2011 Grand National Championships Review

2011 Grand National Championships Review

Broken Arrow Leaves the Judges No Choice
By Michael Reed and Michael Boo
November 12, 2011
Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN

The Super Bowl is being held in Lucas Oil Stadium only two months after the welcoming confines held the 2011 Music for All Bands of America Grand National Championships. Here’s a warning to those who will be putting on the event: It’s going to have to be an incredibly exciting ball game to match the intensity and excitement of the Prelims, Semi-Finals and Finals at the Music for All Bands of America Grand National Championships.

As always, Yamaha, celebrating the first year of the company’s second half-century in America, presented the four days of events.

After Prelims on Thursday and Friday, the following 33 bands (listed in performance order) advanced into Semi-Finals: Monrovia HS (IN), Adair County HS (KY), LaSalle HS (OH), Milford HS (OH), Rockford HS (MI), Norwin HS (PA), Bourbon County HS (KY), Center Grove HS (IN), Ben Davis HS (IN), Father Ryan HS (TN), Lawrence Central HS (IN), Carmel HS (IN), Spring HS (TX), Lafayette HS (LA), Blue Springs HS (MO), The Woodlands HS (TX), William Mason HS (OH), Western HS (IN), Lake Central HS (IN), Claudia Taylor Johnson HS (TX), Avon HS (IN), O’Fallon HS (IL), Cary HS (NC), Lincoln-Way East HS (IL), Wando HS (SC), Marian Catholic HS (IL), Broken Arrow HS (OK), Union HS (OK), Owasso HS (OK), Central Hardin HS (KY), Jenison HS (MI), Centerville HS (OH), Beechwood HS (KY).

Earlier in the week, the Indianapolis Public School Tournament saw Arsenal Tech HS crowned as the Class A Champion, with Emmerich Manual HS taking Class B honors. Click here to read all about the IPS Tournament.

After the performances of all 33 Semi-Finals bands and the exhibition of the University of Massachusetts Minuteman Marching Band, caption and placement awards were presented to the top bands in each of the four competitive Semi-Finals classes.

In Class A, Beechwood HS won Outstanding Music Performance, Outstanding General Effect and Outstanding Visual Performance honors, with Adair County HS tying for top Visual. Beechwood HS also won 1st place in the class, followed by Adair County HS in 2nd and Monrovia HS in 3rd.

Class AA Outstanding Music Performance, Outstanding Visual Performance and Outstanding General Effect awards all went to Marian Catholic HS, with the band taking the Class A 1st place award, followed by Al Castronovo Esprit de Corps Award winner Father Ryan HS in 2nd place and Bourbon County HS in 3rd place.

In Class AAA, Outstanding Music Performance went to Blue Springs HS and Lafayette HS in a tie, with Lafayette HS taking both Visual and General Effect honors. Lafayette HS won 1st place, followed by Blue Springs HS in 2nd and Norwin HS in 3rd place.

Avon HS (IN) won the Class AAAA Outstanding Music Performance and Visual Performance honors, with Broken Arrow HS taking Outstanding General Effect. Broken Arrow HS took 1st place, with Avon HS in 2nd and The Woodlands HS in 3rd.

Performance order for bands in Finals was announced based on the results of a blind draw. Before the show began, scholarships were presented to some students and the Indiana State University Marching Band performed “Battle Hymn” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Prior to the competing bands taking the field, Beechwood HS (KY) put on an exhibition performance of its Class A Championship show, “Passage of the Warrior,” featuring every section of winds in a flurry of rapid technical passages. The show opened with a Chopin-esque piano solo, followed by some lovely and sonorous strains that contrasted a techno beat feature that ended the show with a lengthy, brash trombone outburst. A most impressive statistic about this band is that its membership is a full 20% of the high school, well above typical numbers.

After Class Champions were recognized from earlier in the day, the 12 Finalist bands performed in random order as determined by a draw.

Broken Arrow HS, 1st place: Grand National Champion: 95.95 Outstanding General Effect Award
Winning its second Grand National Championship (the first was in 2006) and receiving an invitation to the 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade, Broken Arrow HS based much of “Destiny Leaves You No Choice” on the soaring and recurring optimistic strains of Wagner’s “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral.” Musically proclaiming that if something is meant to be, fate will make it happen, the show followed the struggles of a couple in the throes of romance as they struggled to become united. Only destiny eventually brought them together as the woodwinds, while off to the side and playing Evanescence’s “My Immortal,” looked on as male horn players lifted up female guard members, but released them because it just wasn’t meant to be. The rich organ-like sonority of the brass in the final statement of “Elsa’s” was one of those musical moments that lives with one forever, heightening the drama of couples leaving the field together to whispers of the show title.

