Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Musings on Band and Corps Uniforms in Visual design...

Well for my first installment of what I hope to be many postings, I am focusing in on something that I have been thinking about for some time. Uniforms are the most basic, recognizable aspect of a corps - even defining part of their heritage or tradition. Sometimes there uniforms even affect the development of a corps visual and marching styles. Often, this most basic part of a corps identity is overlooked with regards to the visual aspect of the performance. The guard is what we think of mostly as defining the visual design of the show, but what we don't always realize is how much this is affected by the type and style of the uniforms of the corps. I will start out looking at different uniforms and showing how they define the visual characteristics of the corps. Then I will turn my attention to the future of uniforms in the marching activity.

The Cadets (Allentown, PA)
The "West-point" style maroon and cream uniforms date back to the oldest incarnations of the corps. This design (with the notable exceptions of 2005 and 2006) has remained largely intact throughout the years. It has become an icon for the oldest corps in America and is a symbol of pride for those who wear it. The picture is somewhat dated as it depicts the uniforms worn from 2003-2006. The current uniforms have slight changes in the detailing.

Visually, the most striking parts of the uniform are the cream colored pants with the maroon stripe running down the side and the reflective buckle on the cross-belt. The uniform is designed to enhance the height of the performer, mainly through the long light colored pants, the short jacket, and the high yellow cummerbund. An interesting tidbit is the shrinking drop sash over the years. Back in the 60s and 70s, the sash came down to about the knees of the performer. This had the effect of shortening the performer visually. The sashes of the 80s shrunk a bit, coming to around the mid-thigh region. Gradually over the years it has been shortened to its current length, ending around the "crotchal" region. The elongated vertical line created by the uniform is accented by the classic plume that emerges straight from the top of the shako.

Anyone who knows the Cadets know they are famous for their straight-legged marching style. The uniform accentuates this style by drawing the eye to the cream colored pants with the maroon stripe. Theoretically the maroon stripe is never supposed to be broken while marching. Watching the Cadets perform, it is clear the visual impact the technique and uniform create. The drill focuses mostly on form development such as pass throughs and evolving amorphous forms that serve to bring out the movement of the lower body. Rarely will one see an effective upper-body movement with the cadets (I'm thinking of the terrible ones added into the 2003 show as an example) because there is no striking visual impact to be had from the upper body movements.

Due to the focus on the lower body, timing is extremely important for this corps. Lagging visual scores have been almost a signature for the corps in recent years as the cream pants do not forgive even the slightest timing errors. Spacing errors are also highlighted by the tall vertical cream pillars seen on the field.

That's all for tonight, more tomorrow! - Next post - the Uniforms of the Cavaliers!

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Ben said...

Just re-watched Cadets 2003 with your comments in mind....and thought of something I've always noticed.

When I marched Madison (94-96, but in this case particularly relevant to 95) we found it amusing that "Mojo", something that looked so natural when we did it (see the park & blow after the quartet in Malaga, for instance) looked so forced and unnatural when the Cadets did it (95 or again in Malaguena in 03). We always thought "someone needs to teach those guys how to groove".

With your comments in mind, however, I was thinking about the straight leg technique, and how the stripe should theoretically never be broken.

I guess my questions are:
1) do you see what I'm saying, about Cadets park & blow compared to classic Madison and some others)?

2) do you think the straight-leg technique has anything to do with it?

3) if not, can you explain the difference?

Joe Dacey said...

1.) Nick may be able to answer this better than I seeing as he marched '03, but from my experience in '04 - we were known to rock out pretty well, especially during the encore "William Tell/Moondance" piece

2.-3.)haha, nice to see the old "stiff, stuck up" Cadet stereotype is still alive and well. Seriously though, speaking from my own experience, it is a little strange to begin rocking out in the middle of a show when your stlye stresses clean, strict uniform movements. It can be difficult for some to loosen up. I don't really think the technique contributes that much to it. It is more dealing with the personality of the corps as a whole.