design Experiments on Children
The visual caption became a mutual admiration society to administer and promote itself having nothing to do with "education". Paying audiences don’t know or care about out-of-control artistic vanity.A youth activity became a stage for building staff prestige, a place to build a resume. “Art” was used to manipulate contests, not market the essence of drum corps – competition, momentum and the best drumming in the world. Score sheets were rewritten to reduce the performer to “helper” status. Children became "interpreters" or "game pieces", no longer the focus of scores. In real education, adults are mentors.
Ken Turner (DCI Judges Advocate): “The performance arts – music, dance, theatre and yes, drum and bugle corps, marching band and color guard – require the performers to act as the intermediary between the designers and the audience.” (Some Thoughts on “design vs performance”, DCI Today, Dr. Rosalie Sward p.49)
Faulty marketing was inherent when DCI organized in 1972. Corporate board members usually do not compete against each other. Instead of marketing competition, DCI, WGI and BOA directors manipulated subjective visual caption score sheets. Instead of marketing the best drummers in the world, DCI sold naive “art” attempts. Color guard visual designs are in what museums? These people do not affect the art world. No one cares about two-dimensional patterns on a football field unless it shows off the marching ability of the performers and that usually involves some type of comparison - symmetry. Audiences are enticed by precision marching in formations that show that quality. A high mark time is exciting to watch and easily understood as opposed with ballet interpretations you need binoculars to see. DCI based their marketing on their weakest elenment. Therefore, only 30 or so corps remain. Half of those can't draw an audience.
Design spin-doctoring belongs to Winter Guard International. Winning guards of the late 1970's – Phantom Regiment , Schaumburg Guardsmen, Holly Hawks and later the Cavaliers - were heavily equipment oriented performing phenomenally tight, intricate and demanding routines. The Anaheim, Trooper, Regiment and 27thLancers guards did mesmerizing equipment work because performers ruled the score sheets. Their instructors were not artists, but patternists, similar to cheerleading contests having coherent “routines” relating to music swells and accents, only using difficult rifle spins and tosses. The 1979 10th place WGI finish of former Anaheim marching instructor Stanley Knob’s Seattle Imperials guard - a west coast clinician experimenting with “ballet” since 1977 – was the start of judging staff creativity over performer skill. He came from the conservative St. Anthony’s Imperials, a champion east cost guard, winner of DCI’s first guard competitions. Guards “interpreted” jazz in earlier seasons; Anaheim was “jazz running” with pointed toes in full military uniform, shakos and boots in 1978. Seattle was second at the 1981 WGI finals. Knaub taught the Cavaliers guard from 1981 to 1983. Stanley wanted a "revolution", the Antifa of the activity
Stanley Knob wanted to mix modern dance and drum corps mix, trying to "broaden the base of drum corps" by introducing drum corps as an "art form". “We don’t just entertain people. We’re educating them – giving them other things to look at. We offer them shapes, interpretation, a more human image.” Stanley, I thought this was about competition, not your "visions". Dancing is extremely weak visually on a football field. Knob lauds George Zingali of 27th and Bridgemen’s Bobby Hoffman as cutting edge. "We’re tired of doing the old stuff,” Knaub says simply. “It’s gotten to the point that people think the kids go to the john in ranks! There’s no caveat that says that all drum corps have to look like machines.” This is the drum corps brand image guard people destroyed. Precision. This is the guy who started it. (Revolution in M&M, David Endicott, Drum Corps World, May 1977, p.16 (Stanley Knaub)
“Knaub’s technique is the blend the best of modern dance and other art forms into the present style of drum corps M&M. “There’s more sophistication and elegance to dance that just the ‘hup-hup staf-slamming’ of the day’s drum corps,” he says. “We may fall flat on our faces. But the judges are already anticipating drum corps style changes. They know they must because they are teachers as well as judges.”
So now they are "teachers". It is now about education? No, it is about experimental art using children as human guinea pigs.
