January donation: The Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps

Posted by Jennifer Essary on

There is, at most, only a handful of organizations that have had a profound impact on my life, and the one I've chosen to donate to this month is one of those.

The Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps is a youth performing arts organization based out of Denver, CO. The Blue Knights (BK for short) is a drum and bugle corps, which is basically a professional level marching band (but don't say the "B" word! LOL!). 

I first learned of the Blue Knights because of my high school boyfriend. He auditioned, was accepted, and spent a summer touring with them as a member of the front ensemble. I saw their show numerous times that summer at locations around the US, and he had only good things to say about them when he got back to us little high school bandos. 

I decided I wanted to march in a drum corps too, and decided to audition for the Blue Knights in the fall of 2001. The aforementioned boyfriend, who had downgraded to friend by that point, was also auditioning again so we went together along with a couple of other kids from our town. I knew I was a good player and a good marcher, but I didn't know if I was good enough and didn't know what I would find when I got to the audition camp.

In short, what I found was a family. I earned a spot at that first camp and felt immediately accepted by the corps veterans. It felt so good to be around a group of people who would so totally dedicate themselves to reaching a goal, and do nothing but work toward that goal with all of their being (a rare find, I can tell you now!). We went to Denver, a 12 hour drive from my town, once each month for camps, where we learned the show, the music, and excellent musical and marching technique. I was majoring in Music Education at school and later went on to adapt many of the teaching styles I encountered at BK in my own teaching.

When Memorial Day came, we moved up to Denver for the summer. We spent the first few weeks in "all days," - rehearsals which literally lasted all day. We stayed with local members in their homes, met their families, and ate meals that their moms made (and Jeff D.'s mom made me eggs benedict for the first time in my life. They were delicious!). Then, about the middle of June, we loaded up the buses and trucks with all of our things and we hit the road!

If all-days were grueling, then tour was a notch higher, plus adding in fun of performances. On tour we would perform at stadiums all around the US; we traveled by bus, slept on high school gym floors, and rarely stayed in one place for more than a couple of nights. Most days were variations of a 'rehearse - clean/load up - perform - travel - wake up in a new place and do it again' pattern. You can imagine the bonds created between the corps members in these conditions - basically living together 24/7 with no privacy, seeing each other at their best and their worst, and still coming together each day to give 100% of your physical and mental fortitude toward our goal.

Despite all the hard work, we had the occasional relaxing day, too. In the course of my time with the corps, the Blue Knights tours first took me to Disneyland, San Diego, the Pacific Ocean, Mount Rushmore, Las Vegas, many many states that I wouldn't otherwise have had reason to visit, and gave me the opportunity to perform in a handful of professional sports stadiums (including performing the National Anthem at a Colorado Rockies game!).

I ended up giving four years of my life - three as a marcher and one as tour staff - to this organization which quickly became a second family. Even now, almost 20 years later, I still consider my corps-mates friends and there are spontaneous hugs every time I run into someone. (This doesn't happen much with me in Texas and most of them in Colorado, so when it does, it is extra special!)

You can boil this down to "professional marching band" but those familiar with this organization, and the many others like it, know that this is the tiniest tip of the iceberg. This organization teaches life skills: how to work together, how to perform, how to be a human being, how to endure though adverse conditions, how to perform, live, and thrive through discomfort, how to give your all every single day, how to get back up when you get knocked down (PREACH to my '02 and '03 family!), how to learn when the teaching style isn't your cup of tea, how to put a group above yourself... the list goes on and on.  (By extension, the beginning of these skills starts with your local school band/music organizations!)

In short, this organization does so much to prepare young people for real life, all through music and the performing arts medium, and so much of what I've learned I owe to them: not just the organization itself, but also my fellow corps members, the staff at the time I marched, and the myriad support staff and volunteers that make it go.

It is my honor to be able to give back to the Blue Knights this month as our monthly donation recipient! 

For more information about the Blue Knights: www.ascendperformingarts.org/
More info about the governing body of drum corps and other competitive drum corps organizations: www.dci.org/