Pipeline: Dale Leaman

Introducing Pipeline, an inside look at the designers, instructors, and volunteers at Pacific Crest. In this first edition, Dale Leaman, Program Coordinator and Brass Arranger, talks about Maze, designing an accessible show, and what audiences can expect this summer.

Pipeline #1

Dale Leaman

January 26, 2010
With Dale Leaman
Program Coordinator and Brass Arranger

Program Coordinator and brass arranger Dale Leaman has been involved with the corps since its inception in 1993.  We asked him a few questions about this year’s show, Maze, and his work as a show designer

Why do a show entitled Maze?

We started with the title The Maze, but that seemed a little wordy. Then I thought of calling the show The Natural History of Pelagic Fishes in the Pacific Northwest, but that didn’t make much sense for a show about a maze. We wanted a show idea that we could describe in as few words as possible – “What’s the show about?” “It’s about a maze.” And we wanted every audience member to understand that description. We all have some experience with some kind of maze, whether it’s pencil-and-paper on a rainy day in 3rd grade, or a video game with drooling zombie mutants leaping at you, or the LA freeways or the London Underground.

What should the audience expect from the show?
We want to put the audience in the show while they’re still in their seats. When you’re watching the show you should expect everything that you would experience when trying to run a maze or solve a puzzle. Sometimes things will go smoothly; sometimes you’ll run into roadblocks or challenges. It may even feel like the walls themselves are conspiring against you, and you’re hopelessly stuck. But, if you’re like most of us, you eventually decide that it’s time to cowboy up and get yourself out of whatever jam you’ve gotten yourself in to. And maybe you’ll find just a little surprise at the end, and maybe X really does mark the spot.

How does this show differ from Pacific Crest shows in the past?
Well, to start, we think it’s going to way better. We (the design team) are spending a lot of time early on putting together the elements of the show. We’re getting great input from Gordon Henderson, who’s keeping us on our toes about the choices we’re making. We think our added attention to coordination will pay big dividends in both the design of the show, and in the execution of the show.

We’re not just focusing on a producing a better show, we’re also all firmly committed to having better performances. It really doesn’t matter how cool your idea is of you can’t communicate it to an audience. Our renewed attention to the fundamental aspects of performance is going to make a big difference in the final product.

What goes into a show that makes it accessible to the fans? 
For a corps like ours, working to establish our identity in the activity, we need a show concept that everyone understands, melodies and clear musical themes that shape the arc or flow of the program (not necessarily music that everyone knows), and a visual package that clearly matches the music and the intent of the whole concept.

And to return to an earlier point, when we talk about connecting with the audience, what can’t be overlooked is the importance of a quality performance, not just a quality program. It doesn’t matter how cool the rotating rat looks on paper. If the tail comes apart in the middle of the drill no one will take you seriously.

How will the show communicate the maze theme?
I don’t want to give away too much, but we see the show in 4 sections:

1.  You’re starting the maze; everything’s going great, just a couple of little puzzles that you solve easily. You think, “This is gonna be cake!”

2.  All of a sudden things get much tougher. It’s one pitfall after another, and you’re just barely getting past all of the roadblocks, surprises and traps. Maybe this isn’t going to be your day.

3.  You’re done in. You’re not making any progress, and you just don’t have any ideas. You’re ready to give up, but instead-

4.  You change gears. You try some lateral, outside-of-the-box thinking, and it pays off. Suddenly, you can see the finish line. You’re going to make it, and you just can’t wait to taste that yummy little cheesy treat!

Oh, sorry. Maybe I went a little overboard with the thematic metaphor.

Like last year, DCI championships will be held at Lucas Oil Stadium, an enclosed venue.  Do you consider venue acoustics when arranging music?

Arranging for a marching music ensemble is one long consideration of venue acoustics, but we should look at this issue from a different perspective. We’ll perform in 3 indoor stadiums, and about 25 outdoor stadiums. We all know how the game works; you have to score well in the shows leading up to the big events to be in position to do well at the big events. I think it makes more sense to prepare your performance for the most common situation, and then make adjustments as needed for the indoor shows. Of course we need to be sensitive to sound system adjustments and balance when we move indoors, but by the time we get to those shows the die will have largely been cast. We have to do well in the all of the shows; we can’t afford to concentrate on just a few.

Our next installment of Pipeline will feature an interview with the corps’ drill writer, Steven Estudillo.