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The scary fabulous world of Drum Corps International

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Thumbnail image for danahey2 copy.jpg(PHOTO: The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps of Rosemont perform "Mad World" July 1 in Oswego. Courtesy of

Last Thursday, I headed over to the AMC in South Barrington, plopped down my $18 and attended the live simulcast of the quarterfinals of the Drum Corps International World Championships taking place at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, the same place where Payton Manning makes a living.

cavaliers.jpgI don't know what I found more disturbing -- the middle-aged woman in the row in front of me sitting with her legs up on a railing as if she were going to give birth OR that a good many of the bands played scary shows.

Times are tough, and it's reflected in the performances, which, for the uninitiated, can seem strange anyway.

Take, for instance, the Cavaliers of Rosemont. The theme of the group's 12-minute show was "Mad World," that Tears for Fears song remade a few years ago as a haunting ballad.

The drill team in the all-male Cavaliers was dressed in trench coats, which was way too much of a reminder of Columbine for my tastes. Actually, after looking at Cavalier pictures online, the coats also recall Billy Idol videos from the 1980s. The team bellowed military chants about their rifles as they twirled and contorted. They formed a "Mad Circle" with some props, too. And, when the corps performed the Charlie Chaplin chestnut "Smile," the members donned white masks.

I half expected Heath Ledger to return from the dead as the Joker during the performance, which also seemed like an outtake from the director's cut of the last Batman flick.

As of Thursday night, the Cavaliers were in second place, behind the Blue Devils from California.

More scarily fabulous, or fabulously scary, drum corps performances (including the corps from nearby Rockford), after the jump.

The Blue Devils' show used the music of jazz great Stan Kenton set to the theme "Through a Glass Darkly." Glass in this case meant a dozen or so mirrors, each eight feet tall. To end the performance, the drum major ran toward one of the mirrors to the sound of breaking glass, mostly likely made from one of the electronic keyboards.

Yup, drum corps use synthesized noises of all sorts now. And props. And they dance. Not just the drill team members, but a lot of the horn players. Dancing loses something on a football field, but what do I know?

There's quite a bit of flopping around on the ground or just plain laying flat on the ground, too, during quite a few of the shows. In fact, part of the Carolina Crown effort seemed like an old Busby Berkeley movies with swimmer Esther Williams but without the pool.

Another corps, the Phantom Regiment from Rockford, called their show "Into the Light," and it seemed like an elegiac meditation on death. The Santa Clara Vanguard performed the music of Bela Bartok. The host Blue Stars had drill team members in straight jackets and did magic tricks in a show ostensibly about Harry Houdini scored to the music of modern classical composers Philip Glass and John Adams.

Hey, after all the above, it was hard to sleep that night. OK, that was probably because of the popcorn coated in the death oil they call butter. But still...

Oh, there was some comic relief. The Cadets had a show about "Little Jeffrey," who grows up to become a drum major. Little Jeffrey looked a bit like Adam Sandler, which made it all the more annoying. A couple corps looked like they would have been at home in the Broadway musical version of "Shrek." That included the Boston Crusaders extravaganza which uses a giant throne as a prop.

Don't get me wrong. You can't beat a wall of brass and drums coming at you for a wallop of a musical experience. And the sound quality put the system at AMC to good use.

I'm just easily confused by a combo platter of pageantry, arty music, Las Vegas and Broadway glitz, props, rifles, flags, special hairdos, makeup and sound effects thrown in for good measure. It's only a matter of time before one of these corps opens for Lady Gaga or winds up part of some museum installation.

See for yourself at The final scores from the weekend's championship should be online. Oddly, though there was a webcast of Friday's semifinals, the finals only will be available on DVD and to run at a later date on some PBS affiliates.

Also, to find out some of the behind-the-scenes drama, CNN recently ran a piece about the business side of the Drums Corps International organization.

-- Mike Danahey, Staff Writer

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If you can view a show like "Into the Light" as some negative thing, maybe it's not all the shows. The Rockford show seemed like one of the most uplifting pieces out there, so maybe you were looking for more slapstick and americana than you got. That hardly makes it a 'reflection on tough times'.

You saw what you wanted to see.

I saw the quaterfinals on the big screen and went to both the semi finals and finals in person. The show on the movie screen was not nearly as good as the in person show. I also did not like the Blue Knights show and left before thier prmormance on Saturday night. I alraedy knew they were going to win so no point in watching a show I did not like. The Cavaliers show was much better in person.
One show that did not come across well on screen was the Phantomn Regiments. That show was wonderful in person.
I agree these shows are getting to be a little to much broadway and less the drum corps I grwe up with and prefomed with in the 70's.

This article is terrible. Not only is it poorly written, but crass (I think he was trying to be funny?). The journalist obviously has no background in DCI and doesn't understand the concept of any of the shows. Looks like he was assigned a story he didn't want and half-assed it instead of writing an article worth reading that reflected all the hard work and passion that goes into even one of these productions. Leave the Drum Corps reporting to the enthusiasts.


Sorry I did mean Blue Devils for the winners not Blue Knights

If you can't say something nice, don't say something at all. I agree with Mat. You saw what you wanted to see. As far as the lady in the theater, what does she have to do with the Corps. Scary Shows? You mean Dark... Music, since the beginning of time has a Dark side. Not all music written is uplifting. There needs to be a little bit of every kind demonstrated on the field. It take all kinds to make a show, but that does not reflect on the Corps individually. Did you not see anything in each of the performances, by individual students. These young people are given a show to learn, that show is constantly changing, they Practice in the hot sun for 14 hours a day, everyday, even on show days they practice in the mornings before a competition. Their bodies are worn out yet they get up each day and do it all over again. The Hard work, determination, friendships, hardships, emotion. These people all under the age of 21, made a commitment to their group, and to themselves and worked all summer to make it happen. Just because your particular taste was not represented on the field is no reason to throw all their hard work out the door. Please give some consideration and credit to the hard work of the students. I guess they could have just sat at home and played XBox all summer for all the credit you give them.

