Originally scheduled for a second year in Miami, the 1984 Drum Corps International World Championships instead headed to Grant Field at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
The Garfield Cadets repeated as champions, but Blue Devils were only a tenth of a point behind. The Cadets had won 35 of the 39 shows the corps competed in that season, losing twice to Phantom Regiment, once to Santa Clara Vanguard and once to Blue Devils.
Vanguard remained well in the hunt for the title, scoring just over a half a point from the top, while Regiment finished 2.40 point down from The Cadets.
After Madison Scouts, Spirit of Atlanta placed sixth in front of a hometown crowd, followed by the second-year finalist Suncoast Sound and The Cavaliers, who had just started the transition toward a mostly symphonic repertoire.
Cadets' 1984 "West Side Story" is remembered fondly by corps fans for being the show that really opened up future DCI Hall of Fame drill writer George Zingali's creativity and fully presented his concept of "flex drill," with abstract amoeba-like forms gelling into one another and evolving in ways never seen before. Zingali admitted to getting inspiration for his forms from a number of atypical sources, including studying water droplets and fiddling around with the type of small chains that hold pens to the customer counters at banks.
Many fans commented on wondering how the members could even march the show, much less do it at such a high level of perfection. Just as drill writer Pete Emmons stunned the activity by throwing open the doors of asymmetry with Santa Clara Vanguard in 1980, Zingali sent corps drill writers off in another direction with his treatment of forms and evolutions.
The Cadets’ production started off low-keyed with mellophonist Barbara Maroney introducing the theme to Leonard Bernstein's "Maria." Maroney was one of the few horn soloists that were known to just about everyone, just as Blue Devils' Bonnie Ott was less than a decade earlier. Maroney then ended the piece with a soaring long note, letting fans revel in the beauty of her clarion tone.
One of the beautiful things about "Rumble" was so much of it was rather absent of melody — full of angst and violent drama. Yet, it was thoroughly captivating and entertaining. One of the highlights of "Prologue," which followed after a short stop, was the use of three marching xylophones to replicate Bernstein's three-xylophone canon in the movie score.
At one time this author had the tremendous pleasure of hearing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a live performance of the original "West Side Story" soundtrack, played along to the actual film that had the orchestral parts digitally stripped away. The program notes mentioned that the segment for three xylophones hadn't been re-created since the recording of the film score. Well, we drum corps fans would beg to differ.
Next, "America" started with a quiet vocalization of the melodic theme, followed by a rousing and jazzy interpretation of the melody. This segment, which allowed the horn players to really cut loose, was one of the feel-good moments of the entire season for many fans.
"I Have a Love," which followed, is perhaps one of the lesser-known selections in the musical. The corps' version started with a short introduction of "Tonight" in a ballad form, quickly moving on to another stellar solo feature by Maroney, much more extended than the one that opened the show.
Cadets’ arrangement of "Tonight," quite frankly, remains one of the most remarkable productions ever put on the field. Capturing the different voices that were singing simultaneously in the film score, the disparate segments of the melody were tossed back and forth like a proverbial hot potato until the main melody all are familiar with emerged.
Then Zingali's magic took over and the horns and drums were pulled together from different directions and formations and suddenly appeared in a solid company front, with another front of drums behind. This was followed by the "Z" pull, one of the most exciting ways yet created to visually end a show. The classic move is often said to be named either for "Zingali" or the fact the form resembled a letter "Z" being pulled apart from each end.
Decades later, this version of "West Side Story" remains a game changer, memorable for all the right reasons, and a show that all fans still cherish for its innovation and excellence.
Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He wrote about the drum corps activity for more than 35 years while serving as a staff writer for various Drum Corps International projects. During his lifetime Boo wrote for numerous other publications including an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating. He also was an accomplished composer. Boo passed away in November of 2020.