Since July of 2022, the Madison Scouts had plans in place for their 2023 production, “The Sound Garden,” which shared the name of the popular 1990s grunge band.
But there was one minor hitch.
“When the idea came out,” program coordinator Jason Robb recalled, “(someone mentioned), ‘Yeah, but we shouldn't use any Soundgarden music.’”
“I was like, ‘We're definitely using Soundgarden music,’” Robb said with a laugh.
Ultimately, the Wisconsin corps’ production will infuse recognizable characteristics of its long-lasting branding with a style of music that has been relatively unutilized by the corps and the drum corps activity at large. In fact, the Seattle Cascades, who performed “Black Hole Sun” in 2015, may be the only time a corps has performed a tune by Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell in DCI competition.
And Robb noted — “about 60 percent” of the corps’ repertoire will, in fact, feature Soundgarden music.
“I stumbled onto some old Soundgarden music and I was like, ‘That’s the perfect imagery, where we can create a lot of effects without telling a story,’” he said. “The idea of the show is very abstract, but it's really fun and very literal in moments.”
Coming to a field near you…The Sound Garden. #MadisonScouts #DCI2023 #TheSoundGardenPosted by Madison Scouts on Friday, May 19, 2023
“The Sound Garden,” in many ways, plays off of the “look” of the Madison Scouts. As Robb noted, the corps’ 2023 production isn’t the depiction of a story or the presentation of a message, it’s more so the development of a setting — the Sound Garden.
And along the lines of a garden, as the corps’ main emblem features the fleur de lis — a stylized lily — so will much of the visual landscape of its 2023 program.
“The look of the Scouts is a big part of it,” Robb said.
Robb made a point to not give away too many details, but was clear that the show’s title is an apt descriptor of what fans can anticipate.
“‘The Sound Garden’ really says it all,” he said.
One of Robb’s goals for the program is to keep key core tenets of Madison Scouts’ identity in place, while going out on a limb with new ideas.
“One of the things that I've learned through this process,” he said of his now three years as the corps’ program coordinator, “is just trying to do fun, new, exciting things, but still stick to a flavor.”
Many might describe that “flavor” — when it comes to Madison Scouts’ most recognizable traits — as jazzy. The corps made its name in past decades on the likes of “Malagueña,” “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” “MacArthur Park,” and more.
While the corps’ plans for 2023 are based, primarily, in what could be described as grunge, metal or alternative rock music, jazz music will still play a factor in developing the full production. Alongside a pair of Soundgarden songs, the corps plans to feature “Hold Music” by Jacob Mann, and Stan Kenton’s “23 Degrees North - 82 Degrees West.”
“We kind of volley back and forth between the Soundgarden tunes and these jazz tunes, which I think is fun,” Robb said. “It's really straightforward. We're not doing any swing stuff; it's all, big band, articulated stuff. And I'm really excited about it.”
In Robb’s eyes, one of the most important aspects of Madison Scouts’ traditions that he wanted the corps’ 2023 production to embody was freshness.
As he noted, many of the corps’ more memorable performances introduced music to the drum corps audience for the first time — at least, within the context of drum corps itself. He hopes to help the Scouts do the same with grunge music.
“To me, it was that thought of, ‘What is that thing that we can find, that we love, that we want to share with other people?” he said.
A key element in Madison Scouts’ 2023 design process has been the reintroduction of accomplished brass arranger Scott Boerma, who worked with the corps throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Many of those years fell within the corps’ jazzier categories of programming.
As such, alternative rock music is certainly a different direction for Boerma, when viewed specifically through the lens of his work in drum corps.
But Boerma’s background lies far beyond the drum corps idiom — he has worked with the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and currently, Western Michigan University — which has provided him the experience to work with almost any genre.
“All of these college bands, they play rock stuff all the time, so this is nothing new to me,” Boerma said. “We could take any kind of genre and make it sound like the Madison Scouts.”
“I’ve asked Scott to basically take rock-and-roll charts and turn them into drum corps tunes,” Robb added. “And that's not usually easy, or sometimes it's really hard to do and people aren't successful with it. But he's done a really good job. The charts are really hot.”
While they expressed excitement for many of the show’s moments, both Boerma and Robb alike spoke highly of what fans can expect from the Madison Scouts’ ballad movement in 2023.
Within said ballad, Robb described a visual depiction of “blooming” that will take place, through the specific imagery of Madison Scouts’ iconic “fleur de lis.”
“As the ballad gets more produced through the year, that's going to be the biggest moment of the show,” Robb said. “I mean, we're going to make a fleur de lis that literally blooms in real time. It's going to be really neat.”
“I think I'm always proud of ballads that I write, because I have more opportunity within the time to create countermelodies and harmonic modulations, and things like that,” Boerma added. “I think musically, I'm probably most excited about that.”
For much of the offseason, corps members and many staff members weren't fully in the know about Madison Scouts' program for 2023.
According to Robb, that didn't hinder excitement in the least.
"The thing that's exciting is how excited they are about the show, not really even knowing anything," Robb said in a mid-April interview. "They're super pumped right now, it's going to be really good."
And with that same level of member energy carried over into the Madison Scouts' season as a whole, the pieces are in place for a memorable summer.
"We have a really positive culture of student leaders that are generating a lot of positive momentum," Robb said. "It's going to be great — super pumped about it."