I was there for the finals in Indianapolis, front and center 6 rows up on the 50 yard line. I too was deeply disturbed by the over use of synthesizers. It would seem that the corps that uses the most synthesizer wins... at least that is my opinion. Why even have contrabasses if you are going to cover up their sound by synthesized subwoofers? What's next, electric guitars, smog machines and lazer lights?
I guess you could call me old fashioned since I marched in 88 and again in 89, but I really think there needs to be rules set for marching. There is simply too much horn line dancing, running, rolling, etc. How can you judge that??? And how can you compare a corps that values true marching to that sort of thing. Unbelievable!
Nice job by all those very hard working kids that participated! I think you did the best job with what is given these days. It is a shame that DCI rules and trends have gone in what is my opinion, the wrong direction.

irst I find it interesting that some actual organization would allow you to critique an activity as thought you were some type of expert on something that you know nothing about and didn't bother to research before you left your "opinion". I guess it just shows how desperate some businesses are to be noticed on-line or in print.

It is people like you who demean the young people who give their blood, sweat & tears along with a financial commitment to an activity like this. You need to know that members of these organizations only get the applause that a grateful audiences gives to them. I realize that the "$18 Bucks" you plunked down to view this activity in a theater was re-imbrued by your company, but far too many people live to see the event once a year because they can not afford to drive to see the event in person.

You offend so many people on so many levels. I highly doubt that you have the physical stamina or the drive to accomplish what these kids and chaperones do day after day for the entire summer not to mention the time it takes to learn to do what they do throughout the year.

As long as "we" are voicing opinions, I would have to doubt that I as one would not be interested in what you have to say on a regular basis because it is just that with you - an opinion, no knowledge or appreciation for an art form. I am sure that anything different escapes you in every subject because you fear change and anything that might be different or avante guard.

I suggest you find out the history and the evolution about drum and bugle corps. Did you know that it was started around the 1st World War in many local communities? OR that during the 50's thru the 70's there were hundreds, YES HUNDREDS of small corps that were kept alive by interested adults that were completely volunteers because the kids needed creative activities? Did you know that as it evolved, it produced a National Broadway show - you may or may not have ever heard of "BLAST", but because it is not a football game maybe I am giving you too much credit. This are a few brief highlights of this activity. I remember people like you when I marched years ago. You were the one of those bullies in school that tried to make other kids feel bad because they were actually talented and you were not. Thankfully this activity that you refer to as scary has talented young people interested in moving forward with the electronic equipment on a football field and the "dancers" whom you think only flop around on the football field, you need to know it is these young people who will evolve Drum and Bugle corps into the next stage of it's evolution and the legacy that has gone on before them. Whereas, this little article that you have been compelled (or assigned and am not sure which option) to write will disappear and no one will remember that you even were any type of a "writer".

And because you rely so much on opinions here is my opinion, I think you might check out a good community college for some writing lessons to see how to do research on a story. And by the way don't be scared almost NO COMMUNITY COLLEGES HAVE A BAND OR DRUM & BUGLE CORPS.

I agree much of DCI is way too artsy Fartsy now but did you see the MADISON SCOUTS? That's how drum corps is done!

I understand the issue with the use of electronics, but maybe (this is geared toward Tony) you were sitting too low. After all, row 6 is not situated very high up, and when the brass are performing properly, they have their bells pointed far above row 6. I played in the pit for one of the corps this past summer, and I know that we dealt with a lot of issues dealing with balance and whether or not we're overpowering the rest of the corps. My parents came to the Houston show and sat low, around row 6, and said the electronics were far too loud. The next night they came to the Dallas show, and sat farther up. They said it was much more balanced and enjoyable.

The only true earmark of drum corps anymore is a bunch of snotty people kvetching and looking down their noses at everyone and everything. Quick! Crucify the author for not liking something or not getting it! Truly he is not as smart as all us totally awesome people hiding behind the internet. :)

As a member of the Cavaliers I would like to take a moment to educate instead of tear down this writer. I'm sorry that you went into this experience with preconcieved notions about what drum corps was going to be. Let that be your first lesson when you are a witness to art: start with an open mind. I believe this is where all of the issues with this experience.

As far as the shows reflecting the times, yes, you are spot on! I don't know how much background you have in art but that's what art does; art attempts to point out the problems with society, check our paintings during the plague or music and movies from the depression.

The "flash" that so upset you, is the exact thing that has taken drum corps from a solely youth activity to the status of an athletic art. The flags, rifles, sabres, props etc. all add to what is known as general effect. In this activity, the group with the best general effect tends to be the winner. Also, the synthesised music and other sounds are a very recent addition to the activity.

All in all, it comes down to not having expections based on zero previous experience. And we definately should not judge based on those expectations. So please, next time you attend a new experience for you, allow yourself to be completely open minded.

How dare you!!!!!! Do you realize how many youth are affected by your thoughtless should be ashamed of yourself!!!!

Whether or not you like or appreciate the article or the writer's point of view, the fact is that this is how most of the general public who's not really familiar with drum and bugle corps is going to view the activity if they go to either a live show or the theater showing of quarterfinals. They're going to see the amps and electronics, they're going to read about the themes of the shows, they're going to hear John Adams and Philip Glass, they're going to muse about why there's so much glitter and bling and so little for Joe the Fan to enjoy, and regardless of how professional music educators like me might feel about that music or those deep themes, they're not likely to come back for a second helping, especially if their most recent exposure to drum corps before that actually emphasized drums and brass. And sadly, many folks don't know the difference between DCI/junior corps and DCA/all-age corps, so DCA, which doesn't (yet?) allow the amplification or emphasize the "bling" will suffer from the loss of fans as well, even though most of those programs are high-quality full-on percussion, brass, and auxiliary without all the extraneous bells and whistles in most cases.

I feel not only for the kids who work their backsides off to bring these shows to fruition, but for future youth who may not get the chance if the activity continues to devolve, not to mention the fans who have to go further and further afield to find drum corps they truly enjoy. It's an entire summer of full-time rehearsal for DCI corps, and an entire summer of full-on weekends for all-age corps, to put on these productions, and a lot of folks only see the shows and don't "get" the work that goes into them - they see what the system endorses and what the corps' staffs come up with to feed the system and garner points - but not necessarily fans.

You, Mike Danahey have no idea what drum and bugle corps are about. What an insulting commentary you wrote. I did not appreciate your negativity or poor excuse for humor. Do us all a favor and never comment on DCI events,drills, music, artistry, athleticism, costumes , flags or anything else related drum and bugle corps.A writer cannot express a commentary on something they no nothing about!!

A couple of notes -

- "drill team members"
They are called "color guard", or just "guard".

