Electronics and amplification return among proposed changes to DCI

by Kelly Bitter, DCW editor

The Drum Corps International board of directors will have 12 rules proposals to ponder at their January meeting in Orlando, FL. The proposals, 10 of which were submitted by Youth Education in the Arts Executive Director George Hopkins, include changes in show length, corps size, age requirements, instrumentation and more, including the much-debated suggestion of adding electronics and amplification to drum corps shows.

Electronics and amplification
If Hopkins’s proposal is accepted, beginning in the 2004 season corps will be allowed to use microphones, speakers, mixer boards and other “necessary electronic equipment” to amplify the pit percussion instruments. A marching member of the corps would be required to do the mixing.

Hopkins estimated the initial costs to corps who chose to use electronics and amplification would be $5,000-$10,000. In his proposal, he noted, “There is a cost, but it is not extreme. The Cadets spend $35,000 every three to four years to replace uniforms . . . The use of (this) technology is not mandatory.”

At-large board member Steve Auditore submitted a slightly different proposal that would allow amplification but not electronics. Auditore’s proposal would allow corps to use amplification on “all current legal, non-bell front instruments,” with several limitations, including the following:

* Amplification may not be applied to any instrument that is resident on either a transient or permanent basis in the currently defined pit area, or in a region extending from the outside bounds of the current pit area to the far hash marks
* All microphones must be wireless
* All amplification, mixing, microphone, pick-up and speaker technology must be self-powered
* All amplification and speaker technology must have wheels
* Speakers must reside outside the currently defined pit area
* A mixing board may reside off the field, within five yards of the front of the stands
* The mixing board must be operated during the performance by a corps member
* All amplification configurations must be submitted to DCI prior to use.
* The total suggested retail cost of any amplification system must not exceed $15,000.
* Any sound checks must be done during the time currently allotted for warm-up.

Auditore said in his proposal that this sort of amplification would improve the outdoor usability of instruments that were intended for indoor use and would allow for better musical technique on the instruments.

The $15,000 spending cap was intended to force corps that choose to use amplification to “rely on expertise, rather than simply throwing money at the problem,” Auditore wrote. Based on his research, a wireless, self-powered two-speaker/amp setup with six to eight microphones would be available in that price range.

Last year the board voted against the amplification proposal, 14-5. Corps voting “yes” last year were the Blue Devils, Blue Knights, Boston Crusaders, The Cadets and Crossmen.

Addition of saxophones
Citing the new touring show “Shockwave” as an example of how saxophones can add to the effect of traditional drum corps instrumentation, Hopkins proposed to allow the use of saxophones in drum corps competition. His proposal also pointed out that the addition of this instrument would allow people who don’t play brass instruments to experience drum corps.

“The old fans will hate it; the new fans will love the excitement,” he wrote. “I would hope the old fans will come to love what we can do. Excellence is excellence.”

Time of show
Another proposal by Hopkins suggested increasing the show length from the current requirements of 10-11.5 minutes to 10.5-13 minutes. He said this increase would allow for transitions and would give corps more time to develop their show’s theme.

Corps size
Hopkins also submitted a proposal to increase the maximum size of a corps to 180 members. His reasoning was that corps would be able to “do more with more people” and that if a corps is able to take 180 members instead of 135 it is better for the people who audition for the corps.

Age requirements
The current cut-off date for drum corps members who are turning 22 is June 1. Hopkins has proposed that the date be moved to December 31 of the competitive year, thereby extending eligibility for six months.

“The quality level of drum corps, particularly those within the top eight or so of the activity, attract a far older crowd than years ago,” Hopkins wrote in his proposal. “Attached to this are the number of ‘rook-outs’ — people who only march for one year. Young people find us later, or their skills are such that they cannot perform at the top level until they are of a certain maturity.”

He added that many young people go to college for four and a half or five years, so allowing a person to march at the age of 22 “is not a problem.”

Warm-up elimination/field departure
Another of Hopkins’s proposals suggested that the on-field warm-up be eliminated.

“At the DCI Championships, a five-hour affair, we had performances for 132 minutes, or 44 percent of the time,” Hopkins wrote. “Now, we may not be as slow as a football game — 60 minutes of action in three and a half hours, or action for 28 percent of the time — but we are not that far behind.”

He tied this in to another one of his proposals — to allow the corps to perform on their way off the field. He suggested that rather than departing to a drum tap or a cadence, corps should be allowed to do a reprise or sing their corps song.

“I believe we can leave (the field) without any more disruption than we have now — and we can replace dead time with fun time,” Hopkins wrote.

Division changes
A proposal submitted by Spartans Director Peter LaFlamme and signed by George Hopkins suggested creating an additional world class division to be added to the existing structure. LaFlamme said this would create a new competitive venue for the upper end of division I and would allow specific corps to excel in their programs and offer a higher educational value.

The new grouping of corps would have different rules and guidelines than the existing groups and would “offer more competitiveness and incentive for all corps to have a division to move up to,” LaFlamme wrote.

Boundary violations
Hopkins said that because the current front sideline rule is vague, it causes misunderstandings. He has proposed that these concerns could be resolved by extending the front sideline by 10 feet in front of the actual sideline. No member of the corps (other than the drum major) would be allowed to move past the 10-foot line, but equipment could be placed outside the line.

He also suggested eliminating the timing and penalties judge and allowing the show coordinator to take care of timing and penalties.

Hopkins submitted two proposals related to judging. The first suggested that championship general effect judges be allowed to judge no more than two shows per year and no shows within 21 days of the championships.

“We create shows for the people,” Hopkins wrote. “Many people see us but one time . . . we have effect judges who see us five and six times a year.” Hopkins said as a result of the continued exposure, the judging becomes an analysis of design and performance and the emotion disappears.

His other proposal related to judging was to allow the corps to select the judges for large events rather than having them be selected by the judge administration team as is the current practice. He suggested that corps have voting rights based on their placement the previous year, with corps placing in the top four having five votes, fifth through eight having four votes, ninth through 12th having three votes, 13th through 16th having two votes and 17th on down having one vote. His proposal would allow only full DCI member-corps to vote.

All proposed changes will be discussed and researched during the DCI meeting before the board votes on whether or not to approve them.