2007 August at John Mackey's Blog



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  • August 13, 2007

    Drum Corps semis, 2007

    This entry is the first with photos hosted on my new Dot Mac gallery. If you click a picture, you’ll be taken to a larger version of that image, with links to the entire gallery.

    On Friday, AEJ and I were guests at the Drum Corps International Semifinals at the Rose Bowl. Good times, as you’ll see. First up, though, we stopped for an early dinner at one of our favorite Pasadena places, Pie ‘n Burger. (I think that’s supposed to be Pie ‘n’ Burger, but I’m not giving grammatical corrections to the guys who work the grill. I’m sure that would lead to either a punch in the eye, or a loogie in the burger.)

    Pie ‘n Burger is awesome. Newman would love this place, which feels like it hasn’t changed in 50 years. (One of the waitresses, in fact, has worked there for more than 40 years.) Oh, if these grease-caked walls could talk. I kind of couldn’t believe that they have a website. They inexplicably have something called the “Lo Cal Plate,” which, in addition to being more expensive than almost anything else on the menu (it’s, like, $8), it doesn’t sound super appealing: beef patty with peaches and cottage cheese and rye. Yeah, I’m gonna pass on that. Instead, I’ll start with a black-and-white malt (vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup) with extra malt…

    … and I’m having it with the cheeseburger. The cheeseburger normally comes with their homemade thousand island dressing, American cheese, pickle, lettuce, and onion, but I have them make it with grilled onions. Wow I love a toasted bun, and you can see that this bun is properly toasted, complete with little crispy bits.

    It was all just fine.

    After stuffing ourselves, it was time to head to the Rose Bowl. DCI took care of our parking, as well as VIP passes so we could go just about anywhere we wanted. Here is something I never, ever thought I’d see. It’s a friggin’ Drum Corps VIP badge with AEJ’s name — and Osti Music — on it.

    When we arrived at the stadium, we walked through the DCI Festival Marketplace, a place to buy drum corps souvenirs and funnel cakes, or sample the Mentos Mint, presumably the official Mento of DCI.

    The Rose Bowl welcomed us.

    We arrived after several of the corps had already performed. (There were 17 corps in the semifinals, and the whole thing runs from 4pm until almost 10pm.) Arriving around 5:30, the first corps we saw was Spirit from JSU. This corps was going to use my piece, “Turning,” in their show, but pulled it. (At least I think they pulled it; we got there too late to hear whether or not there’s a lawsuit coming. I kid because I love!) I’m sorry I missed most of their show; the brief part I saw was very good.

    Next up was (were?) the Colts. Their show included music from everything from Prokofiev (Lieutenant Kije) to Broadway shows (Sunset Boulevard). It even had a princess!

    DCI really did take care of us. In addition to those VIP passes I mentioned…

    … they got us seats in the press box. Here’s a shot of the mountains, as seen from the press box.

    And lest you think the stadium was empty, it wasn’t. Only one side of a stadium is used for seating at a drum corps show. There were tens of thousands of people there.

    The Rose Bowl press box is (as you’d expect) very nice, and it’s pretty cool just knowing you’re in the Rose Bowl’s press box.

    Free WiFi, which was great, allowing me to read about each corps’ rep before they performed — all on this handy site that Montoya told me about. DCI even supplied free water (in DCI-branded water bottles) and other sweet treats. This — and I haven’t even mentioned the air conditioning! — is definitely the way to watch a drum corps show.

    Speaking of the show, let’s get back to it. Corps do all kinds of crazy things with their flags. Here, for example, are butterflies.

    And here are some of my favorite flags of the evening, the flags of the Boston Crusaders, with their show “A Picasso Suite.” AEJ was an art history major in college, and she seemed to enjoy the show quite a lot. I thought the concept was good and well executed, and the music was appropriate and well played.

    Blue period!

    The crowd went crazy for local corps The Santa Clara Vanguard. I have to say, they managed to somehow make Ravel sound pretty good with only brass and percussion — and this was Daphnis and Chloe we’re talkin’ about. Great sound. (That’s a light bulb, right?)

    The next corps was kind of a favorite, I’ll admit: Carolina Crown, with their show, “Triple Crown.” Yeah, okay, it was a pony-themed show. AEJ loves ponies, though, and her enjoyment of this show was contagious. The crowd really couldn’t resist the charm of this one. (Who can resist flags with ponies on them?!)

    The music was Americana, and it was arranged beautifully — seriously, some of the best arranging I heard on Friday. I was totally into their show, and some of it was — and I know we’re talking about drum corps here — but I’d say that moments were… beautiful. Just because I loved them so much, here’s another shot of the corps.

    Next up: all the way from Canton, Ohio, The Bluecoats. This corps had another fun concept (the show was called “Criminal,” or maybe it was “Crimin^l”), and it was impeccably polished. Their music choices included Hummingbrrd by my buddy Steve Bryant. It worked incredibly well, all the more surprising since it was a piece of electronic music consisting only of vocalizations. (Eat your heart out, Bobby McFerrin.) Here, the burglars in the show are sneaking around orange laser beams. Seriously, it totally worked.

    Here’s a whole mess of the burglars. I had a hell of a time getting my camera to recognize this freaky shade of prison orange. The orange costumes were great, though — not only because you could see them so well on the field.

    To demonstrate how important the costumes are, here’s a shot of The Cavaliers. Great corps, and great dancers — but I had a hell of a time seeing them. Granted, I’m old.