- "Dancing loses something on a football field, but what do I know?"
I'd suggest googling "color guard". Lots of good information online.

How about catching a few DCI shows next summer, in person? It really is better live. There will be a schedule at In addition, you could catch a couple of winter guard shows ( These activities, and indoor percussion, have thousands of participants and many more times that number of fans. Come join us.

Nice work, Danahey. From an objective view point, you scored 100.0!

Drum Corps Fan, since 1966.

Facts your readers may find interesting.. Members of these Corps are 16 to 21 years of age. Members are selected in a rigorous multi-weekend pre-season audition process, called "camps". Prospective members pay a fee to attend camps. The members talented enough to be selected pay to participate for the season. Fees vary by Corps; my understanding is $2,000-$3,000. Maybe there are Corps members who can shed light on that amount. The season itself begins in May (The Cavaliers, for example, started May 21). The season ends with Finals, this year August 14.

are you taking pills to help your crazyness? dude, its just drumcorps, if u dont like it, dont go watch it!

Bingo John - I really find some of these comments insufferable.

So the author should not be permitted to offer initial or "outsider" impressions without first going through some sort of indoctrination process? He's not allowed make ANY negative observations because the kids and staff have worked SO HARD and might suffer emotional damage?

This kind of insecurity masked as elitism is truly one of the major turn-offs in drum corp. It also helps kill any dialogue on how the audience for the activity might be expanded.

Seriously folks, take a breath and get a life.

I am not sure what is more disturbing. The fact that the writer seems to have no concept of the level of dedication and difficulty involved in every drum corps show or the fact that he called the guard a 'drill team' and the corps a 'band'. It would be a good idea to educate yourself on the history of DCI. There are always going to be shows and evolutions in DCI we love and some we don't. This writer clearly has no idea the hard work and dedication it takes to be involved in the drum corps activity. Being a marching member takes a level of skill and dedication few can only imagine. This article is a slap in the face to everyone involved in the activity. There may be shows I don't care for but I would never have the nerve to put down a show as this writer has done.

Wow. Some of these comments are reminding me what I DON'T like about the activity.

So the author should not be permitted to offer initial or "outsider" impressions without first going through some sort of indoctrination process? He's not allowed make ANY negative observations because the kids and staff have worked SO HARD and might suffer emotional damage? And then you're going to educate him on the nature of art?

This kind of insecurity masquerading as elitism is one of the major turn-offs in drum corps. It also helps kill any dialogue with individuals outside the activity who might, one day, become fans and supporters.

Seriously folks, take a breath and lighten up.

I think the man is saying what a lot of us already know but don't want to admit. The activity has changed and I can't say that it is all for the better. Please don't rip me for not giving credit to the work the kids isn't about that. But instead, it is about the programs the staffs are developing and asking these "kids" to perform. These young people are amazingly talented performers; to that point there is no argument.

But frankly i know people that have no interest in seeing another show because the programs are unrecognizeable, lack real entertainment value, and are overdone with guard, costumes, and equipment (some of which comes across us just plain silly). And let's face it, at the ticket prices that are commanded, one really has to think about plunking down the cash to attend even as a hard-core fan. Not to mention getting the "uninitiated" to part with $35-$50, or more.

I'll probably skip the local show next year. Save for 2 or 3 performances of the top 8, I would have preferred to have been home watching the baseball games I missed in order to attend and had the $150+ still in my pocket at the end of the night. And I passed on the theatre event, by the way...not much to go and see second time around.

I found this review rather intriguing. If I wasn't familiar with drum corps, and I was in my teens or twenties, I would want to go see a show after reading this. Anything described as "dark," "scary," "haunting" and any mention of Heath Ledger and his Joker portrayal is going to bring young people in. Most kids aren't going to be interested at the mention of Gershwin and the like. They can learn to like that later.

If you want to know what the Senior Corps are up to, you'll have to come to Rochester, Labor Day weekend. We don't get satellite coverage!

...DG...nails it for sure...lighten up..The man does not really know about drum corps...give the man a break...for he does not know of the sweat...pain...blood...etc... thats goes into drum corp life...Enlighten him, don't brand him as a fool and question his job as a writer...That is his bread and paycheck.....

I must chuckle at the expressions of outrage I'm reading from certain responders here who are angry that a person from outside of the activity has this take on DCI. This folks is what the more traditional people in the Drum Corps activity have been warning of for a couple decades now.

I too would have loved to read the authors take on Madison or any of the bottom 4 who largely eschew the artsy fartsy self important silliness the brain trust in DCI has us all fooled into believing is entertainment.

Thanks to anyone who took the time to post a comment.
First, apologies for calling the color guard a drill team. And a corps a band. You can be called what you want to be called no matter the similarities one might have to the other.
Second, I have been to DCI Shows. I enjoy the musicianship and the wall of sound coming at you. I realize it's a lot of work and bears similarities to The Myth of Sisyphus in that the corps works on perfecting one relatively short performance all season. I didn't say it wasn't hard work.
However, in a lot of pop culture (both high and low) these days there's all sorts of sizzle to be had with the steak. There's this constant need to over stimulate the senses. Spectacle. Props. Special Effects. Dazzle. 3D. Avatar (which I found beyond silly).
Thus, I stand by my observation that drum corps now is somewhere between Lady Gaga and a MOMA performance art piece. DCI shows are part and parcel of the times. (See the link to the CNN article for further proof of that).
And if these corps are attempting art, fine. And I never said art had to soothe. But art can be fun, too. Sometimes attempts at high art are sublime - other times they turn into Spinal Tap.
From some of the above comments, though, and from comments I heard interviewees make during the theater- cast, I sense there may be a rift in people who appreciate DCI shows, too.
But if an outsider like myself is dismissed as a philistine, if you take an "how dare you" approach to what I had to say, well how do you grow your art beyond its base?
And if you do think I didn't get it - and leave it at that - well you didn't exactly explain what I wasn't getting in the shows I discussed.
Anyway, it's nice to see a dialogue like this. And this being the Internet, it was nice to see it remain relatively civilized.

Actually, this kind of feedback is needed if drum corps has any chance to survive.

First, he paid his $18, watched the show then wrote an article on HIS point of view.

Second, I hate to break it to some here but Drum Corps ARE bands and always have been (it's boggles the sane mind to even have to explain this to people that supposedly "know"). There used to be a distinct difference between the two Drum Corps being a type of band) but now there is woodwinds and brass bands have been around longer than drum corps so the author is completely correct and other are INCORRECT thinking that drum corps is somehow not a marching band.

