Don't ever call the Blue Knights a marching band. Averaging about 126 members, give or take one or two, the Knights are a drum and bugle corps, the cream of the field-performance genre, and nothing but. To call them anything else would border on insult.
What's the difference, exactly? A corps is built around a nine-voice bugle choir, and the rest is all percussion--snare, bass and tenor drums, timpani, cymbals, marimbas, xylophones and vibraphones. And the music it plays is more sophisticated than the usual "Stars and Stripes Forever"; you're more likely to hear Duke Ellington or Shostakovich than John Philip Sousa. But you'll hear it performed in thundering renditions that will shake your bones.
Longtime Blue Knights director and father figure Mark Arnold is more than effusive in talking about his kids, most of whom he says join the corps because there's nothing in the world they'd rather be doing. "The Blue Knights are to the marching music world what the Broncos are to the football world," Arnold says. "It's all about the pursuit of perfection. You think boot camp is tough? You've got to be kidding!"
They are a smart-looking crew. Ranging in age from 14 to 21, these young men and women are neat and trim in pearl-gray-and-navy-blue uniforms with plumed caps. The 31-member color guard, a sleek, muscled crew of graceful young women, accompanies the corps, waving--and, at times, twirling and maneuvering--hand-painted flags they call "silks" in time to the music. "We call it 'spinning,'" one girl says. "We don't say 'flip' or 'twirl.'" Along with the rest of the corps, color guard members put in ten- to twelve-hour days, seven days a week, in preparation for each season.
Preliminary work begins in November with auditions, followed by a regimen of constant rehearsals and performances. "We have no social life," quips one curly-tressed teen. But she's beaming when she says it, looking out at the parade of well-groomed guys--and there are a lot of them--lugging heavy blue drums and shiny platinum horns from buses. As nineteen-year-old drum major Lee Reiff relates, many corps members become friends for life. Color-guard spinner Talia Lee, who at 21 says she'll "age out" of the Knights after this year, would like to continue to be involved. "It'd be like my gift back to them," she says. "I'll do anything, whether it's coaching or promotions or just handing out fliers."
Perhaps the highest point of each season for the Knights is Drums Along the Rockies, an event that brings together some of the world's best drum and bugle troupes, including California's world-champion Blue Devils, at Mile High Stadium. That's this weekend. But the Knights have already had one brush with destiny this July: performing at Coors Field before the All-Star game. While All-Star partyers reveled and dealt Beanie Babies in the stands, the Blue Knights' unamplified pre-game performance was a little bit soggy, lost in the hoopla.
But these kids are pros. The next day they were back at it, putting in another ten grueling, muggy-hot hours of rehearsal time in a remote lot at the former Stapleton Airport. "They're so enthusiastic and passionate about what they do," says spokeswoman Paula Wiens. "Sometimes you have to pinch yourself and realize that they're just kids." Still, they're kids who know how to strut their stuff.
Drums Along the Rockies, 7 p.m. July 18, Mile High Stadium, $10-$25, 424-6396.