|Two SSHS band members are making the move to the major leagues of drum and bugle corps|
|Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor|
March 27, 2005 - Excuse Drew Blezinger if he delights in his "senior" moments.
The 18-year-old from Sulphur Springs not only will be graduating in a few months, but the Sulphur Springs High School 12th grader is also gearing up for another jam-packed summer as a senior member of Southwind Drum and Bugle Corps.
And this time, when the accomplished young musician arrives May 27 in the groups's Lexington, Ky., headquarters, Blezinger will have the added pleasure of taking his best friend, Adam Hall, along with him to play timpani, commonly referred to as kettle drums, for the Drum Corps International Division I group. (Think of DCI as the major leagues of marching band competition.)
Blezinger, reporting in the fall when tryouts were being held, was awarded a veterans spot with Southwind. Last summer, Blezinger worked with the Corps' front line, or "pit," and this year will play vibraphone.
Hall was unable to make the first round of auditions, but when Blezinger came home from the second camp held this year and told his best friend there was still an opening for a timpani player, not even the fact that it's not his usual instrument deterred the 18-year-old high school senior. Hall generally plays snare drum alongside Blezinger in the school band, but auditioned and was approved to play kettle drum in the national drum corps.
Since then, the two active high school students have driven the 13-hour trip to Kentucky once a month for intense weekends of training with the other 133 members of Southwind, who range in age from 14 to 21.
"You're really lucky to get in at 17 and under," Blezinger explained. "We're both 18. Last year I was 16 when I made it, and 17 when I actually got in and started."
Southwind includes 35 percussionists, 60 horns, and the remaining 40 members are color guard. In addition to the Sulphur Springs youth, Southwind also consists of a few members currently attending Texas A&M University-Commerce, four or five from the Dallas area, and several others from the Northeast Texas and Oklahoma area. Traditionally, most of the people involved in Southwind have come from the northern part of the U.S. However, the past few years have seen a departure from that trend. Most of the directors currently reside in Oklahoma and one in Texas, Hall and Blezinger explained, thus more Southwind members from the region.
"You have to be really, seriously dedicated," Blezinger said. "We're a Division I drum corps -- Division I is like one of the premier in the nation. The practices are not like school practice, they are much more technically intense. One of our directors -- who are great -- just got done with a doctorate in music."
For their monthly jaunt to Lexington, Blezinger and Hall leave at 5 a.m. on Friday, drive most of the day for an evening of practice, get up and work most of the day Saturday and Sunday, then drive home Sunday night, arriving home around 3:30 a.m. Monday morning. This dedicated pair then grab a couple of hours sleep, and it's off to school again as usual at 7:30 Monday morning.
During the regular school week, they attend classes and prepare for regular band contests, such as upcoming State Band Solo and Ensemble, for which both qualified. Drew received first for his solo percussion and Adam for his snare drum solo, and both qualified as part of the percussion ensemble which also included SSHS students Chelsea Cobb, Jerrell Allen, Dusty McQueen, Cory Sandoval, Jason Starrett and Rebecca Triplett.
Both are active members of the Boy Scouts Venture Crew, play music with their church groups and are involved in various other extracurricular activities and clubs at school. Drew has participated in Teen Court all four years of his high school career, and is in Key Club and other groups. Adam works at Sears, which is owned by his grandparents Glenn and Mary Ruth Hall, and has participated in school sports and other activities over the years, according to Drew's dad, Steve Blezinger, who the boys credit for their continued instruction and encouragement for their successes, along with SSISD band directors Spencer Emmert and Steve Proctor.
In fact, the boys are also both working under Emmert in a new program being developed at the school, an indoor drum line. They practice with the other 21 members of the indoor drum line Tuesday for about 1 1/2 hours after school. That group includes 11 from the regular high school marching band, seven from the "pit" and five eighth graders recruited to fill out the band.
Local drum enthusiasts can catch the SSHS indoor drum line in concert at North Lamar in Paris, along with a few other percussion groups in mid-April. They are also preparing for a free concert Thursday, May 5, at Sulphur Springs High School, which will be open to the public. as well.
On May 27, the day that Blezinger and Hall are slated to graduate from high school, they are also to report to Southwind headquarters in Lexington, where they will work 12 hours a day for three weeks training for the national summer tour. Southwind will then begin performing at various venues across the nation during the two-month tour, which with any luck will conclude Aug. 13 with a performance in the world DCI finals in Foxboro, Mass.
"We're already ahead, progress-wise, by about a month," Blezinger said earlier this week of Southwind's training.
"The project has really stepped up. We're moving along quicker than last year. The show design is coming together faster," Hall said.
This year the group also established itself as a nonprofit organization with different sponsors to help back the tour, which has been expanded to include about 10 more performances this year than last during the 37-day run which spans the country.
"We're getting all new horns and drums and equipment," Blezinger said excitedly. "Last year, the drums were used. This year it won't be secondhand stuff."
Several of the venues have already sold out, but some tickets are still available for the two Texas concerts Southwind will play during.
Tickets for the 29th Annual North Texas Festival of Drums and Bugles which begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21, in Lake Highlands High School Stadium, can be obtained by contacting Bonnie Blockman at 903-342-1324. The competition, sponsored by Lake Highlands Area Band Club, will feature nine drum and bugle groups. More information on this festival can be obtained at http://www.lakehighlandsbands.org/
Southwind will also compete in the DCI Southwestern Championship in the Alamodome in San Antonio, a regional contest featuring two shows with 22 of the best drum corps around, provided they advance to that level. Tickets are good for both the noon and 7 p.m. shows on Saturday, July 23, at the regional contest. For tickets go to www.dci.org/tickets/ and click on DCI Southwestern.
In addition to practicing in any spare moment, both Hall and Blezinger have been actively involved in raising the requisite $1,400 needed to pay daily costs such as accommodations, food and equipment upkeep for the tour.
They recently held a march-a-thon, in which individuals make a small set donation per lap. In June, a bowl-a-thon has been slated to help raise additional funds. All money raised from these drives is split, with half going directly to Southwind and the other half going into the boys' fund to help meet the cost for the trip.
"We have to pay our dues each year and about $1,400, which if you figure comes out to about $20 a day. We have fundraisers, which are pretty much complete, but donations are helpful, especially now that we're [Southwind] our own organization. Money is tight, and corps have to pay their own way," said Blezinger.
Steve Blezinger, one of four percussionists in his household, is also accepting donations from individuals, groups and businesses on behalf of his son and Adam Hall. Anyone wishing to help sponsor them on their trip can make donations by contacting Steve at 903-885-7992 at his office.
When the pair return from the tour in August, they will get to spend a little bit of time with their families before heading off to their next venture: College, where they plan to major in music. Drew's musically inclined family includes his father Steve; mother, Linda, who plays clarinet; and two younger sisters who are also percussionists in the school band. Adam's family includes his parents, Dennis and Melonie Findley, a younger brother who also plays in the band, and a younger sister.
Drew's current plans include attending Texas A&M University Commerce for a year, then hopefully transferring to the University of North Texas in Denton,which is known to have one the top music/band programs in the country. Adam is looking at a Christian college in Dallas, where he will begin working toward a career in music and youth ministry.
On the 'Net:
Southwind Drum and Bugle Corps:
Drum Corps International: