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Cincinnati Tradition and Chops Move to open Class in 2018

Drum Corps Associates is proud to announce that Cincinnati Tradition and Chops have both made the decision to move themselves up into the Open Class for the 2018 season.   Both of these Mid West corps have had a strong recruiting off season and now have the membership to make this move.

Cincinnati Tradition was formed in 1984 by Dan Hartwig and Tom Slade.  They had a drum and flag corps at the time and with the Pride of Cincinnati folding this was a great time to add bugles to the mix.   They started out by doing parades and exhibitions and by 1986 they were performing exhibitions at DCI shows through 2008.   In 2008 they applied for DCA membership and passed only to find out they were short the 35 members needed to go to Championships.  In 2009 they were still short the number of members needed but did compete in the DCA Mini Corps Competition in Rochester.  In 2010 they applied for DCA membership again and this time they had the membership numbers they needed to compete in their first season of DCA competition. The 2010 season also turned out to be the last for Corps Director Tom Slade as a marching member.  Tom felt it was too much pressure doing the corps directors job and marching at the same time.   He also thinks he still holds the record for being the last person to march a valve/rotary bugle in DCA competition.   In 2014 and 2015 the corps placed fourth at DCA Class A finals and followed that with back to back Championships in 2016 and 2017!

After coming in fourth for two straight seasons and then going to back to back Class A titles there had to be a reason.   Nick Angelis and Tim Snyder were brought in as the new Program Coordinators as they changed the entire show package from previous years. These two gentlemen pushed the corps to a higher level that many believed could not happen.   They brought in a top notched staff and these staff members went out and recruited performers.  They picked a modern program and made it fun to perform as they needed to change with the modern times which turned out to be the cause of their success. The decision to move up to Open Class was easy!   When you look up and see ninety members at your camp how do you cut twenty-five people….you DON’T!   There are concerns also on making the move up especially with the costs.   Instruments, uniforms, more buses, and food cost all have to be considered.   When you look at a Class A corps finances, all you have to do is DOUBLE IT !

This year’s show is titled “Event Horizon” and is about a journey into the horizon. The journey is broken down into four parts.   Part One “Lift Off” is a piece by Rossano Gallante called “Beyond the Horizon”. Part two “Turbulence” is a piece by Michael Daugherty called “Raise the Roof”.  Part Three “Beauty” is a piece by John Mackey called “Sheltering Sky”.  Part Four “Discovery” is a piece by Hans Zimmer called “Interstellar”. Look for something very exciting coming to the 50 yard line this summer!

I asked Corps Director Tom Slade how his corps managed to stay afloat while other Midwest corps are going inactive and how can the Midwest get back to the way it once was. Tom’s answer was “Here at Cincinnati Tradition I credit the staff, educational and administrative, for making Cincinnati Tradition what it is today. The educational staff recruit and retain members because they enjoy the program.  It’s fun and educational to be here.  I think we put seven kids into a DCI corps this year. We give them a place to train and get better to make that step up.   In order for the Midwest to build again, new corps will have to take baby steps and grow.  This is what we did and we’ve been around for years. I’m excited to see some new kids on the block like the Columbus Saints.   We welcome the competition since they are only ninety miles away from Cincinnati.”   Tom’s message to the fans when they see Tradition this year, “ENJOY” ! “The corps is only getting bigger and better.   The show is getting bigger and better and you will be entertained “.

Chops has been around since 1991 when Mike Mayer and Nell Doyle founded Chopstix drum line. Chopstix is their parade drum line bringing entertainment to hundreds of thousands of fans each year. They added Top Chops horn line as a second parade group in 1994. Chops, Inc. was formed in 1996, with their first field show taking place in 1999 ending at Drum Corps Midwest. Lars Wach was the first director of their field program. They added Hot Chops color guard as a third parade unit and to field competition in 2001, as well as a joint winter drum line and color guard in 2002. Chops’ first year out to DCA finals was in 2005, with their show titled “Yes, We’re Serious and Don’t Call Us Shirley” which won them the gold medal at DCA Class A Championships. Chops went off the field to focus on re-organization from 2009-2014. Scott Kolman-Keen was the corps director that brought them back to the field in 2014. The corps returned to DCA competition in 2015 and has seen continued growth since then. Last summer they made the move From Chops, Inc. to Chops. Chops Inc. is the overarching organization that oversees Chops Drum and Bugle Corps, Chops Percussion Indoor, Chops Winter Guard, and the Pan-Handlers Steel Drum Band.