Avon HS, 2nd place: 95.75
Tie-Outstanding Music Performance Award
Steve Brubaker Outstanding Visual Performance Award
Soon to appear in the 2012 Tournament of Roses Parade for having won last year’s Grand Nationals, the three-time defending Grand National Champions presented “Oddities,” exploring things that are odd in different ways. Granted, Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 4,” performed simultaneously with Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7,” isn’t an odd-numbered symphony, but it helped in “Evening the Odds” and was an oddity in a show about oddities. All around the field in the playful “Odd Man Out,” someone, somewhere, was out of position or wasn’t fitting into the drill form. The baldric sashes of the uniforms were of many different colors at once and also changed colors as the show progressed, the colors caught in the different checkerboard squares of the flags. “Odds and Ends,” to various odd-numbered symphonies, presented continual groupings of winds in odd numbers and the rapid-fire spelling out of odd numerals in the drill that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

Carmel HS, 3rd place: 94.90
Tie-Outstanding Music Performance Award
“Going Viral” explored the various ways something goes viral, like the QR matrix barcodes that served as backdrops, to infectious viruses in both human and computer form. Throughout the show, one person would start something that would quickly be picked up by others, such as a single guard member in fluorescent green “infecting” the rest of the guard, dressed in white but succumbing to the green virus. The same went for musical motifs that spread from soloists to the rest of their section, like the opening trumpet soloist playing an articulated triplet passage and then passing it around to the entire trumpet section, followed by other sections. The wind players all caught the green virus, but managed to shake it off. However, after falling to the ground, it was showed they were re-infected when they stuck their gloves up in the air, which had turned green, just in time to perform the “Double Dream Hands” routine that recently went viral on the Internet.

The Woodlands HS, 4th place: 93.25
“Uninvited” overlaid Alanis Morisette’s pop tune of the same name with orchestral selections by Beethoven, Prokofiev and other symphonic composers. A large number of chairs were employed in the production, moved across the field like so many outcasts being pushed around by the masses. One person in the band was always the odd person out, an outcast, uninvited by the others. One such person, a guard member, remained in her long black coat after the rest of the guard turned into a festival of pink pop art, learning the hard way that in today’s society, image is often more important than substance. At the end of the show, she was finally welcomed into the fold by another member, being allowed to be herself while a vocalist sung the lyrics about being uninvited. With the current national spotlight being shined upon the effects of bullying upon individuals who exist outside the mainstream of popularity, this show was as timely as today’s headlines.

Marian Catholic HS, 5th place: 91.95
“The Passion Tree” was based on the life and death of Christ. In “I-Celebration,” the green leaves of a 3-dimensional tree were echoed as olive branches on the flags, while palm fronds were waved in joyous praise amidst evolving crosses in the drill. “II-Betrayal” saw the flags become crowns of thorns, followed by “III-Arrest and Persecution,” which saw the tree stripped of its branches. In “IV-Crucifixion,” the sound of driven nails loudly dominated the kneeling horn players (in the drill form of a spike) who played blindly without a conductor, their bells resonating just a couple inches off the turf. In “V-Death and Renewal,” a shroud was placed on the barren tree amidst the sounds of a thunderstorm, the band becoming the large stone that rolled away from Christ’s tomb. In victory over death, the tree appeared in full bloom as the music faded and the band laid down and became its branches, a tender and emotional ending that left all in a state of reflection and wonder.

Union HS, 6th place: 90.80
“Juxtaposition” combined disparate elements for wild contrast and shock value. For example, the prim and proper music of Mozart led into the jarring funky baritone saxophone riff and hip-hop guard dance of Tower of Power’s “What is Hip?” Suddenly jumping the centuries, it was as if the band was dragging us along for the ride in a time machine on the fritz. The sadness of the “Pagliacci” opera theme was thrown atop a happy tune, showing what happens when one combines things that by nature resist being united. Several male wind players spun and threw guard equipment, rather than just play their instruments. Of special note was whenever two works were being performed simultaneously, one could clearly hear and appreciate both works. Each wind player ended up wearing a silver guard bottom, further demonstrating the concept of juxtaposition. Then guard members ended up in uniforms matching the winds. By the end, one lost track of who was who and what was what.

Owasso HS, 7th place: 90.70
“The Last Straw” was largely built around “Fix You” by Coldplay, a work that just 24 days earlier was performed live for the audience at the Steve Jobs memorial celebration at Apple headquarters. Some of the guard members were scarecrows and others were crows that were attempting to “fix” the scarecrows, helping the limp beings achieve their freedom by escaping the incarceration of the poles that kept them enslaved. The anger of Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 10” conveyed the intensity of oppression that was foisted upon the scarecrows, who until the end of the show never ventured far from their poles of captivity. The crows achieved their goal and the scarecrows came down from their perches, dancing with the crows in “Fix You” and engaging in rifle work. A contrabassoon feature added a most unusual sound to the fantasy of the visuals, and at the end, the scarecrows had become animated and were enjoying their newfound sense of identity.

