Drew (left) and Shelby (right) Blezinger will face off this summer when their respective drum and bugle corps squads meet in multiple venues across the country. Along with their younger sister, Kacey, they siblings have shown the rare level of determination and talent needed to make it at the top level of competition in the percussion world.
Staff Photo By Faith Huffman
The Beat Goes On ...
And on ... and on for this talented trio of siblings rising to the creme de la creme of the percussion world
By FAITH HUFFMAN | News-Telegram News Editor
April 23, 2008 - To say the three children of Steve and Linda Blezinger march to the beat of a different drum would be no exaggeration.
Drew, Shelby and Kasey Blezinger have all earned accolades for their performances with the Sulphur Springs middle and high school band programs, but that's only one chapter in each of talented percussionists' musical stories.
All three either have, will or show the promise of taking part in Drum Corps International, the pinnacle of the competive percussion world that requires talent, drive, endurance, strength and uncompromising dedication.
Drew: The veteran
Drew, the eldest of the three children, sits in as back-up percussionist and drummer for First Baptist Church's praise band and worship orchestra, and provides percussion support for music programs at various other churches. He is finishing his third year at Texas A&M University-Commerce studying music education and wants to share his passion for "skins, sticks and mallets" with other young people in the future.
And recently, in the middle of taking 15 hours of upper level classes, he was asked to step in and help the Winter Guard International group Surround Sound finish the final three weeks of its season -- including their trip to the world finals.
"A friend in Fort Worth called at 10:30 one night and said, 'We cut a member. Can you do it?'" Drew recalled. "They had three weeks left. I thought about it, thought 'How am I going to do that and deal with finals?'"
The answer, of course, was that he'd be spending a lot of hours practicing with Surround Sound.
"And I'm a lot more sore," he said, comparing the WGI drum line with Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps, the Drum Corps International group he spent last summer touring with.
"I've gotten into a drum line. It's a lot more on the body with dance and choreography," Drew said.
In May, Drew will begin his fifth and final year to play with DCI, and second year with Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps. He'll "age out" following the season.
From 2004 to 2006, Drew played each summer with Southwind Drum & Bugle Corps out of Lexington, Ky., which one year finished 15th at the world finals.
Last summer, the Bluecoats finished seventh at the world DCI contest, with the percussion section recognized as second best at the contest. The Bluecoats percussion was also one of the featured groups at the 2007 Percussion Arts Society International Convention in Columbus, Ohio.
The Bluecoats will be among the six full-length corps performances featured tomorrow -- Thursday, April 24 -- beginning at 7:30 p.m. in DCI's "The Countdown," which will be played in 300 movie theaters nationwide. The six full-length corps performances are selected from among the best world championship finalists of the past three years -- the Blue Devils, Bluecoats and Carolina Crown in 2007; The Cadets in 2005; and Phantom Regiment and The Cavaliers in 2006.
DCI fans in 10 Dallas-Fort Worth area theaters will act as judges to decide the "Countdown Champion" by interactive vote, using score sheets downloaded from www.DCI.org. They'll keep track of and rate corps performances, then submit their scores on the DCI website. The corps receiving the highest marks will be named 2008 Countdown Champion. (Ticket and theater information is available at www.FathomEvents.com)
Shelby: Next in line
In May, about a week after Drew begins his second summer with Bluecoats Drum and Bugle Corps out of Canton, Ohio, Shelby will depart for Jacksonville, Ala., where she will play with Spirit Drum and Bugle Corps, a Division 1 drum corps that has finished in the top 12 at DCI world finals for the last few years.
Last year, Shelby auditioned for Crossmen Division 1 Drum Corps out of San Antonio but was cut due to her age.
She was very disappointed, to say the least.
"She was cut due to her young age, not her ability," noted Steve, her father. "This made her VERY mad."
But hardly discouraged. This year, Shelby tried out for the Bluecoats, the same drum and bugle corps as her brother. They felt that if both were touring with the Bluecoats, Shelby would have her older brother there for support and to help look out for her. But it wasn't to be.
Shelby was turned down due to her musculature -- it takes a lot of effort to endure the arduous pace the entire summer season. However, it was suggested she check out another drum corps, Spirit. Amid preparations for two other band concerts, she began preparing for Spirit tryouts.
It was a stressful time, but her parents say they'd expect no less of their daughter, who also was raising cattle to take to stock shows, had duties as an officer and board member state and national Junior Braunvieh Associations. She was also active in church youth programs and as a secretary for Venture Crew 69 as well. Of course, she did all that in addition to her usual school work (Shelby's ranked 15th in her class). She also qualified for the state solo and ensemble contest, as well as the All Region Band).
Despite her limited practice time, Shelby was selected for a front line vibraphone position with Spirit Drum and Bugle Corps, which for the past few years has finished in the top 12 at the DCI World Finals, and where she's found her niche.
Drew said he's not surprised -- he admits that already Shelby is a more skilled performer than he was at the end of his junior year of high school. For example, didn't wasn't chosen to play for DCI until he graduated high school, but Shelby is just a junior. She's more mature, Drew says, and has the right muscle strength, so she'll be ready for the front line this summer.
Kacey: Next in line
Not to be outdone by her older siblings, Kacey decided to try her hand at drum corps last year at age 14. Kasey knew going in that she's still too young to officially make the team, but decided to trail her older sis to the rigorous camp and tryout for Crossmen out of San Antonio.