I asked Corps Director Jeremy Semler about making the move to Open Class and if he had any concerns.   Jeremy stated that “Chops has been and always will be about entertainment over winning or placement.  Our organization has been built on never turning a member away, even to stay in Class A to try and place better.  It’s just not who we are or will ever be. As to who made the decision, there really wasn’t a decision made.   We looked at the numbers that we had showing up consistently and told our drill writer to write for X number in each section. That number happened to put us over the sixty-five mark. My staff and I have absolutely zero concerns about this move.   It’s about the environment that we keep with the corps.  Placement is the absolute last thing on our minds! “

This year’s show is titled “Skyscraper” a 1920’s/30’s era show.  Chops opens with George Gershwin’s “Concerto in F ” as the workday gets started.   As they begin to build their skyscraper (yes, they will be building a skyscraper on the field) they move into Adam Gorb’s ” Awayday “.  They’ll explore the hustle and bustle of a busy work site until the work whistle blows, and they move right into some after work dancing and drinks with “Sing, Sing, Sing”.  The ballad, “Skyscraper ” by Demi Lovato, will explore the difficulties of building something magnificent, and how to overcome them. Chops will end their program with original work by Matt Kettelhut and Joel Matuzak as they celebrate the accomplishment of their work.   Corps director, Jeremy Semler stated that “We talked a lot in the offseason about continuing to build a program that’s challenging and pays off.  That’s where the idea of Skyscraper came from.  We’re currently on the ground floor above years of foundation. The sky’s the limit.”

I asked Jeremy how he manages to keep the corps going with several corps going inactive this year and what needs to be done to revive drum corps in the Midwest.  I found his answers to be honest and to the point.  Jeremy said that “We’re here to have fun and to teach.  We’re teaching our members, whether brand new or experienced veterans.  We’re also using one of the most experienced staffs in the activity to teach new instructional staff to keep the marching arts alive, especially here in the Midwest.  On top of all of that, we’ve partnered with a school here in the Twin Cities that doesn’t have a marching program. We’re working with their Community Education department to offer both free tuition within Chops and a free winter ensemble to help teach and give back to the community. We’ll be announcing more details of this partnership in the weeks to come. I think there are a lot of things that can help the Midwest come back.   My biggest push right now is to get a centralized regional in Ohio.   This would be centralized enough for both Midwest and Eastern groups to meet up, as well as young corps, who can’t afford to go to finals and to get to go to a big show.  I think DCA can help by having a bigger presence out here.  Yes, the epicenter of the circuit is on the East Coast, but come up with a five year plan to get finals out here.  Find ways to help the East Coast corps fundraise to get out here.   Show the Midwest that there is more to drum corps than DCI.   I think there is an untapped potential out here that could have huge payoffs”

Chops was founded as a parade corps, entertaining hundreds of thousands each summer at parades across the Midwest. This ensemble is composed of Chopsticks drum line, Top Chops horn line, and Hot Chops color guard.   What’s different than what you might think as a “typical parade” for drum corps, they have three separate parade units that perform separately throughout the parade. Over the past couple of years, this ensemble has been under the drum corps umbrella. Due to continuing demand by both parade organizers and members wanting a different avenue to perform, they have created Chops Parade to help house that demand.  In closing Corps Director Jeremy Semler’s message to the fans is this.  “This year is another huge step for Chops. We’re at our biggest numbers ever on the field. What we’re bringing you is pure entertainment. Some have said very recently that DCA isn’t viable in the Upper Midwest. We are one of two examples of how completely wrong those individuals are. What you’ll see this season is the hard work and dedication from the past twenty-six years of Choppers. Regardless of placement this summer, I can guarantee a performance you will not want to miss.” Chops kicks off their season on July 7th at DCI Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium.

Special thanks to corps directors Tom Slade of Cincinnati Tradition and Jeremy Semler of Chops for their valuable assistance, cooperation and input into this article.  Drum Corps Associates welcomes both of these units to Open Class and best of luck in the upcoming season.   East Coast fans will be able to see Cincinnati Tradition on July 28th in Peckville, Pennsylvania.



Bill Flaker

DCA Staff Writer