“We’ll be trying to create illusions and images – more subtle effects so people can give their own interpretations to what they see.” Knaub says he’s experimenting with an “unknown quantity”, but willing to take the risk. At who's expense? Knaub remembers the entertainment and administration revolution that occurred in drum corps in 1971 with Madison's show. He says he’s ready to take the best of all art forms for the improvement of drum corps. In other words, drum corps can only improve by copying others and not being original. This is what destroyed drum corps originality to the point all the corps looked and sounded the same in the 1990s and why it looks so obtuse and silly today.
Dropped equipment littered the floors of mid 1980’s indoor color guard units as art experiments intensified. Guards lost their precision, becoming haggard while presenting novice “designs”. The lack of art and design training in color guard did not stop them from declaring expertise in “color theory”, “perspective”, “interpretation”, “dance” and “characterization”. Sloppy ballet became the equal of equipment work and uniformity on gym floors; “emoting”, “interpreting” and “communicating” replaced execution. (WGI had some instructors trying to get equipment work back into its format as a staple, an equal part of their “triad). Spastic "movement" hurt the skill they were most known for. Precision is what sells drum corps. Their junior high school art attempts were not directed at the adults, the ones with money to but tickets. Everyone raced to see the best drumlines at color guard shows, proving the guard people ruined their activity. The good equipment guards once had the precision of a good drumlne. It was eye catching and attracted attention. The "intepretations" of color uard people took us to the hot dog stand until the drumlines came on.
John Dewey’s Self esteem for non-achievement found the perfect niche, the insular political curtain of the color guard stage. When guard instructors tried to sew ballet slippers to military precision, the threads unraveled.
As design experiments on youth accelerated in the 1980’s, drum corps began a numerical and marketing decline selling socialist educational trends and design fads to band directors who became defacto publicists for art experiments practiced upon their own students. Precision was abandoned for shoe-polished props deemed” creative” and "modern" - what high-step marching bands did a half-century ago. Drum corps and marching band copied helpless color guard design fads, extending internal judging impunity with grotesque colors and spastically written visual goulash without resolution. Skill became hostage to an emotionally helpless color guard cult. Tricking kind-hearted booster parents to win adult design contests involves Erhard Seminar Training (EST) slight -of-hand salesmanship, not artistic or educational progress. Using children for art experiments sacrificed competition integrity. Critiques in all venues became conceptual art arguments rather than performance comparisons. Taxpayer’s now support this “design habit” in high school music programs all over the country.
The Race For Props
Props were costly immature attempts to create “three dimensions” “depth” and “perspective” by judges who could not sketch one, or know the difference between a 1-point and 2-point. Props occurred when “designers” believed they had no more creative “marching” avenues to explore. They instead supported “themes” in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, making corps discipline resemble 1950’s marching bands. Clinics had the “guru du juor” spouting some new revelation in an attempt to lead happy pets toward next years leash. Difficulty and demand evaluations were reduced in guard circuits and later, drum corps and bands. Visual caption meetings micro-scoped every little movement claiming meaningful relationships to short musical phrases - more distracting than coherent.
John Swartz (Oakland Crusaders): "We were asked to write according to a vision of a drill picture instead of the vision of the composer, or arranger. That's like building a car under a paint job."
Scott Johnson (Blue Devils): “There are times when we actually do visual drill first and then write music… In those situations, we’ve been forced to write music for the sake of the drill.” (DCI Today, Winter 1997, Vol.23, No.1, p.30)
Band directors nation-wide were convinced that mountainous art back-drops or props built from plumbing materials would help them sell simple minded “ideas” to supposedly educated judges. Parents nailed and glue-gunned props together. Judges claimed there was “forced perspective” by tilting a prop on an angle. Booster club parents shoved and yanked large wheeled monstrosities of Escher, Picasso or some impressionist painter trying to gain their children points. Kids teetered on top of these “enhancements” while judges dispensed artistic fallacies about “conceptual depth”. Students were put in danger. At the Colorado State Championships in Denver, one student fell 20 feet into the ground. In Michigan, one observed kids 25 feet in the air standing on wood planks supported by local hardware plumbing. Strong winds often knocked plywood sheets over, band parents scurrying to prop them back into place.
