Moving into the 90s, the corps had just come off another successful winning season – its 3rd DCA championship since its first year on the field in 1982. Not a bad record for a corps less than 10 years old. Ever striving to be unique, the challenge every off-season was to find a concept that would maintain our tradition of quality and innovation. As was the case every September, once we had recuperated from finals, we’d start to throw around different ideas for a show. What style of music? A concept or theme show? Should we stick to jazz as it had proven to be so successful for the corps? Reuse anything we’d done or all new music? Was it time for a change? Questions, questions and more questions. Everyone on the creative team was out searching for just the right fit for the 1990 corps.
A favorite composer amongst all of us was, of course, Leonard Bernstein. We’d often talked about “West Side Story,” but somehow it never made it to the final round. Another strong contender was “On The Town,” including some of the less well known movements and with a symphonic approach. This was one of the ideas we brought with us when we sat down for a meeting with our new brass arranger, Steve Melillo, now a world renowned composer with many awards and honors to his name.
We started to throw around some of our ideas including our thoughts about “On the Town.” As soon as we started talking, Steve seemed to zone into another world. We were in the middle of explaining the different musical themes we wanted to pluck out, including the recurring “New York, New York” theme, and what we wanted to change up so it would sound more “Bushified.”
From our brainstorming, Steve came up with his own take on the show. Instead of recreating a day in the life of three sailors on leave in New York City, why not a day in the life of a Bushwacker? He started to hum his own version of a new recurring theme, and our first original show was born!
While there is always a lot of work in planning each show, it was even more true this year. Instead of 4 pieces of music that were tied together by a theme, we were now going to tell a story. We took what we considered the most obvious elements of our day – warm-up, sectionals, rehearsal, loading the truck and finally, the competition at the end of a long day – and started construction. We incorporated “announcements” and “instructions” to bring the audience into our world. Many hours of charting the progression of the show, musically, visually and emotionally was then handed over to Steve to create our original score.
Of course, expectations were high for the Defending Champions of 1988 and 1989. Was an original show a big risk? It was huge. Nothing like this had ever been done in DCA. It took quite a lot of defending our vision to the judges and ensuring that we fulfilled our intent in telling the story as well as presenting the quality product that was expected. As was often the case, the judges liked to judge us against the standard we’d set, and not the rest of the competing corps. We seemed to come under harsher scrutiny, which was often reflected in our scores even when the corps performed well.
Though we were a smaller drum corps this year, especially with only 19 in the guard, sometimes size just doesn’t matter. The vision was in place and we set off to bring it all to fruition by the time we reached finals. With Jim Dugan and Roy Chambers at the helm, all the pieces would fall into place as planned.
The 1990 DCA season was extremely competitive with several corps in the mix. Our first win was at our fourth show, in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ, which we followed up with another win in New Brunswick. Then things got a little dicey with consecutive 4th place finishes going into August. Was it our performance that lacked? Was it a misguided judging panel? No matter what the reason, it only inspired us to work harder. As is always the case, August was hours, upon hours, of cleaning, tweaking, refining and perfecting. The hard work paid off and we were able to close down the gap. Going into finals weekend, we were in a dead heat with the Cabs and Empire, and we were all within striking distance of the Westshoremen.
Westshore must have peaked too soon, as all three corps passed them at prelims with Bush in the lead. And we were able to hang on at Finals, taking our third consecutive championship with a 96.9, our highest score ever, and a tenth ahead of Empire. We also took our 5th consecutive percussion title with a 19.9, High Visual and GE Visual, and a 3rd consecutive Guard Trophy for “the little guard that could.”
Prototype – Steve Melillo
Drum Majors: Laurie Kunzle & Marie Kronyak (Downs)
PRELIMS: 1st – 96.3
FINALS: 1st – 96.9