    Same corps — but without the gray shirts, and with some bright flags. Makes all the difference. (Their show, by the way, was “Billy Joel: Music of an American Icon.”)

    This is Phantom Regiment‘s closing pose as the end of their show that included both the Flower Duet from Lakme — and the finale of Stravinsky’s Firebird. You probably don’t want those two pieces to meet in a dark alley — Firebird would kick the sh*t out of Lakme — but they managed to make nice on the marching field. (Yeah, it actually worked pretty well. I still want to see those two meet in an alley, though.)

    These are The Cadets. Their show was called, “This I Believe. Truth, Value, and the Personal Experience Called Drum Corps.” They made some damn nice sounds, but I wish there’d been less narration. (I’m usually not the biggest fan of narration over music or dance. I’m lookin’ at you, Copland.) That aside, though, great show.

    And here are The Blue Devils. Their show was absolutely spectacular. Seriously, the music was awesome (largely original by their Music Director and regular arranger, Wayne Downey), and they played the hell out of it. The show didn’t have any gimmicks; it was just about the pure music and the visuals. The control these players have is insane. At one point, the entire brass section was playing together — and that’s a lot of brass players — but they were playing with such delicacy that you could hear the sound of the flags from the field. I’ve only ever seen one DCI show before (blogged in 2005), but this was the best drum corps performance I’ve ever seen, and it had the best drum corps music score I’ve ever heard. It’s no wonder they placed first.

    So, good times all around. My only regret was that the Rose Bowl rules prevented me from bringing my large zoom lens to the stadium — or at least that’s what I understood. In fact, I could have snuck it in pretty easily. If DCI ever gets me all-access again (hint, hint), I’ll do better next time.


    August 8, 2007

    Burgers and chairs

    The weather was beautiful (we were a little more fortunate than other parts of the country, it sounds), so AEJ and I cooked out tonight. Burgers…

    … with fries.

    I mentioned the other day that my desk chair had gotten a hole in it, and last night, it kind of got out of control.

    You might need a close-up.

    Yeah, not so good. So this morning, I bought a new chair at a great place in West Hollywood. I went classic with this one, and just got it in plain black.

    Gotta say — it’s pretty nice to sit in a chair without worrying I’m going to tear through the bottom. Am I getting fat?

    One of my favorite bloggers has returned to the blogosphere after 6 months away — Fosco. He’s a great writer — and damn funny. Check out his classic entries about In-n-Out Burger, last year’s Cabrillo Festival (including a mention of Kernis’s attire), the Screech sex tape, and, of course, my all-time-favorite Fosco post. Happy reading.

    Wow. Reviewing Fosco’s entries made me realize how much I’ve been slacking with my blog during his absence. I’ll try harder. I’m going to the Drum Corps International semifinals at the Rose Bowl on Friday evening. I’m pretty sure there’ll be a good entry after that one, even if it’s just pictures of flags thrown in rhythmic precision to the music of Imogen Heap. To quote the timeless humor of cold war comic Yakof Smirnoff, America: what a country.


    August 4, 2007

    The big finish

    I wrote the very, very end of the Sax Concerto yesterday. If it’s possible to play, it’ll be pretty exciting. The biggest challenge will be orchestrating it so that the sax is audible over the wall of sound the rest of the band is throwing in the soloist’s face. Here’s the PDF of roughly the last 30 seconds of the concerto. I still have to write the roughly 3 minutes of music leading up to this. Yes, I wrote the ending first. I figured, in this case, if I could get the ending right, it would be a lot easier to write the stuff leading up to it. Plus, if something ends well, audiences are more forgiving of what might have preceded it, and it’s certainly possible I’ll blow the rest of the movement.

    AEJ and I saw The Bourne Ultimatum last night. Holy hell, that’s a great movie. I hope it makes a zillion dollars. It deserves every penny.

    My desk chair is wearing out. I’ve only had it three years, but it’s getting holes in it, and it squeaks now. AEJ says that she can tell when I’m getting all worked up on something I’m writing (like I was when I was working on the finale), because she can hear my chair squeaking like crazy as I anxiously bounce around. We might have to go chair shopping. I don’t know, though; we know how much I hate shopping.


    August 2, 2007

    You take your shoes off to jump on the trampoline

    The Eastern Music Festival orchestra, under the baton of Christian Knapp, performed “Redline Tango” a few weeks ago. I got the parts back today. Being rented orchestra parts, it’s accepted that the players can write essential information on their part, provided it’s in pencil, and is info that might be helpful to future players of those parts. Often it’s just bowings for the string players, and other times it’s little slashes to indicate where the pulse is within a complex bar.

    Above my name, one of the viola players wrote, “I shall slay this man with my bow.” Funny, I admit, but when I was in school, the viola players were the best — always up for a challenge, and excited to play anything that wasn’t just off-beats or accompaniment.

    When did violists become so wussy?


    Sousaphone Hero

    One of the best Onion stories ever.

    “Despite a catchy 1890s soundtrack and realistic-feeling game play, Sousaphone Hero, the third installment of Activision’s massively popular Guitar Hero video game franchise, sold a mere 52 copies in the United States in its opening week, the company reported Monday.”
    “And if you like multiplayer gaming, you’re in luck,” Hendleman continued. “In Sousaphone Hero’s cooperative marching-band mode, as many as 135 of your friends can play simultaneously.”

    Sousaphone Hero

    I love that the game is rated Teen by ESRB, not Everybody. The whole story is priceless.