She received favorable compliments from the technicians "for her ability at such a young age," according to their dad, Steve Blezinger.
In her freshman year at SSHS, Kasey shows promise. A tenor saxophonist in the SSHS marching band, Kasey made first chair in the Freshman All-Region band and qualified to go to area with the High School All-Region band. In UIL competition, Kasey qualified to go to the state solo and ensemble contest with a Division 1 Class One solo and as part of a Division 1 Class 1 Ensemble, the same as Shelby.
All three Blezinger children are competitive percussionists, with each younger sibling trying to best the older sibling's impressive track record. (The girls are especially competitive when it comes to Drew's accomplishments.)
This summer, the rivalry between Drew and Shelby will continue ,as their drum corps groups, Bluecoats and Spirt, face off against each other in competitions leading up to the world finals in August. The Bluecoats' schedule includes 25 performances, and Spirit has 29. Of those, both drum and bugle corps will perform at 18 of the same venues, including a number of DCI competitions. Both will end their season Aug. 7 at the world championships in Bloomington, Ind.
The closest city to Sulphur Springs either will be marching through is the Bluecoats' performance at Red River Thunder in Denton on July 20, although there will be other competitions in the region. Both Spirit and Bluecoats will be in San Antonio at the DCI Southwestern Championship on July 19, and in Lafayette, La., at Drums Across Cajun Field on July 16. Spirit will also play in Houston at the July 18 exSIGHTment OF SOUND event. The Bluecoats' next nearest performance will be the Battle on the Border V in Van Buren, Ark., scheduled for July 23.
Shelby said that, while it will be different in that she'll be away from home the entire summer, often sleeping on gym floors, she's used to being busy during the summer months. She attends livestock shows and often is away for band, church and other camps which generally keep her pretty busy. As a freshman that also included tennis.
"Always summers are busy. I'm always adding to it other camps," she said. "This is one big long camp."
Drew and Steve joke that she'll have to learn to sleep on gym floors or catch a few winks on the bus -- and without the massive pile of a dozen or so pillows currently on her bed. (Drew grins and admits after so many summers with DCI and college, he can sleep just about anywhere if he can lean his head back and get still for more than a few seconds.)
Shelby just shrugs and smiles and admits she's gradually weaning herself off "the mountain," little by little, one pillow at a time. She knows when she goes on the road with Spirit she'll have very little room to store her belongings, which admittedly include more clothes than Drew carts with him.
She's already learning. Like Drew did the last part of his senior year, about once a month she leaves school on Friday and drives the 11 hours to Alabama to practice with the other members of her group, who already are becoming like family to her. Of course, thanks to the summers following Drew around periodically as well as trying out with some of the same kids, she already knew a handful going in, which her parents expect will make the summer easier.
BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM
Shelby endures the rigorous practices during her monthly weekend camps, then makes the long journey home Sunday night. She sleeps a few hours, then gets up and goes back to school for Advanced Placement classes before coming home to tend to her cattle and the online German class she's taking. Admittedly, those aren't her best days, but "I try to be nice," a chagrined Shelby says when ribbed by her brother about sometimes being a bear from lack of sleep.
"It's so hard, back and forth from camp. I'm not used to doing it so fast in such a short time. My hands hurt and fingers were all blistery, my hands were so ugly. I asked myself, 'Why am I doing this?'" she admitted. "At the same time, I couldn't wait to go back. It's a vicious cycle."
END OPTIONAL TRIM
The Blezingers note that DCI is not for everyone. There are always a few extra members picked each year TO step in when someone discovers they've taken on more than they anticipated.
"These kids are extremely dedicated," Steve said of the many young people who participate in DCI each year.
Percussion isn't all the Blezinger siblings play well. They've also all received at least a few years of tutelage in piano.
Drew prefers mallets and skins to strings and keys, while Shelby says she really enjoys both but has yet to decide whether or not she'll make a career of it.
Kasey is a bit less patient, and her future preferences are anybody's guess at this point, her family notes. After all, she's only just started her high school career and still has plenty of time to decide what she wants.
As for their affinity for percussion? To some extent they can thank their dad, Steve, who's been known to take up sticks and play. But Shelby and especially Drew say the bulk of the blame for their drumming bug can be placed at band instructor Steve Proctor's door.
"He's a big drum corps supporter," Drew said of Proctor. "He's the one, really, you could say that got us into drum corps. He's a very good supporter."
"I just love Mr. Proctor," Shelby said.
Drew recounted a few occasions that he looked up in the crowd or was exiting the field after performing, only to find the face of Proctor.
He recalled one particularly rough stretch, tired and away from home in Orlando in July. As he was walking along, there was Proctor.
They also know they can count on him being there at season's end.
"He's always at the finals," Drew said.
Proctor, in fact, was the one to encourage Drew to try out for Southwind his senior year of high school. It was that first summer traveling 16,000 miles across the country, working off 30 pounds he didn't really have to spare and building up "drum" muscles, that changed Drew's future course.
"Through a good part of high school, I thought I'd like to be an engineer or architect, and for a long time had been decided I'd go to A&M to study," Drew says. "But I did that first summer [with Southwind], and explored it in depth. Those three months really changed my perspective. I found out I really like it, not just as a hobby."
He's got about a year and a half to go in college, then hopes to eventually go into teaching, but might also seek a master's degree.
While Drew really buckles down in his studies and embarks on a career in music education, you can expect Shelby and Kasey to continue drumming along and striving for new individual and family musical bests.