Sunday, July 01, 2007

Precision fun

The last time I was at Giants Stadium was to see Liverpool duke it out with AC Milan, and the time before that was for ’N Sync. I guess I just don't hang out in the Meadowlands that much. But on Saturday, I spent two of the best hours of the year in that godforsaken corner of New Jersey—at a drum & bugle competition!

The only surprise is that it took me so long to finally see this type of event—after all, I'm a huge fan of precision ensembles, from Busby Berkeley movies to the Rockettes, and I love high-school marching bands. And of course Saturday's event was also part of the ongoing "Americanization of Elisabeth" campaign; there sure aren't any drum contests in France, a highly individualistic country where the only successful synchronized events seem to be strikes.

Anyhoo, Saturday… We started off with the Jersey Surf, an endearing, scrappy category 2 corps that I enjoyed watching if only because I knew it'd help my untrained eyes to better appreciate the heady perfection that'd come later from the more accomplished ensembles. Drum & bugle has militaristic origins but they've been channeled, as if the case with pretty much everything in America, into pure entertainment. Uniforms, yes, but with sequins! Shakos, sure, but with lots of feathers! Rifles, absolutely, but thrown up high in the air like you just don't care! (If America exorcised its military jones through drum & bugle instead of ill-fated excursions to Iraq, we might be in a better place.) And of course, the metal fan in me was psyched by the sheer volume of it all: When a corps lets loose, it's gloriously loud.

My two favorites were Carolina Crown and Phantom Regiment. Carolina Crown's guard overcame silly outfits that made it look like a bunch of extras from Cats but then turned out to play a narrative purpose when the kids enacted a stylized horse race to the tune of the William Tell Overture played full speed ahead. (Compare with the Boston Crusaders, who lugged easels around during their entire Picasso-themed routine but didn't really use them.) No wonder the Crown got the biggest ovation, followed by boos when it finished in third place. As for Phantom Regiment, it came up with my favorite purely musical moment, making Philip Glass' 1000 Airplanes on the Roof sound like 1000 airplanes taking off.

Back home, the Sheila pointed out that she grew up watching Edinburgh's Military Tattoo, which was broadcast on prime time in Australia and which does seem to get close to what I'd just seen, albeit with a stronger international component. And lo and behold, a bit of poking around quickly unearthed an amazing Military Tattoo performance by the Top Secret Drum Corps from Basel—so secret, its bass drums are painted black. Just check out that stick action! I had no idea the Swiss had it in them.


Luke N Atmaguchi said...

Drum & Bugle Corps! Formerly the only available semi-pro/hobbyist next step for the jocks (percussion & brass) of the high school band geek set. That is (for the brass), until waves #2 through infinity of The Ska Revival, and that blip Swing thing.

Not knowing you except as a blog reader, I’m not sure if the Phillip Glass item is a joke. Either way, I must tell my friend who has long argued that all Glass sounds like a slowed-down “Entrance of the Gladiators” (or “Thunder and Blazes”), aka The Circus Theme. (Fonetically it goes: “YAT da tugaduga yat da daah da.”) Something about the incrementally inching chromatic thing.

Just guessing that while The Phantom Regiment absolutely whaled on “1,000 Airplanes on the Roof” at The Meadowlands, B.D. Wong was just a short train PATH away from delivering the libretto, if only they’d asked.

Luke N.

Elisabeth Vincentelli said...

The Philip Glass reference is not a joke: They really did play it, and it really kicked serious ass.

David Marc Fischer said...

Luke's friend here, with a point of clarification. What I was trying to say was that I'd really like to hear a Glassian variation of that circus song. It just seems to be crying out for that kind of treatment, whether or not Glass is the one who does it.

As for 1,000 Airplanes on the Roof, what would've been supercool would have been incorporating the sets, by Jerome Sirlin. I think many people (well, many of the people who managed to see the production or at least visuals from it) would agree. The design kicked serious ass.