Third, the guards today do tend to "flop around" on the ground a lot without doing any sort of equipment work. It's taken right from the WGI playbook and again the writer is dead on. Most of it looks forced, unprofessional and used as a crutch to not do work that can be properly judged...and I have nothing against dance or "shudders at this ignorant term" "body" is well done.

Fourth, he doesn't like the synth sounds....well that could cover a lot of people in this world in and out of the activity..again dead on.

In conclusion, I think the writer is doing a great service to give a view that is honest and from an outside point of view. Another great point is pointing out to people in the activity, that are so close to the problem, they can't see the forest through the trees. The activity is so introverted to begin with, that it can't begin to understand what regular people like or dislike. If you agree with everything you are "enlightened" if you don't then you are "ignorant". Isn't what drum has evolved to just GREAT!?

You mean Blue Devils not Blue Knights

Stevon, I'm sorry you didn't like the show review. This is as percieved by a non drum corps fan. THESE FANs, or non fans, are who DCI is trying to market to. You said "Leave the Drum Corps reporting to the enthusiasts". Then DCI should worry about attarcting more dc fans and leave those others who are not alone, but its about money and these are who DCI is trying to reach. Many current and legacy fans don't understand or like corps direction so DCI must a way to increase fan base.

HAHA. Finally, the internet is busting this beast wide open.
I like hearing all viewpoints. I was a hard core (or should I say CORPS) drum and BUGLE corps fanatic, alum having marched in the 80's, until I finally said enough is enough and called 2006 my last finals due to some really stupid moves by DCI and the design groups of these corps.
Once corps started writing music around the visual it was all over for me. Once corps added three valves and the music actually got simpler rather than more difficult, I had enough. Never thought musical scores would simplify with more notes available with 3 valves! Oh yeah! Silly me! you can now play the lower octave scales!
No minced words here. The Phantom Regiment comment is very creative, although I did cringe at that one.

I understand you are hurt by what this writer said. But let's clear one thing up. DCI did not evolve into Blast. Star of Indiana evolved into Blast. DCI had nothing to do with it, thank GOD.

If DCI could do half as good of job at evolving as Star did, I'd personally be a much happier drum and bugle corps fan myself.

That's the whole point of this article, not to slam the kids, but to ask the question what is the point of some of the things that are being blindly accepted these days by the relatively small percent of the population that still follows DCI?

Scathing. But deservedly so. Thanks Emily. Wake up, DCI. Don't think this article is directed at the marching members personally, so don't make it something it's not.
Oh, and DCI, maybe you can figure out a way to return some of the gate receipts to offset the 2-3k marching members now shell out to participate in this activity, whatever it has become. Lucas Oil stadium? Is that really necessary? Really?

Two articles in two days I've read with negative press for DCI. Acheson and crew, you listening?

When I was a young lad growing up in Bergenfield, New Jersey in the 60s drum and bugle corps like the Garfield Cadets and Hawthorne Caballeros marched to very different drummers then.
Their sponsors were VFW or American Legion posts and their pedigree was military in the style of West Point and Annapolis. The marching and maneuvering provided coordinated sights that matched their military Sousa like music and one often got chills up their spine listing to the rousing and powerful music they blasted out.
Today’s DCI has evolved into a close nit sub culture of Hollywood, Broadway influenced directors, managers and musical coaches who apparently shun military style anything and want to create a unique genre that in my opinion has failed miserably.
One of the reasons given for not playing music any of us would recognize stems from copy write laws which demands payment for some of the music available for a corps to perform. I think it’s the fact that these corps pay top dollar for music arrangement and those arranging want to do something unique.
As the years passed, the entire sport has fallen into a spiraling “can you top this” competition among team managers and has managed dig itself into a creative hole that has fewer and fewer supporters while operating budgets go through the roof.
The victims of the corps departure from their military roots are the kids who pay dearly in money, talent, and time for the opportunity to perform at such high levels without getting the recognition they deserve because of the esoteric unfulfilling nature of the music.
I long for the days when a corps like the Blue Devils would again perform and march to military music like: The Stars and Stripes Forever, Washington Post, Semper Fidelis, El Capitan, The Thunderer, King Cotton March, American Salute, Victory at Sea, and the always stirring National Emblem.

Your piece about the DCI contest was forwarded on Facebook by a long time drum corps member from Stockton, California and after considering your words I agree with your assessment of what you saw and heard.
When I was a young lad growing up in Bergenfield, New Jersey in the 60s drum and bugle corps like the Garfield Cadets and Hawthorne Caballeros marched to very different drummers then.
Their sponsors were VFW or American Legion posts and their pedigree was military in the style of West Point and Annapolis. The marching and maneuvering provided coordinated sights that matched their military Sousa like music and one often got chills up their spine listing to the rousing and powerful music they blasted out.
Today’s DCI has evolved into a close nit sub culture of Hollywood, Broadway influenced directors, managers and musical coaches who apparently shun military style anything and want to create a unique genre that in my opinion has failed miserably.
One of the reasons given for not playing music any of us would recognize stems from copy write laws which demands payment for some of the music available for a corps to perform. I think it’s the fact that these corps pay top dollar for music arrangement and those arranging want to do something unique.
As the years passed, the entire sport has fallen into a spiraling “can you top this” competition among team managers and has managed dig itself into a creative hole that has fewer and fewer supporters while operating budgets go through the roof.
The victims of the corps departure from their military roots are the kids who pay dearly in money, talent, and time for the opportunity to perform at such high levels without getting the recognition they deserve because of the esoteric unfulfilling nature of the music.
I long for the days when a corps like the Blue Devils would again perform and march to military music like: The Stars and Stripes Forever, Washington Post, Semper Fidelis, El Capitan, The Thunderer, King Cotton March, American Salute, Victory at Sea, and the always stirring National Emblem.

To those of you who complain (endlessly) about how the activity isn't what it used to be... Why are you so resistant to change? Everything does and must evolve as time passes. I can't think of a single thing in this world that hasn't gone through the same life cycle that DCI has gone through. Stop being so attached to the way DCI was when you first discovered it - I am sure there were a bunch of people at that time who were complaining about how much it had changed since they discovered it. Non-symmetrical drill formations!!?? How dare they??

