Elite Drum and Bugle Corps Training in Denair

Santa Clara VanguardClass may be out for the summer, but the staccato beat of drums, the blare of horns and an array of colorful flags are filling the air around two Denair campuses this week.

The Vanguard Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps from Santa Clara once again are using the grassy fields and other facilities in Denair to prepare for the summer competition season. It is the fifth consecutive year the 146-member organization has held a weeklong camp at the adjoining high school and middle school sites.

“The relationship between Denair and Vanguard has been positive and has generated interest to the degree that folks will stop by to watch and inquire,” said Aaron Rosander, superintendent of the Denair Unified School District.

Last year, the camp provided a springboard to the Drum Corps International Open Class Championship, which the Bay Area group won for the second time.

“The Vanguard Cadets are honored to once again spend time here in Denair. We have always been treated so wonderfully and want to give much thanks to the district office personnel and school administration,” said Steve Barnhill, the corps’ director.

The connection to Denair was established by Vanguard’s CEO a few years ago, Barnhill said, and has worked out perfectly.

“The facilities are great. We’re right next to the cafeteria. We’re right next to the quad. We have access to football field,” he said. “And it’s quiet and safe at night. … We make a lot of noise, so it’s easy to become a distraction. The people here are really nice; very welcoming.”

Vanguard’s group includes 64 musicians in the brass section, 40 in percussion, 40 in the color guard and two drum majors, plus about 20 adult instructors. The caravan of three buses, a semi-trailer full of instruments, flags, uniforms and equipment, and a mobile kitchen arrived Saturday.

The cadets bunk in the middle school gym while the adults use various classrooms. “We all have air mattresses,” Barnhill said. “You get used to it.”

The daily schedule is jam-packed. Music and color guard practice begins at 8:30 a.m. and continues until 10 p.m., with breaks only for lunch and dinner. There is no time for sight-seeing or other social activities.

“The fun is how great we get it (the performance). The fun is chasing perfection. This is all work,” Barnhill said with a chuckle. “They’ll have four days off next week when we aren’t rehearsing.”

The musicians and color guard represent an all-star team from the Bay Area. For those who haven’t attended a performance, think of the halftime show at a football game – only better.

“You’re going to see very sophisticated program of marching and music. The skills displayed by the students are highly advanced,” Barnhill explained. “They’re like a professional marching band.”

The cadets will put on a dress rehearsal Thursday at Denair High beginning at 7 p.m. The theme of the performance is “The Road Not Taken,” inspired by the Robert Frost poem of the same name. The public is invited to attend free of charge.

Cadets range in age from 15 to 21 years old; most are still in high school. Many go on to perform with the elite Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps, a six-time world champion whose members are mostly in college.

The cadets have a busy weekend of competition with an event Friday in Clovis and other shows in Sacramento and San Jose. There are more events in the Bay Area and Southern California scheduled in July before a series of competitions in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. They will try to defend their national title Aug. 6-9 in Indianapolis.

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