Monthly Archives: September 2014

Bluecoats’ 2014 Production: Tilt

The Bluecoats’ 2014 production, Tilt, shifts the field and puts a whole new spin on what it means to perform a drum corps show on a football field.

There is a video on YouTube of their Finals performance, but due to possible licensing complications, I will not post the link here. I encourage you to watch this video, “Bluecoats – “Tilt” [Finals]”.


Overall Score: 97.95

General Effect: 40.00

The purpose of this show is to take the typical idea of what a drum corps production is, and “tilt” it. The Bluecoats achieve this in so many ways. The most prevalent way is through the orange border they use to create new boundaries on the field. From above, this new border makes the field appear as though it is tilting down and to the left. The triangle props on the field allow the players to stand on an angle, and at several points in the show, the performers lunge to the side, and “tilt” themselves. The visual forms are created with reference to the orange boundary, and are thus “tilted” with regards to the normal lines of a football field.

The modulation of the introduction, along with the constant modulations in chords played by the corps create an aural “tilt.” There is never really one standard sound, and the corps constantly “tilts” and slides to the next theme. Also, the constant change in tempo, through accelerandos (gradually increases in musical speed) creates this same “tilting” effect.

Visual: 18.70, 19.00, 19.00 – 28.35

Color Guard: The flags, rifles, and costumes of the color guard add necessary bright colors to this show. The corps’ dark blue uniform is contrasted nicely by the orange of the color guard’s costumes and the bright blues and reds of the flags. The guard’s choreography helps add to the “tilt” motif of the show. For example, they begin the show in side planks, and thus are at a “tilt.” Also, their interaction with the hornline and drumline adds to the general effect of the show. For example, during the drum feature, the color guard grabs on the snare drummers, allowing them to “tilt” forward and backward while playing. Despite all of these details, the color guard does not add much emotion to the show. They add a bouncy energy that compliments the music, but do not evoke emotion out of the audience very effectively.

Visual: As mentioned before, the “tilted” forms add a lot to the general effect of the show. Almost all of the forms created use diagonals, which are very difficult to make look good. However, some of the lines that are supposed to be straight in this show are a little curvy, taking away from the visual effect. Along with the forms created, the use of the triangle props adds a lot to this show visually. The “tilting” of these props while performers stand on them helps convey the overall message of the show.

Music: 20.00, 19.50, 19.70 – 29.60

General Music: Overall, all of the parts fit together beautifully. The chords played by the hornline are beautiful and incredibly powerful. The battery and front ensemble parts compliment the hornline’s music amazingly, creating a very unified ensemble sound. The best example of this ensemble togetherness occurs at the very end of the show, where the hornline plays, and then the pitch is picked up, and bent by a synthesizer to the next chord.

Hornline: The hornline does an amazing job throughout this show. The bends in pitch that they play add to the aural “tilt” of the show. The most effective aspect of the hornline’s performance was their dynamic contrast. They played very loudly at times, but played very quietly as well, and varied volumes throughout the entire show. For example, the ballad began with them playing very quietly, peaked at a very loud volume, and then ended in an echo-like phrase. There were some parts, however, that some sections played louder than others, and threw off the balance of the hornline.

Percussion: The music the percussion plays, along with being difficult, adds a lot to the ensemble overall. The accents line up with accents in the hornline, and the parts weave in very well with the music being played by the corps. The parts also add necessary aspects to the music. For instance, in the beginning of the third section of the show, the hornline plays slow, drawn-out phrases. During this time, the front ensemble plays very fast rhythms, filling in the spaces created by the hornline. However, there were some times that I could hear more than one person per instrument.



Class Speeches

Overall, I think my classmates’ speeches went really well. Every student seemed so passionate about their topic, and that made the speeches very interesting to listen to.