I have been a fan since the late 80's and I have enjoyed watching how the activity has evolved. Some changes I like more than others, but all of it I can appreciate. I also enjoy watching the shows before my era to see how much things have changed since then.

Stop complaining. It's not good for anything. Things are never going to go back to the way they were. Either find a way to learn to enjoy the current version of DCI, or find another activity to follow.

I really don't understand the reason why people have to look at the worst in everything. Drum Corps is an awesome activity, sure there are negitive ways of looking at anything. You might descibe Niagra Falls as a stupid waterfall that will fade away after a few more thousand years, so why even bother to look at it.

In my 20 plus years in this activity I have been exposed to some of the greatest musicians in the world, have made many lifelong friends, and have learned work ethic that I only dream that others had.

Lets look at positive aspects for once and maybe the world will be a better place.

Mr. Danahey, Thank you very much for your reflection on our little "hobby". While I disagree with some of your impressions your viewpoint is offered at a time when Drum Corps is, again, trying to find its identity. You (the un-educated/unfamiliar) are the target market for the activity's expansion plans, and your opinions SHOULD be read and re-read to the G7 corps (see the referenced CNN article), even if hog-tying and gagging them is necessary to get them to finally listen. Though it's hard to call your one opinion a proxy on artistic, marching music taste, yours seems an honest one that matches very closely to a significant number of past and present fans.

DCI is "owned" and run by the members corps; the G7 corps that you reviewed have largely been responsible for the shift in the activity's performance design in the last decade or more. It is the G7 who are primarily responsible for your feelings upon watching "our" show of quarters. It is they who are most deserving of your opinion's wrath.

Luckily, and recently, the G7 got too big for their collective britches and attempted a takeover of DCI to push the activity further towards their Broadway/Hollywood Super-Duper Extravaganza vision of this classic youth activity. Fortunately the founders of the current idiom had the foresight to provide a means to stop the coup via the by-laws. Although the activity is now in much stronger hands as a result I'm hopeful that your review is passed on to the new leaders as an example of how a layman views our niche; you are the target audience, after all!

I thank you for your opinion and, now that the activity has rescued itself from the extravaganza-centric G7 I see much better things on the horizon. I hope you can hold your nose enough to come back next year and judge the changes that are planned. Oh, and there's an "at-large" board of directors seat that still vacant...perhaps you'd consider throwing your hat into that ring?

It seems that so many of you acolytes of the activity are missing a very important factor here. But before I get to that, lets' look at this......

He is a reporter and to the best of what I can see, he had no hidden agenda. He wrote about what he felt, what he saw and what he experienced as an outsider.

For years and years now DCI, as an organization has been desperately attempting to reach the mainstream public. Anyone who disagrees with that, take your collective heads out of the sand. Useless, rediculous blurbs and spin have been put out there in order to accomplish this & none have seen any success AT ALL. "Art that moves", trust me , it's not really art & the art crowd out there hasn't taken any notice. "Broadway on a football field", let's be realistic here, it didn't attract the millions who flock to NYC to see a show either. (After being seen on ESPN), they put in print "We are no longer the 1/2 time, we are now the game". Really? Which game is that? Marching Musics "Major League"? WGI's attempt at using the word Olympics & currently the G7's use of World Series of Drum Corps. All have, or will fail.

So here we have a legitimate member of the press, that so called member of the general public the activity has been so relentlessly pursuing - he puts out his thoughts on his experience. And now, most of you have your panties up in a bunch because he didn't see what you saw, didn't get what you got and you're all over him as if he's the coming of the anti christ.

Personally, I don't even think he was speaking of the kids themselves. I simply saw his overview of the activity from an entertainment point of view. And in that, he was pretty spot on. Imagine, if with his experience as a reporter actually knew of all the crap that's gone down over the years and all the crap that's going down right now as we speak ! Nor was he there to write about the hard work, friendships, determination etc. He was there to write about the entertainment value of the overall shows.

Writing a fluff piece just because the kids work hard all summer is worthless and it's in no way the "real world". The activity isn't real world - it exists in it's very own bubble. You want constant fluff? Go to the DCI website, there's plenty of that there for you. Or read Drum Corps World.

Just imagine his observation of the activity if he'd known that under the helm of DCI, literally 100's of Crops are now dead & buried with barely 40 now in operation.

So now ya got a "real life" general public, observation.

And lastly, for those of you who actually believe that it's all about the kids? Think again.

And for the record, just so you know, I have a fairly decent idea of what I speak. Chances are, I've been around longer than most of you and am an alumnus of a numerous World Champion Corps myself.

Mike Danahey- Sorry, but this is a topic you should have passed on. If you do not have enough research on a certain topic, then perhaps you should let the professionals of Drum Corps write on the matter.

Mat, Cathy, Debi Coop, Tony- Dead on. A personal opinion from an uneducated writer on the matter.

Stevon, Geri Burger- Can not comment extremely on your post, but I can not disagree with it At All.

MD- Obviously drum corps is not your deal. Perhaps you should also leave drum corps to drum corps representatives. There are people paid to write good and bad about the performances based off their knowledge. Let them deal with it. And read my comment below to Dead on.

DEAD ON- Wrong. Sorry but Drum Corps is not a band at all. It has been clearly stated that they both originated from one point, but clearly there is an extreme difference between Drum Corps and bands that march. If you need any references, look it up online. is a great place to start. In accordance to the WGI handbook, the basis of the choreography is still to promote the basis of whatever the show is. It is choreography, and to dumb it down by calling it "flip flopping" around is demeaning to the performers as it is demeaning to call corps, bands. To have someone write an article about this without marching it or researching it in depth is like having a politician or bank representative discussing Tchaikovsky and his writings.

Mikey- Correct

JohnBD- As the old saying goes, "Oh the horn is heavy? Well you picked the horn!" If you pay to march a 2k-3k corps, you get your moneys worth through that. If you don't want to pay that then you don't have to march it. But if you do, then expect to get the marching experience and memories from it because you really aren't going to get much else.

Overall, yes I understand it is an objective outsider opinion; however, it is an ignorant opinion on a matter that is a very touchy subject already with many quarrels. The subject itself is from a writer who is not familiar with the activity and therefore his opinion on the matter is really irrelevant. It is not written perfectly, (but what is), by his use of phrases to describe some things that are quite obvious to people who have been there. Honestly, the article itself should be pushed aside and people should open the real articles by those who marched, have had experience, or those who have researched it for a very long time. You can not learn everything about an entire culture in one night, so you can not judge this kind of culture that you learned in one night.


