Drums Along the Sandias


Imagine several of the most elite groups of their kind performing 10-plus minute productions combining music, dance and drill with the highest level of precision, athleticism, artistry and power.

Far beyond a high school or college marching band, Drum Corps International is the pinnacle for marching musicians across the world. The best young brass and percussion performers from all over the globe join with color guards of the highest quality to embark on a grueling national tour with hopes of being crowned the DCI World Champions in August.

Submitted photo: The percussion section of the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps of Denver will lay down the beat during the Drums Along the Sandias performance at 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 19, at Los Lunas High School.

That’s what’s in store for music fans across Valencia County at 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 19, at Los Lunas High School.

Drums Along the Sandias will bring the best of the best performers out for an evening of entertainment and precision unparalleled in the nation.

While the drum corps of today are renowned for their complex choreography, color guards and ability to pack a stadium, Lynn Lindstrom says they come from very humble beginnings.

Lindstrom, the event manager for Ascend Performing Arts, the company producing Drums Along the Sandias, said the drum corps really started when military personnel began coming home from World War II. Veterans joined their local VFWs and Foreign Legions.

“And it became kind of a ‘My unit can beat yours’ kind of thing and different posts would compete,” Lindstrom said. “The judging was done mostly by ‘pass and review.’ They would go up and down the field and that was it. Now there’s more dancing and choreography.”

The corps feature all brass instruments and percussion — no flutes, clarinets or saxophones.

Submitted photo: These brass players belong to the Phantom Regiment of Rockford, Ill. The Regiment is one of the drum corps that will perform at 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 19, at Los Lunas High School for the Drums Along the Sandias event.

“People have described it as a Broadway show that marches on a football field,” she said. “There’s a variety of music — classical, jazz, show tunes.”

Every year, DCI puts out the call for auditions, asking young marching musicians from across the country to come be part of the elite. For the 150 lucky students, it becomes a summer of brutal practices and a nationwide tour.

“Many of the kids are music majors. They learned how to march in high school and they know how to do it right,” Lindstrom said. “The kids pay their dues to do it. They work eight hours a day. They grow up and mature fast.”

And they travel a bit like an army. The corps comes with it’s own food truck, since feeding that many performers at restaurants would be astronomical, Lindstrom said.

The fleet is completed by a semi crammed with instruments and uniforms, and buses full of musicians.

Ryan Sanders, of Clovis, is in his third year playing baritone horn for the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps of Denver.

Sanders has been playing since he was in the sixth grade. He took band with the encouragement of his father, who was in band in high school.

Admittedly, he could have hated it, but Sanders says he “fell in love with it.”

And that love has led him to audition and successfully make the corps for the last three years. But being in the corps one year, is no guarantee a musician will get a spot the following year.

“You have to audition every year. There are only so many spots open each season,” Sanders said. “If you’re not as good as a rookie, you’re out.”

But if you’re in, it’s four weeks of practice in the blazing sun, then eight weeks on a nation-wide tour.

Sanders said the corps perform almost every night on their coast-to-coast adventure. Up a bit after 7 most mornings, Sanders calls a practice day that ends just after 9 p.m. a “short day.”

The performers are given the music before they show up to practice, expected to have learned it so they can concentrate on learning the marching formations.

“It’s very physically demanding,” Sanders said of the corps.

It is not uncommon for a performer to push his or her heart rate up to 180 beats per minute and keep it there for a long period of time, he said.

“I tell people, ‘Imagine holding your breath while running,’” Sanders said.

Long days, hot days and physical stress the likes of which most never see. So at the end of the day, why do it?

“For me personally, what makes it all worth it is ‘finals night,’” Sanders said.

The season ends in Indianapolis this year, at Lucas Oil Staduim for the DCI World Championships, where the best of the best will battle it out for the brass ring.

“When you are performing in front of 30,000 people and you hear the crowd go insane, it’s all worth it,” he said.

Whether a particular corps becomes the champion or not, every performer gets a memento — a DVD of their season of performances.

“It’s neat to watch it and see what I was a part of,” Sanders said.

At 19, he only has one more year to march with the Blue Knights if he makes the cut one more time. But even though next year could be his last year to march, Sanders has plans for the future — finishing his degree in aerospace engineering.

The corps who are performing in Los Lunas next Tuesday represent areas from across the country.

The Blue Knights have become widely regarded as one of the most innovative and cerebral groups in the activity. Notable for their intricate body movement and symphonic programming, the Blue Knights have been a consistent DCI finalist for more than 15 years.

The only drum corps to qualify for every single DCI Finals, the Santa Clara Vanguard are every part as innovative as their name suggests. Renowned for their sophistication, class and commitment, the California corps has developed a large following as they have shaped the activity for decades.

A fan favorite, no matter where they go, Phantom Regiment, out of Rockford, Ill., brings classical music to a new level of entertainment. A DCI Division I finalist every year since 1974, Phantom Regiment will be looking to capture their third championship in Indianapolis this August.

After winning the 2006 Division II World Championship, the Academy, from Tempe, Ariz., was promoted to Division I in 2007 and has become one of DCI’s fastest rising stars. A program of the Arizona Academy of the Performing Arts, this Southwestern corps is ready to put the desert on the drum corps map.

Pop, classical, rock and ragtime accompanies intricate formations and maneuvers designed by top choreographers. Each corps will have its own show concept, some with a familiar story line, others placing emphasis on the powerful performance of its musical selections.

This is the contemporary style of drum and bugle corps marching music, pageantry and entertainment. In addition to the corps’ competitive performance, each will perform a special encore.

Drums Along the Sandias is produced by Ascend Performing Arts, a non-profit corporation providing education for young musicians, in association with the Los Lunas High School band.

A free afternoon open rehearsal at the Los Lunas High School Stadium, conducted by the Blue Knights, will offer insight into each section of the drum corps and provide information regarding this unique activity.

The 2 p.m. event is open to all band directors, their students and anyone interested in attending. 

Tickets are available online at www.drumsalongthesandias.com, Baum’s Music and 1-888-306-3786. Reduced price group tickets may be obtained by calling 1-888-306-3786.

-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.