Dave Below (Ferndale High School Percussion Instructor): “You could have run a business off the scrap materials that were utilized for the amount of props at championships. Some kids were 25 feet in the air! The amount of open space available for a kid to have fallen through was nuts!”
FOR SALE: “We have a 28 foot Pirate Ship prop for sale, it is fully mobile and can be broken down in minutes to fit in a trailer. Very professional visual piece and can be an asset to your show this fall…” (March 26, 1999, Ship For Sale, RAMD ad, December 1, 2003)
A “professional” prop for amateur competition? Why would an amateurish visual piece increase the scores of students who did not build it? The twenty or so adults scrambling to push or roll these contraptions round need to realize it is not their show. Color guard instructors have trained parents into believing it is.
The 14-foot high platforms Flushing High School Band of Michigan used in the mid-1990’s was to impress judges with "three dimensional perspective". The props had no rails, shoddy stairs and guard girls who climbed grabbing pieces of pipe that held it together wearing long gowns. One wrong step and it was head first into the turf. Flushing drum instructor Dan Wick: "No way in hell MY kid is ever going up on one of those things."
Chicago based design guru, Gary Czypinski later introduced long heavy elliptical arcs for Flushing, the booster club lugging them to and fro. Execution suffered because drummers could not hear circling around these weird contraptions in single file. Their score was sacrificed for Czypinski's weird contraptions. His climax was to get little flags of different colors via a thin wire or rope to slide to the other end. The author judged that band and could not determine the artistic purpose. Half the time the little flags failed to work, stuck in the metal. What did students learn about art and design from this?
Ferndale [Michigan] High School’s “Airplane” show described the “history of flight” with a helicopter, space ship and airplane prop pushed around as the band changed “periods”, something out of second grade show and tell. What were judges saying as propellers went round and round and something flapped its wings? This particular band paid thousands, so bad, Czypinski's show had to be re-written.. For every sheet of “design”, the booster club was expected to wire money while at band camp! They were ripped off! This same band did an 'M.C. Escher' show in 2005 complete with upside down stairway drill using painted props of Escher drawings at the back of the field. Kids running at 160, 170 and 180 bpm was somehow related to Escher. Parents need to ask the band director: What is my child learning from this?"and "Why did you pay the visual guy so much money?"
John Swartz (Oakland Crusaders): "What's so hard about creating within specified boundaries? Many other sporting and artistic art forms do it all the time."
From the defunct Great Lakes Judges Association visual caption come 1996 definitions that discuss “using” children: “The judge should discuss the quality of the use of the members and the effect that they are creating through design.”
DESIGN EFFECT: In design, the Judge is rewarding the writer(s)…. with respect to the EFFECTIVENESS of the quality of the visual program… Judges must reach an awareness of all the ingredients of each program in order to reward the effect appropriately. Design does go beyond the purely emotional values of the program; however, it is true that the emotional response experienced by the judge can elevate the design to an even higher level of achievement.
Band directors now prepared students for contests having subjective emotional swings as a standard.
Emotion is the lowest common artistic denominator. It is not a skill. Emotion is a “reaction to” not the “success of” something. Emotion is cognition gained via the senses – secondary - not primary. Skill requires intelligent preparation, not the brief impulsiveness of shock art. Objectively define “emotional response.” Feelings and omnipotence are not reliable scale. Emotion has no unit of measure. With measurement comes accountability. Emotion has no standard because emotional reactions differ among people, in length and intensity, resulting in unreliable, inconsistent decisions. The result is competitive anarchy.
Emotion is the perfect escape clause for incompetence, allowing false praise and favoritism to flourish. Emotion is often abused in art for profit and false acclaim, those with lesser skills having to shock an audience for attention. (Movies about being stupid sell, such as Animal House, Dumb Ass and Dumb and Dumber.) Teaching basics is useless if others run around with face paint, wear silly wigs, do mime, shed tears, play poorly, then win. Actors are a dime a dozen, their industry conjuring up many needless award shows to upkeep a false image.