Change for change's sake is at best ignorant at worst woefully negligent. In fact, if you simply look at what this country has been in for lately was because of "change" without thought or contemplation to what we were doing, but I digress.

Evolution of drum corps would be a better idea rather than making forced decisions solely based on corporate interests and/or lobbying. It also looks as though some individuals in DCI looking to have his ideas carried out despite the realities involved based on this flawed business plan for the activity as a whole.

Trying to put a positive spin on current DCI models of what they think drum corps is not facing a certain reality that SOME (G-7) want to pull out if demands aren't met. The funny/sad thing is that THIS is the mess THEY made to begin with. Houston we have a problem but, lets be positive and put out collective heads in our a.. sand box and just be aware that the kids are working hard and even though YOU don't understand whats going on rest assured your ignorance doesn't make it not wonderful and awesome! Puke....

I've read it all...article and comments. The article is what it person's uneducated mostly negative opinion without any commentary that he knew anything at all about the activity. Thus, the article has very little value...other than he'll continue to get assigments of this nature because he created a cyberstorm. As for the comments...they are much more valuable than the article. The comments are quiet balanced positive and negative and the suggestion that DCI take a look is a good one.

A couple of things to point out, though. Make note that DCI is a corporation that produces and manages competitions. They've always done a spectacular job in this role. Dan Acheson works at the pleasure of the board. He makes no decision with regards to programming, musical selection or choreographic choices. DCI has never done that. The DCI Board of Directors and the Executive Committee make the decisions with regards to rules and fiduciary responsibility. Who's on these boards? Corps directors and "four at-large (unaffliated) members". And still, the board nor committee make the afore mentioned choices. However, the board does make decisions clearly based on what they think is best for their own personal/corporate gain i.e. "what will win".

One can post all day about how it used to be but just like we'll never go back to rotary phones...the activity will never go back to the days of VFW and American Legion. I saw my first live performance at The Bluegrass Nationals in Lexington, KY in 1974. I marched Cavaliers in 1978 and again with the alumni corps in 2008. I've performed, taught and adjudicated at all levels of the activity. It's a living, growing activity. It has changed dramatically since 1974...but so have I...we've both grown older and have attempted to stay in the mainstream of things that attract young people to a youth organization.

And that's my second's a youth organization. It is and always will be about the young people. And, yes, the artist that design for the activity are often self-centered and get in the way...but mostly it's about the performer, commraderie or fraternity. As Jason and Dan have said...if you like what the young people have to offer applaud them, contribute to them physically or fiscally and let them know how proud you are that they've chosen to better themselves instead being cyberbullies or crackheads. If you don't like the direction they and their directors and designers are going...simply find an organization that you do enjoy and support it. And, keep in mind it may not be drum corps that needs to change...consider standing a bit closer to the mirror.

The young people participating in the activity today are the fans of tomorrow. If DCI is struggling financially today...well what youth organization isn't. This too shall pass. The one positive for todays drum corps performer is that they are much more forward thinking that those that came before them. They are of a generation that is constantly trying to make anything they touch perform at a higher level with regards to energy, aesthetics and function. They will never be satisfied with the status quo. While they often overlook emotional stimuli...they make up for it in the intellectual process. Of course, that's what the drum corps "fans" of yesterday love to hate. Nevertheless, I'm a huge fan of the young people of the activity and their work ethic. With Drum Corps International in their hands...the activity has a very bright future.

To all the drum corps people here getting snooty over terms and how he isn't seeing things in the proper light you think he should be: THAT IS THE ENTIRE PROBLEM. If a random person sits down and can't make heads or tails out of a show, don't you think maybe, just maybe, it's time to rethink the way shows are being done? Or is it just that he's too dang stupid to know what he actually likes?

Oh my god people, it's just marching band.

Oh how I long for Giannini 3rd, or Cats or Rocky Point Holiday or Crown Imperial or In the Stone or Pagliacci or Nutville or La Fiesta or 1812....

My beloved DCI is now unrecognizeable- golf clap. Crickets.

If you are looking for art, go to a freekin' art museum for cryin out loud.

You don't have to explain to me what evolution is in drum and bugle corps, that stopped pretty much when the three valved bugles came onto the scene(now that's perplexing).

Drum lines are the only thing that has maintained somewhat of an entertainment factor in spite of the elimination of drum features....

Now DCI looks like nothing more than a group up to twenty something marching member Bands of America- only difference being limited to a smaller amount of marching members on the field in DCI. Some of the larger member H.S. BOA bands are more entertaining than DCI finalists... time for a new organization to run the joint.... happened when DCI was created in '72, we're once again on the cusp of seeing a new organization concerned with saving and evolving-APPROPRIATELY- the activity once again.....

To those of us who see what we want to see I say "Bravo". At the very least we aren't brainwashed by or with someone else's delusions and hallucinations. If we don't like what we see we'll obviously look elsewhere. Then what will g7 do? Quite honestly I think your drum is a little out of tune.

I love Lady GAGA because she have funny face .

There’s no need to go sideways on the issue of where drum corps has been and where it’s going without first looking at how it is received by the general public and how much it has or has not grown over the years.
To me, my drum corps experience is priceless and I can’t imagine anyone who experiences marching in a corps for a summer not want the sport to grow and become more accepted on the world stage.
The question is how can DCI adjust to create worldwide demand for its entertainment value and get the positive exposure its member corps so rightly deserve?
I’ve always thought that a well done documentary film following a typical corps through a season would show the world the true magic of being a member of one of the most demanding, competitive and invigorating sports on earth.
DCI needs to enlist experienced marketing professionals to evaluate the brand called Drum Corps, develop new objectives, strategies and tactics and launch the sport to reach another level and find cleaver ways for it to acquire the respect and admiration it truly deserves.
I’d love to see an international competition with corps from all over the world covered by ESPN like the recent World Cup.
Why can’t this happen?

hahahahahahahah....cheer up! i've been a part of this activity for 8 years. it's a fun activity that teaches good lessons to youth and it is art. it is also not for everyone. I also think some of you are blowing what the writer said out of proportion. i don't think he meant to insult anyone. he was just checking something out at the theater because it looked interesting. now he's going to think that all people involved in the activity are crazy. stop freaking out, people. he was just making an observation. also...for those of you that are freaking out because he used "improper terminology"...get over it! people that get upset about that is something that has bothered me since i was a rookie member. i hate to tell all of you...but drum corps are just a more intense version of marching bands...getting mad at random people for calling it band is childish and immature. you don't sound cooler if you call it a corps. in fact, you probably sound like more of a loser.

band: a group of instrumentalists playing music of a specialized type

sound familiar?

