Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hat Trick

The Drum Corps International (DCI) championships that we went to in Pasadena earlier this month are on ESPN2 this coming Wednesday, if you want to check it out.

This is a good segueway to a post that I've had brewing for a while now, like a couple of years.

As a bit of history, I can't put it any better than our friend Wikipedia: "Classic drum and bugle corps are North American musical ensembles that descended from military bugle and drum units returning from World War I and succeeding wars. Traditionally, drum and bugle corps served as signaling units as early as before the American Civil War, with these signaling units having descended in some fashion from ancient drum and fife corps. With the advent of the radio, bugle signaling units became obsolete and surplus equipment was sold to veteran organizations (such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion, two major organizers for classic drum corps). These organizations formed drum and bugle corps of civilians and veterans, and the corps performed in community events and local celebrations. Over time, rivalries between corps emerged and the competitive drum and bugle corps circuit evolved. Traditional drum and bugle corps consist of bell-front brass horns, field drums, a color guard and an honor guard.

Drum and bugle corps have often been mistaken for marching bands, since there is a similarity to both groups having horns and drums; and they are both essentially bands of musicians that march. The activities are different in organization (marching bands usually associate with high schools and colleges while drum corps are freestanding organizations), competition and performance (marching bands perform in the fall at football games, drum corps usually compete during the summer), and instrumentation (classic drum corps use only brass bugles and drums, marching bands incorporate woodwinds and other alternative instruments)."

My first husband marched in the very first champion of Drum Corps International in 1972, the Kingsmen from Anaheim, California. My current beloved marched in the winningest drum corps in modern history, the Blue Devils from Concord, California. I marched from 1976 to 1982, then taught on and off through 1989, so a good chunk of my formative years was spent in a corps uniform. My corps was small and competitively unsuccessful, but that didn't stop us from travelling thousands of miles each summer to attend the championships, wherever that might have been. My first DCI was in Denver in 1977, so it seemed like 30 years was a good time for some perspective on where things are today.

The bane of my existence during my marching years was the "shako", the traditional hat with a feather plume on the top that everyone, including the color guard, wore back in the old days. I had very long hair and had to wind it on top of my head then put the shako on, which created a sweaty, sticky ball of hair when I took it off. In keeping with their military roots, all modern drum corps to this day have uniforms that have military uniforms as their starting point.

Here is a picture from a site dedicated to European infantry and their attire.

Here's a picture of part of the Blue Devils' snare line in 1979 (my beloved D is the handsome one on the right).

Here is what Blue Devils' snare line looks like, almost 30 years later.

Yeah, not much different than Napolean's army. I think the main culprit is the hat. Some corps wear a hat that looks a bit like what the Three Musketeers wore in the movies, referred to as an "Aussie", but essentially the uniform has remained unchanged save for some minor changes in the cadet jacket.

That's for what is referred to as the corps proper: the drumline and hornline. The color guard, on the other hand, has run off the rails when it comes to their uniform. As I said before, back in the day the guard wore the same hat and cadet jacket as everyone else, and wore a skirt with some variation of a boot for the bottom half.

Here's a picture of the aforementioned Kingsmen from 1977. I was in the rifle line in my drum corps.

Here's a picture of the Cavaliers from last summer, an all-male corps from Illinois that I happen to really like, but seriously, does this make sense? The guard is dressed like Borg and the rest of the corps is dressed like D'Artagnan.

This year there were guards dressed as gypsies, horses (in brown multi-colored jumpsuits with long fake pony-tails), painters, you get the idea. Right now there is such a discrepancy between the two parts of the corps that I find it distracting. From a visual perspective, the corps that I enjoyed the most this year were the ones that had some correlation of their uniforms between the sections.

We can't go backwards, so going forward I think the activity needs to find some middle ground. Pull back with the guard costumes and make some changes to the corps proper uniform. As far as I'm concerned, the horse-related show would have been a lot more fun if the corps had been in cowboy-inspired outfits. At the very least, get rid of those damn shakos.


  1. Ye gods, they are like the Borg...the Borg EMT corps! I have to admit, I've always loved drum corps stuff. I'm a sucker for anyone in uniform, really...

  2. Your blog is really entertaining.

    I too am a drum corps geek ... an SCV alum who marched 73-75 and then found drum corps all over again in 2002 and haven't let it go again yet.

    Costumes vs uniforms, make up and dancing took awhile for me to get used to but now I love the new school as much as the old one.

    Love the blog :)

  3. Hi,
    I just read your post on the world of drum corps. I was involved with the Kingsmen for many years and I just wondered if we ever crossed paths?

    Please read my blog entry about my sister's time with the Kingsmen and see if anything sounds familiar.