The reason “actors” and “theatre” came into the corps venue is that most of them can’t make money, tired of working as restaurant servers. Local community theatre can be poorer quality than drum corps binocular ballet and mime attempts. Off Broadway venues are not particularly enticing. Theatrical designers are noted for stamping union seals on everything for extra cash.
None of the judges this author knew or worked with over three decades knew anything about "art and design”. None of them ever displayed a portfolio or demonstrated basic artistic skills. None could ever sketch their ideas on the back of a score sheet, or if they tried, produced unintelligent scribble. Such untrained apprenices should not be "teaching" children or adjudicating others attempts.
Attend color guard or “visual” clinics of the 80’s and 90’s and behold painting, sculpting and architectural definitions regurgitated from some art criticism book. It was like a game of tag. Hurry, make up something - you’re it! Much infighting developed as scores bent away from objective reasoning toward something resembling a bad fashion show. Numerous costume changes force guards to hurry through sets trying to relate “color” to music, disturbing the intent and confusing the audience. The competition field became the visual captions over-sized run-way with 6, 7 or 8 clothing changes, dressing room and make-up factory each 11 minutes, strange attempts to “interpret” music with cloth. Models don’t work so hard.
Color guard instructors and show designers without wanted more respect and financial opportunities. Hence, they manufactured them. There is no matriculation process offering “Bachelor of Marching” degrees. They learned by rote on restaurant tabletops. Soon, “drill people” and “marching helpers” started calling themselves “visual designers”- most recently “artist” - to present a palatable moniker to impress band boosters. Band directors coveted the title “directors of visual arts.” What do these self-appointed Van Gogh’s really know? By early 1970’s drum corps and late 1980’s band, you paid for a "designed" show or lost, no matter the performance. Complaints were penalized.
Richard Lamb (Anaheim Kingsmen, North Star): "I hear a lot about buzzwords such as "quality elements of design" but don't have them explained to me. All the concepts they use are borrowed from painting, sculpture, and drama - they seem ignorant of dance, which would be a more appropriate medium to use. They have very little to say that is indigenous to marching.”
Ayn Rand (Objectivist Philosopher): “….. modern art and literature are dominated by the attempt to disintegrate man’s consciousness and reduce it to mere sensations, to the “enjoyment” of meaningless colors, noises and moods.” Ayn Rand, The Romantic Manifesto p.62)
Mike Mann (Phantom Regiment): “Cesario told me at a meeting that blue could only be a cool color. No matter how it was used, blue HAD to be a cool color. WHO CARES?”
Jeff Moore (Madison Scouts): “Mike Cesario was telling me how blue is always a cool color. For what he was doing, did it matter? Give me a break!”
What the author observed on a Ypsilanti, Michigan practice field proves their statements. Standing next to the Garfield corps during 1992 run-throughs, none of their marching employees could figure out how to "fix" their fast squiggly drill.
"I don't know how to fix it. I don't know where to begin."
"It doesn't matter. No one will ever figure it out. WE can't even figure it out!"
The entire staff then laughed.
The joke is on the performers. Critiques were cancelled in many circuits as emotions snowballed into shouting matches over football field “fine art”. Press releases screamed concerns for youth, while score sheets awarded and marketed adults.
Misuse of Color
Bored with props and “perspective depth” - not seeing any increase in show attendance - the visual caption graduated to “color”. Like a child uses crayons, they fought to stay within the lines. Could it be judges equated color “intensity” with music volume? Audiences sitting in large architecture respond to music momentum, not “color.” Color has little “dramatic power” in the idiom unless it is a bold uniform with a large shako and plume that makes marching mambers look taller – more aggressive. Maybe someone will put huge screens as backdrops and use multimedia. Maybe there will be no music. Consider the full minute of 1997 Cavalier silence as members ran around the field to satiate Steve Susslik’s haughty football field “art” attempt.