In my opinion, these speeches were successful because of their delivery. I think the delivery of an effective speech needs to mold to the topic. If the topic is somber, like Keith’s speech about the 9/11 memorial, it calls for a more stationary and serious delivery. Keith did this wonderfully, and his speech was incredible. By remaining stationary and speaking in a very even tone and slow pace, he created an environment that personified the sadness of that day. However, his words kept the speech uplifting. He reminded us that we must never forget that day, and detailed an amazing memorial dedicated to cherishing the lives lost on September 11th, 2001.

A speech on the total opposite end of the spectrum was Makenzie’s speech about the “Pie it Forward” movement. Her artifact was a bright pink flier from a bakery in her home town, an artifact with the complete opposite effect of Keith’s. This light and optimistic artifact called for a casual, energetic speech, which Makenzie nailed. She brought the audience into the happiness of her topic, and kept a great energy throughout, personifying the optimism of her artifact.

One aspect of the class’s speech delivery that I think we could all work on is eye contact. While we all attempted to maintain eye contact, we all seemed partially glued to our note cards. This makes sense. We are still not yet completely comfortable speaking in front of our classmates, and public speaking in and of itself is a daunting task. I think we could all remedy this in two ways. The first being practicing our speeches more. This will get us more comfortable with what we are saying, and allow us to look up from our notes more often. The second method is speaking to one another before and after class starts. If we establish friendly connections with other classmates, we will feel a lot more comfortable speaking our minds in front of the class.

I am so excited to hear what everyone has to say for our next project, and I cannot wait to see everyone become stronger public speakers.

Blue Devils’ 2014 Production: Felliniesque

Before I begin my judging of this performance, I must explain how I will be evaluating the performance. For this blog, I will be evaluating the Semi-Finals Performances of several DCI Corps. These videos are available through a subscription to the DCI Fan Network, and are therefore not publicly accessible through websites such as YouTube. However, I will be posting a link to the video on YouTube that I think is most similar to the Semi-Finals Video.

Each DCI show is judged on three categories, totaling a maximum of 100 points: General Effect (how well the show told its story) is worth 40 points, Visual (how good the show looked) is worth 30 points, and Music (how good the show sounded) is worth 30 points. The visual category is broken up into three parts: two general visual, and one color guard section. The music category is broken into three parts: one general music, one brass, and one percussion. In these multi-section categories, the maximum points for each section is 20, and the points are added together and divided by two.

The Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps 2014 production, “Felliniesque,” tells the story of the behind-the-scenes aspect of movies. (Not the whole show. Shows them in uniform, and some of the forms). (Entire run through. This is at practice on the day of Finals.).


Overall Score: 95.20

General Effect: 37.50

This show, to me, did not tell the story of the movies at all. It begins with a very circus-like atmosphere through the music being played in the front ensemble. The brass continues this circus theme upon their entrance. Shortly afterward, the brass and battery shift gears into music that sounds more like a movie soundtrack. While this is going on, the color guard seems to be having a low-budget fashion show. The corps uses white platforms in various ways throughout the show, and the color guard’s most exposed moment occurs while these platforms are set up as a runway. Throughout the entirety of the show, the front ensemble continues the circus motif. This difference in central focus really takes away from the planned story of this show. I am going out on a limb here by making this connection, but the only possible way I can see these three separate ideas blending is by the show telling a “rags to riches” story (starting in the circus, working your way up to the big screen).

Visual: 19.00, 19.00, 19.00 – 28.50

Color Guard: Despite the seeming disconnect between the show’s intentions and the actions of the color guard, they do an amazing job telling their story. Each performer brings so much emotion to the show. Their choreography shows the struggles they are going through on their “rags to riches” journey, and helps connect the audience emotionally to the music. However, a lot of the work they are doing is not very difficult, which is the only thing taking away their perfect score.

Visual: Overall, the corps’s forms are very good. I only mean this in that they look like shapes. They do nothing to tell the story, and a lot of the time, I can barely tell what the shapes are. Also, the excessive use of scatter sets (forms that have no definitive shape – if you do not know what I mean, you will after watching this show) shows that this show is not very hard visually. Finally, the use of props as guides for forms (circles, for instance) is smart, but takes away from the difficulty of the drill.