First question for Mike: why do all your reviews have a byline of Emily McFarlan at the top?

I looked at some of his older articles and it seems that his shtick is mostly to do movie "reviews" that kind of sarcastically make fun of the movie. Are some of the things he says about drum corps accurate, although exaggerated? Yes. Did he leave out most of the positives about the performances? Yes. I guess his articles aren't meant to be journalistic reviews, but are "entertainment." It is funnier when you are making fun of Will Ferrell or Angelina Jolie. But I guess that is the risk you take when drum corps wants to be "major league" and be on the big screen.

MD, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!!

You dared to look behind the curtain and see who Oz really is, you dared to observe that the emperor is buck naked, and so forth.

And even worse, you proved to the people mocking your opinion (called "the borg" online) that dinosaurs like me are right by agreeing with us. And even worse, you are supposed to be the fan that this new-and-improved drum corps is trying to reel in, the person who never saw drum corps and is supposed to be dazzled by the glitz and the amps.

Still won't stop the G-7, but at least I know that it's not me.

He saw what he saw, he heard what he heard and said what he said.

I would have respected this article enough not to slam the sarcastic comments if you had at least read up on what the different elements are called. as a writer, the ignorance in this piece is embarrassing.

This is like reviewing a movie based on a true story and slamming the plot line. Write what you know, or learn what you write.

-just another artist

Although news on drum corps is appreciated, this type of "rambling reporting" is not. Aside from the activity having it's own issues to deal with, this isn't exactly helping. It is just fuel for the fire for people who think DCI should quietly fold and go away...this is disappointing.

Stop arguing and just say it....Dahaney, you're an idiot. Educate yourself before you write something.

Dear Bill,
Before you call somebody an idiot, at least make sure you have the correct spelling of his name.

If DCI is trying to get to a mass market and the author is just a person that DCI may be wanting to get to, then maybe they need to take his comments to heart. Clearly the form of DCI today is hard for an outsider to understand as it is not just drum and bugles anymore. Also we sat up high at DCI EAST and the amps are over powering the horns/drums, the amps on the pit make it near impossible to hear the music and I find it very distracting. Yes I marched in the 60's and 70's but I have tried to evolve with the activity however this past season left me blank, notice that the only standing ovations DURING a show was for Madison (at least at DCI East) every other show was rather bland with maybe a few good parts (I did like Cavies rifle bit) but the audience was left emotionless after each performance. DCI needs to listen to their audience and not the music guru's who control the shows. If you want to evolve then listen to people like the author as people want to enjoy the show for face value not have to be educated in what the program means.

Peter | August 18, 2010 1:30 AM | Reply.............

I can only assume you are quite young with no real ties or very much experience in this, or for that matter have much of a sense of the history.

First of all, I seriously doubt you have any idea as to where Drum Corps has been. Secondly, you, of all people certainly don't know where it's going, since the so called experts have even less of a concept of that than you. Thirdly, DCI is not received by the general public AT ALL ! And as much as the activity has supposedly evolved, it has devovled tenfold at the very same time - thus the expression one step forward, 5 steps backwards.

Drum Corps has absolutely no chance of being widely seen or accepted in the world stage nor can DCI adjust to create that. From the early 40's right into the next century, there has been no
"worldwide demand" nor will there be. It's simply a niche activity living in it's very own little corner. Tuff pill to swallow, I know.

There's already been any number of documentaries done, the Troopers being the very first AND it was even narrated by a Hollywood star (at the time). What happened with the general public? Nothing. They've had numerous big time musicians, entertainers, legit sports commentators and such as celebrity announcers at Championships. Where'd that go with the general public? Nowhere. They've also tried numerous amounts of spin, blurbs and buzz words, all designed to click in the heads of general consumers. Didn't work either. The nationwide movie theaters aren't bringing in the public either. Peter? Can you spell "fail"?

DCI cannot, nor will not enlist outside experienced marketing professionals to evaluate - a) they're too stupid to actually take what they'd say seriously, b) too much money, c) they'd reject it outright anyway. But just so you don't feel bad, they did try it once at a judging clinic with a big name Broadway choreographer and her comment was "why are those boys dancing with rifles"?

So there you have yet another outsider, a member of that much coveted general public. Sonny, Drum Corps is not a recognized or generally accepted entertainment entity. And THAT'S precisely the point. The bigger a fantasy world ya live in, the bigger the failure.

And finally, it did have it's Championships on ESPN! So I'll close out with the big 4 letter F word one more time - F A I L.

Know your place kiddies.

To Whom It May Concern;

I've read the article a couple of times and got tired of reading all the emotional "You just don't understand" comments. Can we even call it "Drum and Bugle Corps" anymore? There aren't any bugles, they are fully chromatic instruments. Drums? Every percussive instrument or anything that makes a percussive sound, including garbage cans, has been on the field. Color Guard??? What are they "guarding?" I've heard today's guard compared to "bad ballet" I prefer to think of it as a dance corp. First we amplified the "pit" and now we "electronically enhance" the horns. Similar to a recording studio, we can bring out what we want, or add extra volume to that "Big Push." Until someone comes up with a better name its a Percussion Brass and Dance Corps to me. I thought Mike Dahaney's article was an objective look from an average guy, one of the "paying public" drum corps and DCI is trying to attract. Over the years the line has been blurred between drum corps and band. The things that made drum corps unique have almost been stripped aware to the point that when woodwinds are finally introduced what will the activity be? The Cadets have tried having an announcer(2007) and it failed abismally. In reference to one person's comment, music is totally sujective, the feeling or emotion that one person feels from hearing something may be totally different from anothers. Do we need to be spoon fed as to what we are listening to or feeling? Since the early 60's when "Drum Corps" really started to take off to the point where it is big business today. Many of the top corps have their own music schools to train members. I coached a kid trying to get into the Blue Devils in the 1980's. He made snare, was bumped to bass drum and eventually out as better kids came in. Today, that same drumline may have 2 or three openings for snare and have 500 kids from around the states auditioning for those positions and most if not all are music majors. Same process for horns. Nobody denies the hard work, effort, sacrifice, and of course MONEY it takes to belong to or run a corps. It seems that the activity that I grew up in and still participate(at the High school level) is at another crossroad. Just as Drum Corps broke away from American Legion and VFW in the seventies(who remembers Anton Shletna at A.L. in Dallas announce "From Casper, Wyoming...The CASPERS?" 1971) The corps are poised to break away from the organization they created, the question is will the public be interested or care? As someone also pointed out, you used to be able to watch DCI finals on PBS, then it migrated to ESPN, and now if you don't see it in person be prepared to plunk down some cash in selected theaters across the nation. To all you who whine about all the money it takes, the physical demands, "you don't understand", the sacrifices etc. I started marching in a drum and bell corps in the early 60's and marched with one Legion finalist and taught on DCI finalist. In case you haven't noticed drum corps has evolved.