Cavalier drummers at their 2004 reunion: “To have a battery just stand there and do nothing with their backs to the audience is embarrassing. Couldn’t the drill guy do something or have enough creativity to have them off to the side like that?”
DCI representative John Madden, gave a clinic on “innovation” using the color concepts of Mondrian as an example of “something new” that wasn’t immediately accepted. He wanted “innovation”. DCI was trying to teach their judges about "color" at clinics. You can color blend easily with paint, not uniform cloth. From a rulebook: “The first property of color is called “hue”. Hue simply refers to the name of the color. The three primary colors are red, yellow and blue. From these, all other colors are mixed. If you can identify shades of the three, the particular name will not be so important……. The second property of color is “value”……. The third property of color is “intensity”…
“There is a direct relationship between color and a visual impression of depth, or pictoral space. Colors have an innate advancing or receding quality because of slight muscular reactions in our eyes as we focus on different colors. Intense, warm colors (red, orange, yellow) seem to come forward; cool colors (blue, green) seem to go back.” (MCBA 1996 contest rules, p.43)
Richard Lamb (Anaheim Kingsmen, North Star): “Madden was talking about Mondrian as an example in abstract art then stated, “We shouldn’t try to set a revolution all at once.” This was at a DCI clinic.”
Do pageantry people actually believe they are “art” instructors capable of “revolution” with little dot books?
The use of color in drum corps, band and color guard was bad self-advertisement. Flags used to compliment corps colors similar to the base color and stripes that added attention when thrown or spun. Designers now try to portray “moods” using colors not congruent with existing uniform hues wanting judges to “interpret”, leading to ugly solutions awarded if merely “noticed.” Here is the start of all the garishness you see on fields and gym floors. Color guards of 2005 drum corps tried to combine puce, neon Barney purple, sun-bright yellow, neon pink and neon green, colors that shock and conflict with the corps base uniform hue. They want attention, an inferiority complex created by disrespecting the limits of the idiom. This is not educational integrity, it is artistic stupidity. Artists are taught in their first lecture to use limited palette. Other attempts included:
Corps uniform: red/black/white – flags of orange, purple, yellow, red, white and green.
Corps uniform: red-orange, green, black, white, bright purple, flags of pink/yellow/neon green.
Corps uniform: dark green/black/white – ancillary use of felt red, yellow, orange, blue, purple, steel gray.
Corps uniform: crimson/black/white – flags of neon purple, deep blue, yellow.
They make bold statements of competence. “Visual judges are trained in all areas of visual design using principles from art, sculpture, movies, plays, architecture and dance. They apply these basic design principles to the marching band activity. Successful teaching of a visual package would include “awareness” of the performers of color harmony, balance, proportion and perspective as it relates to their particular program…. no band can perform a visual product effectively if they do not understand the intent.” (Dean Christopher letter to the Michigan visual caption in response to criticism, April, 2000).
I am saying the kids know not one thing these self appointed art gurus are doing. It is a hoax.
Drummers don’t learn color theory, gradation of line and form or perspective from people that can’t sketch one. Give the kids an art test. Ask any drummer what they have learned about “art and design” from their “visual designer”, the judges or band director. They blankly state, “nothing”. In marching band, taxes pay for this “nothing”.
King Crimson Guitarist Peter Fripp makes statements easily applied to visual designers: “Amateur musicians often aspire, unrealistically, to become professional; and professional musicians to unrealistic acclaim and acknowledgement… Challenging fantasy generates reaction in proportion to the strength with which the fantasy is held. In other words, look out. If any of this seems remote from daily life, or theoretical, look around - it is clearly not. Bumping up against each others' hopes, aspirations, aims, dreams – and utterly unrealistic, witless imaginary schemes - is pretty much daily stuff for anyone that does anything with anyone else; let alone in an area where the creative imagination is fundamental.”