Music:  19.30, 19.50, 19.60 – 29.2

General Music: The selections for the show are all amazing pieces of music. These performers perform them so well on the field. The only problem I have with the music overall, is the disconnect between sections, as mentioned before. Some things performed did not fit well together. For example, after the jazzy, dance movement, the hornline gets soft and smooth in playing style. At the same time, the quad section comes forward and plays and incredibly difficult feature over top of the brass, ruining the effect.

Brass: Again, the music was played beautifully. The only thing keeping the brass from a perfect score was the monotonously loud volume they played at. Very rarely did they play quietly. A shift in volume would have made the show a lot more interesting to listen to.

Percussion: The percussion music was incredibly challenging, and I applaud the performers for playing it as well as they did. However, the percussion’s job is to sound as close to one person per instrument as humanly possible. In this performance, there were instances when I could hear multiple performers per instrument, thus taking away from the overall effect of the percussion.




Ifemelu’s Reaction to American Schooling

I think that Ifemelu’s reaction to the American school system is incredibly myopic, and unaccepting, but not unwarranted. Based off of what has been described of her life in Nigeria, life seemed to be pretty regimented. She got up and prayed every morning, went to school, and her friend was even “scheduled” to start dating Obinze. So, now that she is in America, and school is not as structured – for instance, students are encouraged to share their thoughts in class rather than believe everything the professor says – she sees it as abnormal and incorrect.

I do not however, believe this reaction is completely her fault. Her first experience at college was one of profound disrespect. When she checked in, and Cristina Thomas spoke to her like she could not understand English, it showed her that she will ultimately be judged primarily by her outward appearance. In Nigeria, everyone was similar, much like we students in America view each other as equals. So, now that Ifemelu is not being treated simply as another human being, she loses sight of herself, and is trapped under the microscope of her new, unaccepting society. This leaves a bad taste in her mouth, and makes her feel worthless, thus making it difficult for her to understand why any students’ opinions would be respected at college, or why they do not seem to be working as hard to earn the respect of others.

However, if Ifemelu were to come to Penn State, I think she would have a much different experience. Penn State is so focused on inviting students from all over the world to study on this campus, and there are amazing resources for those international class members. Because of this, I think all of the students from the US at Penn State are incredibly accepting of other cultures and nationalities. At first, it would be tough for Ifemelu to feel like she fits in, but because she is from a completely different culture than that of the US, not because of discrimination. I think that after a few weeks on campus, she would be able to connect with so many people, not only from the US, but from all over the world. This capacity for global connection is something that I think she is missing at her current american University, and surely would have missed in Nigeria. This would really help her see her importance in American society, and make her feel better about American Schooling.

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement Speech

A speech that I admire is Steve Jobs’ speech at the 2005 Stanford Commencement Ceremony. This speech is relatable, it is simple, and it conveys so many amazing messages to its audience.

Jobs begins the speech brilliantly, and immediately brings himself to a level that is approachable to the Stanford Class of 2005. In his second sentence, Jobs admits that he never graduated from college, and shows a shy side of himself that seems to be hidden by his multi-billionaire Apple CEO mantra. This statement immediately “brings him down” from his pedestal of success, and establishes pathos, creating a human connection between himself and the audience.

He continues his speech by telling three stories, and tells them in a way that it almost seems as though he is having a conversation with the students at the Commencement Ceremony. Jobs follows the Rule of Three, and uses each story to portray a message valuable to anyone, not just college graduates.

Later, Jobs creates a connection with the audience in his first story. He tells them something personal, and conveys the message: Never be afraid to try new things, and have faith that these new things will pay off in the future. Instead of just stating this message without support, Jobs tells the story of taking a calligraphy class, a skill that I doubt anyone would think an Apple CEO would need. But Jobs then connects the dots, and shows how it paid off for him and his company in the future.

In the second story, Jobs again shows the actual application of his second message: Do not rest until you find something that you love. He establishes ethos by telling the students what he went through, and how he discovered this message through his own experience.

