Several times, on this blog and in The New Yorker, I've delved into the world of drum-corps modernism: high-school- and college-age bands who venture into twentieth-century classical repertory. With the decay of music education and the general indifference to classical music in mainstream media, drum-corps groups and the more ambitious school bands have become a valuable avenue for the propagation of post-1900 fare. They have also produced any number of professional instrumentalists — among them Chris Martin, the principal trumpeter of the Chicago Symphony, who once played in the Spirit of Atlanta.
Back in 2006, Matthew Guerrieri drew attention to a video of the Austin High School Bulldog Band performing Shostakovich and Schoenberg. In 2010, I wrote two more posts on drum-corps Shostakovich. The topic recently surfaced again on Twitter, when Mark Stryker highlighted a video of the Carolina Crown freely adapting Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach, with a little Zarathustra on top. Ensuing discussion revealed that quite a few groups have played Glass over the years; Ben Coleman and others pointed me toward the Drum Corps Repertoire Database, a handy resource. I wondered just how far into the fields of the avant-garde the drum-corps movement has strayed. Stockhausen? No. Babbitt? Not yet — although The Bad Plus have a highly adaptable version ready to go. But Ligeti, yes indeed, thanks to the appropriately named Santa Clara Vanguard, whose repertory has ranged all over the musical map. Their 2011 program included Barber's First Essay for Orchestra, Avner Dorman's Piano Sonata No. 2, something by Karl Jenkins, and Ligeti's Etude No. 13, "L'Escalier du diable." The Ligeti starts at around 8:20, when a guy says, "Yeah."
More: The Blue Devils of Concord CA, who won the 2012 drum-corps championship with a program including music of John Adams, Thomas Adès, Antheil, Mingus, and Satie, are devoting their 2013 show to the Rite of Spring. The Phantom Regiment, meanwhile, has the "Storm" interlude from Peter Grimes in its current program. (See 3:12 in this video.) Look for a potential Einstein on the Beach vs. Rite of Spring vs. Peter Grimes showdown at the Drum Corps International championships in Indianapolis next month.