Attacks on Percussion
McCormick never had a full percussion score allotment for Marching Bands of America or later Bands of America. Drums were hidden beneath his quest for design fees and band directors who didn't know anything about marching percussion techniques.
He implemented a small, 5 point drum caption decided by a music judge who might not have percussion experience. Students in drumlines practice twice as much as any other part of a marching band. It was a slap in their face. Profits were dependent on the "whole package" and changing the rules to award adult designers. The marching members could eat toast. Percussion didn't have to eat and were told to leave.
Michael Cesario and Gary Markam appeared at Jenison High School in May of 2005 to address band directors and instructors on “creativity in the visual show” and judges on “visual judging standards”. Markham is chief judge of BOA, head of music education for Cobb County, Georgia and one of DCI's heads of “education”. Gary Markam (DCI, BOA) asked if Michigan still had a percussion judge at this clinic. When told no, he said, “That was the best thing you could have done. That's a caption where, if you build it, they will come.” His thesis: if there is a percussion caption, that section will grow larger, do more, and overbalance the rest of the band. Percussion takes too much time.
Rich Hogan (Marauders/Lakeland High School, Michigan): "….at the break - I confronted him and Dave Valasek held me back. It was about his comments about the role of percussion (Battery in particular), and it was his comment that percussion was USUALLY unnecessary, ALWAYS unmusical, and ALWAYS too loud! - that set me off. It is my belief that "out-door" music should be regarded as IT'S OWN "IDIOM", and not compared to indoor idioms of music and the ensembles that play them. Even though we "borrow" from them ---- there are things we have to do differently to get them to come across like they do in a concert hallWe are starting to see the effects of not having a percussion sheet. I stay because I like to teach and watch my students improve. There are not as many as before that get good, but some still do.”
He mentioned Gary Czapinski stapling his business card to score sheets of low scoring bands. Interestingly, when the Michigan judges circuit folded, the visual caption voted itself all the money in its bank account. Czapinski and his wife wanted to immediately raise judges fees too “justify” scores. The Michigan band circuit kept quiet and raised the fees.
Surveys results in Texas (U.I.L.), Colorado and Florida show band directors would rather have color guard than drumline instructors. In Florida, over half of the respondents stated they didn’t want percussion judged and 75 percent said not to allow drumming be part of the final scores. Color guard was favored to be judged by over half and 75 percent wanted color guard to be part of the final score. These are taxpayer financed music educators.
Competition, Art and Marketing
Michael Cesario (Garfield Visual Designer): “… we sometimes have these golden memories about the “old days” and in fact most of the visual presentation from the era was pretty substandard by today’s ideas of design and achievement. After DCI was born, all that changed. All that remains is that we still play drums and we still play bugles and we still move around the field. Everything else has undergone dramatic revolution and all of it for the better.”
Dave Clark (Watkins Glen Squires): “A judgment error continues to be made that the "evolution" of the drum corps activity is necessary to sustain it. Many influential individuals leading the DCI activity seem to think that to accept, maintain, and embrace the traditional drum corps performance cache will cause it to decline. George Hopkins numerous rules change proposals along with his supporting text reflect this mindset. However, I believe that accepting, maintaining, embracing, and promoting the traditional drum corps foundation fosters a primary basis for its existence and will rejuvenate its uniqueness and popularity if re-established, separate from marching bands.”
I have always said drum corps compete against marching bands, never with them. We take their members away and train them better with a better product. It has always been that way.
Objective rules protect both competitor and marketing. All sports venues have increased review technology and their number of judges while drum corps removed them, using “emotion” as criteria. Cameras are everywhere to get it right. Right matters! If honesty exists anywhere, it is in the daily sports section. Las Vegas odds depends on it. Professional baseball umpires are scientifically proven to be correct 99 percent of the time. Field drumming competition requires thousands of pitches at a moving plate. The NFL critiques its football referees then cuts the bottom ten percent every year, disreguarding previous evaluations. Hockey, basketball and football added another referee. Football coaches throw a red flag to stop play while basketball refs can review questionable calls. Holistic adjudication methods ruin integrity. Why would the DCI board of directors vote to cancel their caption awards then reverse their decision?