Claudia Taylor Johnson HS, 8th place: 89.55
Percy Grainger’s “Lincolnshire Posy: A Collection of Musical Wildflowers,” a modern take on the hallowed standard of symphonic band literature, turned the stadium into a bright arboretum of vivid floral colors that matched the ample harmonic colors of the music. As the show progressed, the flowers (seen as tarps on the field) gradually became more colorful. Some of the earlier flowers were not so bright and happy, as if ready to strike out, but latter flowers brightened the day with a frothy fun of assorted motifs from the suite, coming together as a musical bouquet of glorious acclamation of the delightful power of the folksongs. Flags appeared in the various pieces as if petals of various colored flowers. A twirler clad in yellow helped celebrate “The Brisk Young Sailor” who returned to wed his love, the sailor being the euphonium soloist in the selection that witnessed the band forming a heart and playing “Here Comes the Bride,” which was a sheer delight.

Lawrence Central HS, 9th place: 89.10
Presenting a “Drumatic” program that was a percussionist’s dream, the band turned the field into a giant drumhead with an enormous round white tarp over fifty yards long, with large white strips outside that area representing drumsticks. A stunning total of 24 timpani and guard costumes and flags the same copper color as the timpani were visual focuses that drove the percussive impetus of Philip Glass’ “Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra” and Michael Daugherty’s “Raise the Roof.” The “Mission Impossible” theme kicked off the production, as Glass thought completing his work would be impossible. From the aleatoric musings of a tuba soloist and the evocative effect of amplified flutes in the lowest register, this was a show that challenged the ears as much as the eyes. Performers lay across the backs of other performers while playing their instruments, with the guard tossing timpani hoops in a celebration of the offbeat and unexpected.

William Mason HS, 10th place: 88.50
Just when you thought there is nothing totally new to discover and explore in the world of marching productions, a program like “A Winter’s Solstice” comes along and blows away that perception like a gust of a blizzard’s wind. Snowflakes were seen everywhere—in the opening drill form—as flag designs and sets that became spinning props, keeping frozen the icy crispness of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” A laser light show against the black backdrop of the stadium created the delicate effect of falling snow and thoroughly captivated the audience, as this type of special effect was new to Grand Nationals. The warmth of the band’s sonority cloaked the field in comfort as if sitting in front of a crackling fireplace, the plumes on the band’s shakos shaking off the cold. The band formed a giant snowman as the guard was frozen by ice crystals, with drums stacked in the playful form of a snowman announcing to all that winter should be embraced.   

Lafayette HS, 11th place: 86.40
Morton Gould’s “Concerto for Orchestra” and Elmer Bernstein’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” established the sonic backdrop for “Southern Dawn.” Parasols were often employed to convey the genteelness of the Southern belles who were personified by the guard. Exposed woodwind lines and backfield pink flags caught the rays of the rising sun over the eastern horizon, exemplifying the delicate stirring of the new day as all of nature came alive. With the guard unfurling large hot pink, purple and lavender swing flags, the stirrings of the day instantly became more frenetic, the lush chorale of the winds swelling and ebbing away to a faint whisper. Angry punctuations by the brass brought a sense of stormy aggression to the day, with racehorse-fast drill evolutions locking into the form of a giant umbrella. As the closing notes brought the day to a close, the band spread out across the vista with black umbrellas, pulling a veil of darkness over the spent hours of daylight activity.

Wando HS, 12th place: 86.20
”Daedalus and Icarus: A Metamorphosis” took us on a journey through one of the most famous stories of ancient Greek mythology. A major visual element was the presence of the Labyrinth of Crete that enslaved the Minotaur, complete with vertical bars conveying the sense of imprisonment forced upon its helpless occupants. Intense strains of Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 10” expressed the anger boiling inside the soul of the half man, half bull beast. From the olden elements of a Greek lyre to the contemporary sounds of Blue Man Group-like tube drums, the show spanned the eons with less effort than it took Icarus to fashion his wings of hope. Tarps representing the water of the ocean sprouted forth as a giant silk of the sun sailed by and melted the wings. Ignoring the threatening spears fashioned from the poles of the guard, others donned wings and hovered over their fallen comrade before successfully soaring away from the sun, exiting through the tunnel to carry on the dream of flight.

The 2012 BOA Grand Nationals will be held November 7-10 at Lucas Oil Stadium. Come join us as the stadium welcomes us back for another great weekend of the best entertainment American youth has to offer.

For many years, Michael Reed and Michael Boo have covered a large variety of pageantry events. Michael Reed covers winter guard and indoor marching percussion events for WGI, plus other events for BOA. Michael Boo is the Staff Writer for Drum Corps International and has written for BOA and WGI for much of the existence of the two organizations.