Blue Devils inspire Hamburg community

Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps returned to Hamburg Aug. 2 to 5 to rehearse on the campus of Hamburg Area School District. Pictured are the Blue Devils during a performance this season.
Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps returned to Hamburg Aug. 2 to 5 to rehearse on the campus of Hamburg Area School District. Pictured are the Blue Devils during a performance this season. Submitted photo — Blue Devils Performing Arts
Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps rehearse on the campus of Hamburg Area School District.
Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps rehearse on the campus of Hamburg Area School District. Lisa Mitchell — Digital First Media

The big sounds of the gold-medal winning Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps reverberated in the hills surrounding Hamburg while they rehearsed once again on the campus of Hamburg Area School District Aug. 2 to 5.

“The Blue Devils completed an undefeated season and claimed the gold medal with a score of 98.538. Congratulations to the Santa Clara Vanguard and all the performing drum corps this season. Our 2017 production, Metamorph, allowed The Blue Devils to pay homage to every member, staff and volunteer from our past and present, while looking ahead to a bright future. This is a celebration of everyone in our Blue Devils family. #bdworld” reads the Facebook page post on Blue Devils Drum & Bugle Corps Facebook page on Aug. 12 after the championships.

Justin Heimbecker, CEO and executive director of Blue Devils Performing Arts, a non-profit organization based in Concord, Calif., describes the Blue Devils as the cream of the crop.

“These are the top 1 percent in the world,” said Heimbecker. “It’s being on an all-star team. So if you take the best trumpet player or snare drummer or dancer from all of the best schools in the country and even in the world and you put them into an ensemble together, it’s just going to raise that standard. And we also have the best staff in the world, great designers, great creators, great educators so when you put all of those things together, it just becomes something really special.”

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He hopes the people of Hamburg area gain a positive experience from seeing them rehearse at Hamburg High School stadium.

“There’s a lot of really good, talented, committed young people doing good things. They exist all over the country and all over the world,” said Heimbecker. “It’s an opportunity to be inspired. You see a lot of things in the news that maybe are negative, you know you see a lot of bad stuff. This is something that is just truly good so hopefully they leave here with some hope and some optimism and some great music.”

Hamburg residents Holly Smith, an employee of Hamburg School District, brought her daughter Genevieve Smith, 10, to see and hear the Blue Devils rehearse at Hamburg stadium. Her daughter takes percussion lessons at Perry Elementary.

“I wanted her to see what she could do if she continues with that here,” said Smith.

“They’re amazing,” said Genevieve. “It sounds so cool.”

“I like the fact that they can utilize our facilities and make Hamburg their home for three days. It’s such an honor,” said Smith. “They sleep on the gym floor and they live, eat and breath this and I think it’s amazing that Hamburg can host it.”

Hamburg Area School District orchestra director Angela Dowd was in the concession stand helping the Hamburg Area Music Association offer snacks and drinks during evening rehearsal on Aug. 3. Dowd thinks it is wonderful that the Blue Devils come to Hamburg.

“We try to tell our kids to come see them. They’re top of the line, very dedicated, very succinct, everything is just very precise and it’s good for them to see this high level of musicianship and marching,” said Dowd. “I hope they get excited about music. I even tell my string kids to come just to be excited about any sort of music ... it can carry over into concert band, choir or orchestra. It’s great for them to see something at such a high level of performance.”

Dowd also sees community members coming out to watch rehearsal.

“People look forward to it and I think they enjoy it,” she said.

Blue Devils members are all 18 to 21 years of age, mostly 20 years and above. They auditioned through an international audition process.

“We can only have 150 in the group. It’s a very exclusive, very competitive group,” Heimbecker said. “They are just incredibly well trained and incredibly disciplined and talented. They’re great kids.”

Blue Devils trumpet player Davis Smith, 22, from Phoenix, Arizona, has been member of the Blue Devils for two years and involved in bugle and drum corps for five years.

“I just love getting to be really good at music and marching with some of my best friends and best staff and just getting treated really well,” Davis Smith said about Blue Devils. “Hamburg is beautiful. It’s definitely one of the best rehearsal places we’ve had all year. Normally it’s really hot where we go, but it’s been beautiful here.”

The Blue Devils has a brass section of 70 plus members on trumpet, mellophone, euphonium and tuba. Percussion section has a marching percussion as well as front ensemble. The color guard has almost 40 performers who spin flags, equipment and dance.

Heimbecker explained what they do during their season.

After a few weeks of training camp where they rehearse 12 hours a day every single day in California, they all get on buses and take the trucks and hit the road.

“They’ve been on the road since June 15 traveling through the night, sleeping on buses, rehearsing all day at schools like this. Every other night or so we go to a big stadium and perform and compete for anywhere from five to 20,000 spectators. The judges evaluate us and the fans cheer and we pack up and go to the next city,” he said.

While staying in Hamburg, the Blue Devils competed at the regional competition at J. Bernie Crum Stadium in Allentown on Aug. 5, followed by the world championships in Indianapolis on Aug. 12 where they won the gold medal.

“We cover some serious miles over the course of the summer,” noting a few of their stops, including Atlanta, San Antonio, and Denver.

This is the Blue Devils’ 60th anniversary as an organization, so this year’s show is called “Metamorph.”

“It’s really looking at the organization and drum corps activity past, present and future,” said Heimbecker.

Heimbecker thanks the Hamburg community for hosting the Blue Devils.

“We love being here. It’s funny. We have 150 students from all over the world, none of them are from here, and when we tell them we’re going to Hamburg for the Allentown show, they think of it as home,” said Heimbecker. “Hamburg High School for the past several years has been this cozy place where we rehears and we hide in the hills of Pennsylvania. They look forward to coming here and really appreciate the community support and the school support. Thanks for having us.”

For more about the Blue Devils, visit https://bluedevils.org.

About the Author

Lisa Mitchell

Lisa Mitchell is the editor of The Kutztown Patriot and Managing Editor of Berks-Mont Newspapers. Reach the author at lmitchell@berksmontnews.com or follow Lisa on Twitter: @kutztownpatriot.