Richard Lamb (Aneheim Kingsmen, North Star): “John Madden states that while DCI may market the activity as sport, the judges and designers know better. It's about art. I heard this right out of his mouth at the DCI Winter Meetings back in 2003.”
With only ten general effect points for early VFW and American Legion competition, corps never hurt for creativity. The stands were packed. Visual designers chased the fans away.
The Damage To Drum Corps’ Brand Image
Companies make mistakes and sometimes lose empathy for customers. Coca-Cola’s brand image disaster - the “new coke” - was yanked from shelves after a formula change. DCI became a trademark then an art fad, no longer a true brand, selling football field “design” to unknowledgeable band directors instead of competition to audiences. DCI believed it should not market drumming, but education, even when named “DRUM corps”, having the best drummers in the world. Hence, Blue Man Group, Stomp, Tap Dogs, Riverdance and trendy movies like “Drumline” beat them at the box office. Standing ovations for the many reunion and alumni corps (27th Lancers, Royal Airs, Blessed Sacrament, Boston Crusaders, Santa Clara Vanguard, et al) prove the brand image was once very strong. Gate receipts were up tremendously when Royal Air’s alumni returned to the field. Drum corps' brand image expanded far past local marching band school fight songs and hokey halftime shows.
Ticket buyers already had drum corps expectations, increased by Reilly’s 1958 “Ghost” drum solo and the Air force Quartet, Princemen’s James Murphy jazz solo in Sweet Georgia Brown, Archer Epler’s Dipsy-Doodle, Gabarina’s Slaughter on 10th Avenue and Hawthorne’s “rhumps”. “Finally came When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. The stands held their breath to hear if the soloist would hit the last high note. He did – perfectly – to a roaring standing ovation. Now fans, that’s drum corps. “ (From an old drum corps newspaper)
Arranger Jay Bocook sees it another way: “I don’t think we have to throw out the white towel and say we are going to go back and do shows of little or no substance just so we can get applause.” (Blast Website)
Thumb any dictionary to “arrogance.” If ticket buyers don’t understand bad art, screw them! No substance? Paying audiences at filled stadiums at Marion, Butler, Whitewater and other venues giving tumultuous rock the stadium applause. Applause sells tickets. Applause makes money.
The announced figures from the 1941 Philadelphia VFW finals was 40,000, 1949 VFW finals was 14,000 people, 20,000 in Detroit in 1968. (Prelims on Belle Isle in Detroit were packed.) The stadium rocked at Philadelphia’s VFW finals in 1969. At the 1970 Dream contest at Roosevelt Stadium, when Blessed Sacrament began its closer “Free Again”, the loud ovation blocked 20,000 fans from hearing the music. Fleetwood jacket covers written by Dick Blake attest to over 20,000 filled seats at other “Dream” contests. Standing in Regiment’s snare line at retreat, this author only remembers packed houses in the mid 1970’s at Midwest (Dekalb) and Whitewater (Wisconsin). The 1970 World Open had its largest crowd as 23,000 packed the Manning Bowl in Lynn Massachusetts. At Marion Ohio’s annual thunderstorm, drenched crowds simply opened their umbrellas. Wet townspeople and their relatives were staying for original music, discipline and competition. The “return customer” is important to any successful business model. In 1973-1975, demand was so large that Marion prelims were held simultaneously in two different stadiums. (Early performing corps warmed up in Ohio cornfields at 6:30 am). If rained out, the Marion stands were full the next day even if Blue Rock and their famous drummers went on in T-shirts, uniforms and plumes soaked.
Where is the U.S. Open and all those return customers today?
Greg Pacer (Cavaliers): “I don’t think the crowds now are as big as back then. We would fill half the Orange Bowl and Cleveland Stadium; Roosevelt Stadium was always packed.
