Star of Indiana
The Drum Corps Years
Star was founded by Bill Cook, owner and founder of Cook Group Incorporated in Bloomington, Indiana. Cook first discovered drum corps in 1979 through his son, who persuaded him to watch a DCI broadcast. After continuing to follow the activity through his son, who joined the Colts in the early 1980s, Cook decided to create a new drum corps organization when his son aged out in 1984.
Due to his success as a businessman (Cook Group is in the medical devices industry, among other things), Cook was in a position to set a tremendous commitment to getting the corps started: after hiring corps director Jim Mason from the Colts, Cook spent $1 million to get the corps off the ground, including purchasing an old elementary school building for a headquarters and practice field. Cook later started several businesses to generate money for the corps.
Mason was able to seek out the best staff in the activity, including George Zingali and Marc Sylvester (drill writers for the Garfield Cadets), Dennis DeLucia (drum line instructor for the Bayonne Bridgemen), and legendary visual designer Michael Cesario.
Star's financial backing and hiring of top-ranked instructors helped the corps assert itself quickly in the activity. In 1985, Star placed 10th at finals, becoming the first corps in DCI history to make finals its first year of competition. However, Star also rapidly became a subject of controversy within the activity. For example. it was rumored that Star had raided other corps for staff and membership, which, while possessing a degree of truth, wasn't altogether accurate. Also, due to the financial challenges faced by many corps, Star also faced some degree of hostility due to its wealthy benefactor. Thanks in part to a casual remark made by Cook to a news reporter (a remark Cook has said he wishes he could take back), Star became known as "the best corps money can buy."
Due to innovative shows and a fearsome work ethic, Star progressed rapidly up the competitive ladder. The corps broke into the top 6 in 1989 and into the top 3 just one year later.
After progressing from prosaic shows based on Disney music to symphonic material such as 1990's Belshazzar's Feast, 1991 was Star's year to shine with Roman Images, based on The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. The corps had increasingly become known for an incredible mellophone line, which would be on full display in 1991: one movement featured the "running mellophone line," which involved the mellophone section running in circles while playing lightning-fast triplet runs. The show also had an amazing visual program, including a mid-season change that had the disappearing and reappearing cross in the closer. Star took the championship, an incredible feat for a corps only 7 years old.
Star went a more fan-friendly route in 1992, drawing on patriotic themes with American Variations. Mason also experimented with what he termed "body sculpting", or use of body movements by ensemble members as part of the visual program. While it was a more accessible show, it lacked the competitive power of 1991: at World Championships in Madison, Star won quarterfinals, dropped to second place in semifinals to the Cavaliers, and dropped to third at finals.
In 1987, Mason said he wanted Star to "play the game, win the game, and change the game." After accomplishing the first two goals by 1991, Mason decided to accomplish the third in 1993 with The Music of Barber and Bartok, featuring "Medea", possibly one of the most abstract, obtuse shows in drum corps history. The musical selection of the program proved to be controversial; not only was the corps performing music by Bela Bartok and Samuel Barber -- obscure composers largely unknown to most drum corps fans -- the music was intentionally raw and discordant. But visually, the show was a tremendous success: the challenging drill and guard work were, even by Star's high standards, unbelievably clean. Overall, Star in 1993 pushed the envelope in terms of what could be gotten away with on a football field. After winning several regionals in 1993, Star suffered the most heartbreaking of losses, coming in at second place by a mere tenth of a point to the Cadets of Bergen County. However, the corps won high percussion and brass that year. Also at Solo & Ensemble that year, Star's vaunted mellophone and baritone ensemble scored a perfect 100 at Individual and Ensemble Competition. The signifigance of Star's 93 show and how it helped transform the DCI landscape has been a topic of debate for over 20 years and still continues today.
Activities Since Leaving Competition
Star of Indiana drum and bugle corps left the competitive drum corps activity after the 1993 season to pursue a new form of performance termed "brass theater" with the world-renowned Canadian Brass. After several years of experimentation with stage shows, director James Mason created Blast!. An indoor stage presentation of a variety of elements of drum and bugle corps performed by a professional cast, Blast! includes selections from the organization's competitive years, such as Medea from Star's decidedly abstract 1993 show. Blast! won the 2001 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event, the first time the award had been given. Star of Indiana has gone on to create a jazz-fusion show called "Cyberjam", which (unlike Blast!) includes saxophones in the wind ensemble.
The Pink Elephants
The two pink, dancing elephants in Star's 1987 The Greatest Show On Turf were 15 year-olds who didn't quite make the hornline. One of these two went on to become one of the greatest mellophone players in Star history, eventually arranging music for Blast! and the Star Alumni Corps of 2004.
The same two pink elephants originally went with the piece "Pink Elephants On Parade" (which the corps trashed sometime into the season). Though the corps' members detested the elephants, the crowds loved them, so they stayed in the program.