The Cavaliers: XtraordinarY

The Cavaliers: XtraordinarY

***These are the liner notes I wrote to accompany the member DVD from 2011. I also included a personal note at the bottom.

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

When viewed in the context of a young man’s experience and acceptance into the brotherhood of The Cavaliers, these words take on an even deeper meaning. Thousands of young men have traveled to Rosemont or Chicago over the decades, filled with trepidation about whether they would be good enough, and filled with nervousness about whether they would fit in. By the end of the summer they found that, not only were they a part of an incredible drum corps, they created friendships and fraternal bonds that would last a lifetime.

The show itself would remain untitled for a while. The music started flowing, and the visual identity began to take shape. The thought was to take a simple character, and watch as he transitioned into something unbelievable, finding the strength, confidence, and passion within himself. It was the perfect metaphor for the way nervous boys walk in the door at The Cavaliers, and leave as mature and confident men. Looking back, it is almost comical how often the word ‘extraordinary’ was used to describe this, but the title was still elusive.

Finally, the team decided to select Extraordinary as the name of the show. Since the idea was to create a journey of sorts for this character, and to watch the evolution, spelling the title with the X and Y seemed like a great twist because simply reading the word takes the viewer from X to Y. That became so much more meaningful once it was pointed out that those were also the male chromosomes: perfect for an all male corps!

The Cavaliers 2011 production “XtraordinarY” started with a melody that captured the interest of the design team. Once everyone realized that the “Nature Boy” melody was an identity towards which they were drawn, the ideas started to gain momentum. The lyrics elevated the atmosphere of the drum corps field to the ambiance of an otherworldly realm, creating the perfect environment for viewers to share in the trek from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

Setting the stage for this unique fantasy was a wealth of musical diversity. The soundtrack began with a curious and suspenseful overture quoting Eden Ahbez’s “Nature Boy” and Bach “Fugue in G Minor”.The Wayne Shorter standard “Footprints” got an unexpected twist. State of the art musical textures, a futuristic ethnic flare, and remarkable choreographic moments combined to take the drum corps activity to totally new heights. Jazz Mandolin Project’s “Jungle Tango” hit the ground running with incredible whirling dervishes in the front ensemble, while sounds of an accordion wove a magic spell throughout the production. The incredible driving force of the percussion, combined with the stratospheric performance of the brass, kept the ‘in your face’ intensity that fans have grown to love.

With the show constantly evolving, the designers set about trying to figure out ways to make ordinary drum corps effects into something larger than life, which led to the idea of the guard on stilts. This required a ton of additional training for those guys, with safety always the primary concern. With the indoor drum line activity as an inspiration, some of the guys in the percussion section made videos they sent to the designers to show them what they could do. That was the genesis of the upside down tenor feature. Due to all of the logistics to make this happen, this idea was almost left on the ‘cutting room floor.’ But as a result of the excitement, and a little push from the corps members, it was decided to give it a try.

After the debut of this feature, it was obvious that creating twists on the normal features would take the ordinary into the realm of extraordinary. That led to various effects like the upside down trumpets, the stick exchanges during the percussion feature, and by finals the audience witnessed brass players on stilts, and the conductor leading the corps upside down.

Having felt the underlying current of “Nature Boy” throughout the experience, the hauntingly beautiful melody returned in full force to capture a momentous and emotional realization—

— the XtraordinarY within each of us.


On a personal note, it has been an absolute honor, and privilege, to have designed for the corps all of these years. 25 years ago, I walked in the door at The Cavaliers as a nervous young man, and today I look back with only fondness, respect, and gratitude. Thank you to all of the incredible people who keep the Green Machine running, and a special reminder to the members of next year’s corps and those who come after: Be Extraordinary.

Michael Gaines

Inside XtraordinarY- Part 1

Inside XtraordinarY -Part 2