Rich LaRoche: "The reaction to the 27th Lancers at Foxboro (1993 DCI Finals retreat) should have been a wake up call. When an exhibition corps gets more reaction and a longer ovation than the winner of the show, something is wrong. And don't anyone say it was nostalgia; it was good, it was fun, it was loud. People don't want to spend three hours sitting in uncomfortable seats going: "I say Howard, did you hear that marvelous minor third in the middle voices? People go absolutely crazy when Madison marches on the field - and the line isn't as straight as it could be."
Dan Zelesnikar: "I'm a show promoter for an east coast show and have a heck of a time filling a 4000 seat stadium in an area of 1.5 million people even with an A-plus lineup. Costs are enormous. Part of the reason for the lack of attendance is that many corps don't take the approach that they exist to entertain."
DCI severed the strong emotional ties alumni had for the product, something corporations beg for. It was William K. Vanderbilt, an old-money builder of railroads who bluntly stated: “The public be damned!” Alumni thought the customers were the fans. Corps directors thought members were the customers charging huge sums just to join. DCI believes the corps are their customers, but corps compete directly against each other and with schools for the same members. Drum corps chose to invade public schools, a position already taken by teachers unions. DCI has less attendance than at its inception, even trailing 1940’s service convention receipts.
Jan Nichols (Crossmen, Dutch Boy): “Alumni feel that changes in drum corps with which they don't agree are criticisms of the activity in which they participated and attacks, however indirect, on their identity. Attacks on identity will elicit very passionate - and quite nasty - reactions!”
“When Kraft launched products, they bought the whole marketing team t-shirts that said "I AM NOT THE TARGET MARKET" and made them wear them in the office, lest they forget and insert their own personal preference into the marketing plan. The real keys are fan acquisition and retention, and you can't retain fans if they're not passionate. They won't be passionate unless you give them something worth being passionate about. You won't know what makes them passionate if you're so blinded by your own "vision" that you forget that your target market isn't YOU.”
The new 1985 Star of Indiana corps took three years to learn the momentum and disciplined sharpness of corps. Marching only 14 experienced members of 128, many considered them a marching band. Years later, with more experience, they inherited “art vision” problems, booed off their own home field because its “art staff” had convinced their director great works were at hand, such as George Zingali’s 1986 huge rolling Star Wars wheels - used in two shows then discarded - and topping their guard with “fright wigs”, members looking like they had stuck a finger in an electrical socket. In 1987, Zingali used cumbersome circus wagons as visual props.
William Cook (Star of Indiana, Blast Website): “Star folk were learning the hard way that huge props were next to impossible to utilize in drum corps. Some of the members were hurt unloading them. Frustration is the best word to use for 1987 because so much time was spent trying to get visuals integrated properly; in retrospect, time would have been better spent perfecting drill….. We should have wrecked them [the circus wagons] in June. A valuable lesson was learned… props are difficult to utilize and they detract from practice in other areas."
“Nineteen-ninety-one was a year of fan disappointment because of the perceived lack of entertainment value displayed by top corps. A summer of malaise followed in 1992... Sadly, 1993 progressed to the summer of anger….. Star of Indiana displayed a strange boring show playing abstract Samual Barber and Bela Bartok music, having extended silent passages without traditional drum corps climaxes, an unfit solution for outdoor audiences who sometimes booed. They mixed body sculpting and “minimalist” visuals taught by “movement specialists”, to the concept of a scalene triangle. “There was an incredible minimalist drum solo.” (Drum Corps World, pp.163, 164 Star of Indiana) (Author’s note: The audience is always to blame with these fantastic visual design guru types. What is a minimalist drum solo?)
"There were no opportunities for the audience to react until the show was over. This concept made some of the audience uncomfortable… I guess that was Jim’s [Prime] vengence….. He wanted a stark show that would be portrayed by contrasting colors and shapes – triangles and straight poles.” (Drum Corps World, p.164, Star of Indiana)
Why should anyone bother with vengeful designers no one understands? Rotating boxes, triangles, circles, squares, and follow the leader is not “great modern art”. It is elementary school finger painting.
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