In the third story, Jobs brings up a very pessimistic, but true point: Use death as a motivator. We are all going to die, so use that fact to do some of your best work. Jobs continues making his stories relatable, and uses humor to lighten the mood of this topic. He also ends on a happy note, keeping his audience from feeling depressed.

One problem I had with the speech was Jobs’ physical delivery. He rarely looked up from his paper, and his words sounded a little robotic at times. The stories he told happened to him, so I think he could have looked up a little more and been a little less stringent with following exactly what he wrote.

Overall, Jobs does an amazing job developing this speech. His use of ethos and pathos draw the audience in, and the speech’s kairos makes it incredibly relevant to the student body. He also uses humor and a conversational tone to connect to his audience throughout the speech. This speech is incredible, and is a shining example of everything a speech should be.

What is Drum Corps?

The activity of drum corps is something that few people know about. However, those that do know about it, can never get enough of it. This activity used to be a lot more popular (World Championships were aired on ESPN up through the 2007 season), but has sadly slid away from the public eye the past couple years. Drum Corps, put simply, is major league marching band, with shows performed on a standard football field. When phrased this way, however, I think people do not appreciate the level of difficulty of this activity.

In 2005, ESPN aired a short “documentary” detailing the athletic abilities of a drum corps member. In this video, a researcher from Indiana State University attached devices to a drummer to measure his heart rate and oxygen intake. The researcher found that the drummer was taking in as much oxygen as a well-trained runner halfway through a marathon, and had a consistent heart rate similar to that of a 400 yard dash runner. This is incredible, and definitely solidifies the qualification of drum corps as a sport.

Like any sport, drum corps has leagues. There are two main leagues, DCI (Drum Corps International, performers 21 years of age and younger), and DCA (Drum Corps Associates, all-age performers). DCI is the more intense of the two, due to the fact that members move in with their corps in mid-May, and practice 12+ hours everyday until mid-August, and DCA members practice only on weekends. In both cases, these are not your typical band practices. These practices are grueling. Performers must practice through rain, intense heat, and incredible physical fatigue. They all strive to be perfect in every single way – musically, visually, emotionally, etc. All of their hard work culminates in their final performance in mid-August and World Championships. Much like any other sport, there are corps that are consistently near the top of the pack. For DCI, these corps are the Blue Devils, the Cadets, Carolina Crown, The Bluecoats, The Cavaliers, Santa Clara Vanguard, and Phantom Regiment. These corps, along with all of the other corps in DCI, are from all over the United States.

So, what makes up a drum corps?

A drum corps consists of four groups: The Horn-line, the Percussion, The Color Guard, and the Drum Majors.

The horn-line consists of trumpets, mellophones, baritones, and tubas. The main role of the horn-line is to provide the lyrical and emotional aspect of the show, as well as a portion of the visual aspect of the show.

The percussion has two sections, the battery and the front ensemble. The battery is made up of snare drums, quad/tenor drums, bass drums, and occasionally cymbals. The front ensemble consists of typical concert percussion instruments – marimbas, vibraphones, tympani, concert bass drum, etc. The main role of the battery is to provide tempo for the corps in a creative way, and contribute to the visual aspect of the show. The front ensemble also provides tempo, but interweaves with the horn-line to add emotion and remains on the front sideline, thus rarely contributing to the visual aspect of the show.

The color guard consists of performers who play no music, but are the main visual contributors. They twirl and throw flags, rifles, sabers, etc., and put color and action to the music. These three groups also march to make shapes on the field.

The final group, the drum majors, directs the corps. These are the conductors of the drum corps, and they are responsible for maintaining tempo, and keeping the corps playing together.

The overall goal of a drum corps as a whole is to tell a story and evoke emotion out of their crowd. The amazing thing about this activity is that a show can move a whole stadium to tears with just music and motion. Almost every corps earns a standing ovation at finals, and they all deserve it. What these young performers do is absolutely incredible.

So, that’s drum corps in a nutshell. Next week, I will begin my analysis of this year’s DCI shows with the Blue Devils championship show, Felliniesque.


