Lets begin with a better description of what DCI, or Drum Corps International, actually is. My short-hand answer for this question is that it is professional-level marching band and recently DCI stole my idea and began billing themselves as "Marching Music's Major League." While this definition is enough to get by on, it is not entirely accurate. There are some major differences between marching band and drum and bugle corps. The first one most people notice is that in a drum a bugle corps there are no woodwinds, however the restrictions are much more stringent that just removing the woodwinds. The brass horns must be bell-front and until recently pitched in the key of G. The drum corps itself is made up of up to 135 members and for DCI corps they cannot be above the age of 22. There is a somewhat long but very informative article over at Wikipedia that I suggest you check out if you're interested in learning more about the modern drum and bugle corps. I for one want to get on with the fun beginning with the clown princes of the DCI, the Velvet Knights.
I only saw this corps perform live one time however their flair for the absurd was a welcome break from how seriously many people take DCI. Sadly the Velvet Knights organization folded in 1997. This is a video of their 1992 finals performance, which marked the last time the would appear in the top twelve at the DCI World Finals. The show is titled "Magical Mystery Tour" and features "The Party's Over" from "Bells are Ringing" by Jule Styne, "Trepek" by Tchaikovsky, and "Hungarian Dance No. 2" by Johannes Brahms:
In that performance you may have noticed a moment where VK built to go into "Bottle Dance" from "Fiddler on the Roof," and the crowd reaction was rather enthusiastic. This is a callback to the Velvet Knights 1990 show where they transitioned from the "Jaws" theme into the "Bottle Dance" which in and of itself was a bit of a DCI in-joke as that song is more commonly associated with the Santa Clara Vanguard. In 1990 I assumed that the Velvet Knights were taking a bit of a poke at SCV for incorporating the song into their shows 1972, 1973, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1982, and 1992. (1973 and 1978 were championship years for the Vanguard.)
During the late 80's and early 90's the Santa Clara Vanguard developed a penchant for brining musicals to the field. The pinnacle of this period for the corps was when they won the DCI championship with a record-high cumulative score of 98.80* in 1989. The show they performed this year was a reworking of the previous year's "Phantom of the Opera" show. Sadly the only YouTube video I could find of this show is splint in to two parts and cannot be embedded so here are parts one and two. This victory was not without controversy since some saw it as a species of cheating to perform the same show two years in a row, even if the second show was a complete reworking of the first. Despite their on-field theatrics, such as the unveiling of a MASSIVE Vietnamese flag during their finals performance of "Miss Saigon," Santa Clara Vanguard was unable to recapture the DCI crown until 1999, when they shared the crown with the Blue Devils.
The Blue Devils are one of the premier corps on the circuit although I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of their music. They tend to stick to latin and jazz-influenced shows and while I understand the artistry and musicality of those particular genres, jazz in particular, they just do not appeal to me. Having said that, the Blue Devils consistently have one of the best percussion units in the DCI and their soprano horns can really scream. I was not able to find the show I wanted to include in this line-up (their 1990 performance of selections from Tommy) however if this short warm-up does not make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up then there is no hope for you:
I would also like to point out that they are not in what is considered a power formation.
One of the most profound impacts DCI had on my life is that it forced me to see classical music in a whole new light and the corps primarily responsible for this is the Phantom Regiment, a favorite of FotO Jack. By reworking pieces such as Anton Dvorak's "New World Symphony" and Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" they made the subtleties in the music more obvious to my somewhat untrained ear, which allowed me to better appreciate the music in its symphonic form. Once again I am not able to embed the YouTube videos in this post (making this one of the suckiest YouTubesdays ever) however you can watch their 1989 performance of the New World Symphony, which won a 2006 online poll as the fan's favorite performance of all time, here and here.
The Cavaliers, from Rosemont Il. are working to build a reputation as perhaps one of the greatest corps ever. One of the two remaining all-male corps, the other being the Madison Scouts, the Cavaliers have amassed a total of seven championships since their first in 1992. This includes the second three-peat in DCI history (2000, 2001, and 2002) and the feat of amassing five victories in a decade (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2006) which surpassed the previous mark of four victories in a decade jointly held by The Cadets (1983, 1984, 1985, and 1987) and the Blue Devils (1994, 1996, 1997, and 1999). Here is their show from 2004 titled "007":
The last corps I want to talk about before signing off for the evening is The Cadets. Throughout their history they have been variously know as the Holy Name Cadets, Garfield Cadets, and Cadets of Bergen County, all when they were based out of the Bergen County area of New Jersey which is where my father grew up. From very early in my DCI-watching career they were my favorite corps due to this somewhat tenuous link. Of course the fact that they are one of the best corps has nothing to do with it, having won the DCI championship nine times (1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1998, 2000, and 2005). They were the first corps to pull off a three-peat and currently share the record for the highest score with the 2000 Cavaliers. Unlike some corps, such as the Blue Devils and Phantom Regiment, they do not have a signature sound but rather seem to reinvent themselves with each season, having played music by such diverse talents as Jethro Tull, Leonard Berstein, Aaron Copland, and Bjork. While it is not one of their winning performances, their 1989 "Selections from Les Miserables" remains one of my favorite DCI shows of all time. Sadly like an alarming number of videos in tonight's post, this one has the embedding turned off and has been split in to two parts. You can view part 1 here and part 2 here. In order to get some video in here I went ahead and tracked down the Cadets championship performance of "Selections from Appalachian Spring" in 1987:
And part 2:
* This record would stand until 2002 when the Cavaliers scored a 99.15 which can be viewed here.