When I was done reading the article I was PO'd. Who did this guy think he was? Then I started reading the comments, and read them all before posting this.

Mike, thanks for writing from a "regular guy" POV. It may not have been what I wanted to "hear", but it was what it was. And thanks, also, for responding to a couple of comments. You took the time to qualify a few things (having attended previous competitions was a plus), and for correcting your terminolgy.

Now I'll qualify my remarks. I marched drum corps in the first half 70's, taught drum corps in the first half of the 80's, sent my high school students to drum corps ranks in the 70's, 80's and 90's, and founded a junior and an all-age corps in the late 90's and early 00's. I've been involved for 40 years. I've been with a 33rd place corps and a 1st place corps, and helped take an inactive corps to DCI finalist. I feel I've evolved with drum corps along the way. I will admit that I am not a fan of amplification, which in and of itself eliminates electronics as well, but I never liked it in marching band, either.

If what Mike observed is what "Joe Sixpack" is observing, we have a problem. While drum corps may never be totally mainstream entertainment in North America or Internationally, if we want to attract more than alumni, parents and band kids we need to reach them on a base level. Part of that means performing shows that are entertaining. That doesn't mean Sousa marches and popular show tunes necessarily, but it does mean music that can be recalled, that makes an emotional impact that doesn't require therapy.

I don't care what kind of degree the designers and arrangers have if they are leaving people sitting on their hands as a result. Why put a seven figure budget into a year of drum corps when the audience is left scratching their heads? Why live in a bus and sleep on gym floors for golf claps? And, as stated by several other commenters, it isn't the fault of the kids. I say that as someone who has been in the trenches.

A couple of observations of my own, from the theatre experience and about drum corps in general...

Emoting - A waste of time, except for the first ten rows and for the theatre/DVD.

Drumline choreography - Leave it to WGI. There are only so many poses you can do with a snare, tenors or a bass drum strapped to your body. We've seen them all. Next.

Electronics and amplification - As stated above, never a fan. First, it sounds weird in an acoustic setting. I don't think I'd want to bury the bass strings with a fat synth patch in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, either. There are quality issues that may never be able to be fully addressed as the venue changes every night, and the fact that you're using cheap equipment. Ditch it and spend the $$$ on a hotel for finals week. The members will appreciate that more.

The G7 - I'm sending my money to the Sweet 16. Chew on that.

DCI (with out without the G-7) - Take care of your Open Class corps. They work just as hard. Give them a voice. They have some good heads down there, and many are fiscally better off than their World Class colleagues.

Guard - Dance or handle equipment. Trying to do both is doing each one halfway. And I don't care if you can throw a seven if you have to step out of your spot to catch it, or catch it with lousy technique.

Troopers, Academy, Colts, Blue Knights, Madison Scouts, Boston Crusaders, Phantom Regiment, Bluecoats, Cavaliers - Thank you for entertaining me as well as impressing me with your skills.

Glassmen, Blue Stars, Carolina Crown, Cadets - Thanks for holding my attention. You were appreciated. (But Jeffery was kinda creepy.)

Santa Clara Vanguard - You wanted to go in a different direction than 2009, and you sure did. I appreciate your efforts. Now, give Key something to arrange that will pull people out of their seats again.

Blue Devils - It made more sense by finals week, but I have a hard time with a corps that wastes so much talent on a show that elicits golf claps and relegates the musicians as a back-up to the guard. Integration, and less technical hoo-hah in place of melodic line. But you played the heck out of it!

Brass - Can we design a marching horn in Bb/F that doesn't require 25% more players to equal a G bugle line in volume and presence?

The Legacy Fans - We've lost a lot along the way. Most of those are in their prime earning phase, or have more disposable income than the average high school kid. There needs to be more respect and appreciation for their voice, because when they speak with their wallets either the cash registers ring or they don't.

The Current Fans - Thank you for continuing your relationship with drum corps, and I hope you stay long enough to become a Legacy Fan. And I hope your voice is listened to when they try to make drum corps into something you find different.

The Current members - You all rock. Demand a show that makes people want to stand and cheer...after the opening statement, and all through the show!

Bravo, Garry!!! Well said! ...

For the FIRST time in 26 years I have NOT attended a SINGLE, so called, "Drum Corps" contest.

On average, I would spend between $500 - $1000 on Drum Corps shows and merchandise. This year? ... NADA!!!

I appreciate the hard work and all, but if I DON'T get that feeling in the pit of my stomach that says "I gotta be at the stadium to have my soul ripped from my butt because the sound coming into my ears is too much for mere mortals!", then I am not going to plunk down the cash! Heck, I would go as part of a large group of drum corps "nuts"! ... we have since disbanded. All of us too weary of the constant emotional letdown and lack of passion for the activity.

We all derive more satisfaction from watching OLD videos of the shows we liked, up through 2000. (some later than that, but very few).

I have MONEY and would love to SPEND it on drum corps, but the shows today are NOT what we loved about drum corps - music with impact, shows that moved you emotionally, and that "OMG!" factor. (where have all of those wicked "soprano" soloists gone, these days?)

For what we get from drum corps these days, I would rather go to a symphony. At least when I give my "golf clap", it will be appropriate.

2-Valve-G Forever!

great article, how do you feel this will be affected in the future?

many true remarks here, mate.

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This page contains a single entry by Emily McFarlan published on August 16, 2010 12:06 PM.

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