Here are links to the aforementioned video from 2005:


Civic Spaces in Americanah

The civic space that jumped out to me while reading Americanah was the train platform where Ifemelu “meets” the man eating ice cream. The man grows impatient while waiting for the train, and upon its arrival, turns to Ifemelu and says, “‘About time’,” (Adichie 4). This statement says something about what Adichie thinks it means to be a citizen, but also shows a flaw she sees in Americans’ view of citizenship. The man is upset by having to wait so long for the train for two reasons. The first is the fast-paced life we Americans can never seem to escape. The man seems to be in a hurry to get to his destination, and he is upset that he cannot get there more quickly due to the arrival of the train. The second reason has to do more with his idea of what being civil means. He works hard at his profession, trying to do everything he can to better society (or at least he thinks he does). Due to the fact that he is in the world with others, he expects them as citizens to work just as hard as he does, and to work at the pace at which he wants to live life. So, the shared enterprise aspect of being civic is both good and bad for this man. He works hard to do his part for the common good, but he also ignorantly expects others to work to fit his individual expectations.

I think Adichie includes this interaction to show the corrupt way in which Americans behave in a civil manner. We have no proof as to whether or not the man truly works hard, but we know what he expects from others around him, thus making us believe he works hard. This ties into the structures of attention aspect of civic life, because no matter how well we know someone, we never truly know how hard (s)he is working, or what his/her true intentions are. So, a person could put up the facade of a hard working individual and draw our attention to that perceived characteristic. This makes us work hard to meet his/her expectations, but for all we know, that person could be lying to our faces, or not giving us the whole picture.

So, overall I think Adichie is trying to convey this message about civic life: Follow the Golden Rule, i.e. behave in a way you wish others to behave, but do not expect the impossible from others. We are all different, and we all feel different emotions on different days. So, who are we to judge the output of another person without knowing what may have caused a drop in quality or efficiency in his/her work? Sure, we should all work as hard as we can at all times to make the world a better place, but that does not mean we can be inhumane in judging the work of others. We are the Human Race, and part of being a citizen in the world is being humane to others. Adichie is telling us to think before we speak poorly of others’ work, and know that they are trying their best. Being a citizen is being human, and we can never forget that, or our world will be filled with unjustified hate.

Passion Blog Ideas

The first idea I would like to explore for my Passion Blog is Drum Corps. During the summers of 2012 and 2013 I marched with the Reading Buccaneers Drum and Bugle Corps, and ever since, I have been hooked to the activity. The music, the motion, and its ability to move a stadium full of people to tears is incredibly captivating. So, for this Passion Blog, I will watch a different DCI (Drum Corps International) show every week, and comment on how much I liked it, how effective it was, etc. I will focus my attention on the shows from 2014, as they are the most recent works of Drum Corps, and show the up-to-date characteristics of the activity. By the end of this semester, I will decide whether or not I agree with the results of the 2014 DCI World Championships.

The second idea I would like to explore is orchestral music. I joined the Concert Band at my school in fifth grade, and ever since then, my love for classical music has grown exponentially. Throughout middle school, junior high, and high school, I became more and more involved in music, all culminating in my participation in District, Regional, and State Band and Orchestra Festivals. I have also become incredibly interested in composing, and how difficult it is to create a piece of music from scratch. So, for this Passion Blog, I will listen to at least two separate composers each week, and analyze their work for what I liked, did not like, and some of these ideas that I would like to explore when I compose.

The third idea I would like to explore is what it means to be a student at Penn State. Each and every student here has a different experience of this university, and all of their separate opinions are valuable. So, I would like to ask my peers – freshmen to seniors – what it means to them to be a student at Penn State. With all of the different avenues to explore at Penn State, I am very interested to see if there are any similarities in the answers given to me by students. So, each week I will ask one person what it means to be a student here. By the end of the semester, I will compile a list of similarities, as well as some of the most interesting responses to gain a better understanding of the connection we students share at Penn State.