By Christina Mavroudis-Dempsey In a weekend of corps premiers around the country, the Bay Area had its fill with two powerhouse corps introducing their 2004 productions. Both showcased multiple units in their organization to packed stands filled with friends and family. Both dedicated their work to founding directors. And all gave previews to what is sure to be another neck-to-neck season finish. The Renegades Senior and Blue Devils B corps honor guards kicked off the annual Blue Devils Family Day by leading a troop of the stands at a packed Diablo Valley College on Saturday June 12. The four performing corps followed with the C corps leading the way, followed by the B corps, Renegades Senior and finally the Blue Devils A corps. The evening began with a brief moment of silence to honor the late Jerry Seawright, former Blue Devils director and DCI Hall of Fame member. The evening and the Blue Devils season have been dedicated to Seawright, who passed away suddenly on May 16.

A peek at the Vanguard Cadets' new uniforms. Photo courtesy Al Yeh.
The Blue Devils C corps took the field for their "Arabian Nights" production looking very sophisticated in new uniforms which are quite similar to last year's A corps' uniforms. During the finale of "Caravan", three young ladies shed their shakos, shook their long hair loose, and ripped out brass solos of quality caliber. Near the end, the audience, which included all performers watching each other in the stands, cheered several spots that mimicked last years A-corps show with vocal bee-bops and percussive licks. Introduced as "first cousins," the elder statesmen of the afternoon, the San Francisco Renegades, pulled out all the stops in their show, "Goodbye Blue Skies: The Triumph of Evil." Playing such legendary BD tunes as "Open Wide" and "Channel One Suite" plus featuring numerous alumni, the senior corps was welcomed as part of the family. (Of note: Playing SCV tunes like "Carmen" and also featuring a contingent of SCV alumni, the Renegades were also invited to perform at SCV's family day but had to decline due to logistics of out-of-town performers.) After a brass gathering of all BD horns ("Space chords," et. al.), Blue Devils B took their turn. Sporting new unis of white right sleeves and black diagonals across the chest with mirrored accents, the corps pulled the best of Pat Matheny tunes and are on their way to make their mark at DCI Championships this year. Following a percussion arc of sound (14 basses, 20 snares, 12 tenors and 25 pit) lead by the corps center snare, the A corps provided the grand finale. Audience and corps members alike enthusiastically received the new uniform. Four-year tuba player Justin Lewis explained it as fresh take on the Blue Devil classic look of the last decade: Pin-striped pants, no vest, and a silver sash that is partially covered by a high waist half jacket with black lapels. Lewis said the most challenging part of the show is "The back end of the opener with a tuba feature running front-to-back." As a longtime vet, Justin has "positive feelings" about the year. "We're relaxed and loose today. A better start than I remember for the last couple of years," he said. "And even though this is a performance for family and friends, we know to treat every performance like professionals"
Their show, "SummerTrain Blues Mix," builds on a train motif right from the start with locomotive sounds. Snares use bells at one point, and the guard gets into the mix with a visual and vocal train presentation. Listen for variations on the sultry "Summertime" and jazzy "A-Train." Check out a photo gallery of Blue Devils Family Day. The following evening, Santa Clara Vanguard held its Family Day event to packed stands at Amador Valley High School. The Vanguard Cadet corps is also on their way to Denver this year, sporting a new look designed by Fred J. Miller. Borrowed from the uniforms created for the Rose Parade event, it is nearly identical to the A corps, but with a distinguishing silver overlay on the white stripe. They opened with the majestic "Engulfed Cathedral" by Claude Debussy followed by "The New Moon in the Old Moon's Arms - Symphonic Poem" by the late Michael Kamen, a favorite SCV Cadet composer. The closer, performed in concert formation, included selections by Peter Boyer's "New Beginnings" and "Celebration Overture" and bears a surprising hint of "Mission: Impossible." The ballad this year is not mellow or slow, but a fresh approach that's bright and staccato. Good wishes were announced by corps director Rick Valenzuela to the Brown family as long time SCV Cadet director, George Brown and his wife, SCV alumnus Lisa, are expecting their first child this Thanksgiving. As the corps set up, Rick provided information about this year's membership: The 135-member corps is made up of 16-21 year olds with an average age of 19.11 and 66 returning members. Warm up was 2000's "Adagio," an indicator of the familiar to come. This year's show, "Attraction: The Music of Scheherazade," excerpts from "Scheherazade" by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, opened with powerful chords into well-known strains by scattered soloists across the field. Look for intense cymbal players who actually spend less time with the battery, marching with the horns and saddled up orchestrally with the pit. The guard features an all-male rifle line that at one point "battles" their female sabers with Russian swords. The audience yell of "Vanguard!" is back as well as a traditional company front closer. The corps provided an encore of the opener in concert formation and then surprised many with a blast from the past, "The Bottle Dance." To round out the evening, combined brass performed founder Gail Royer's version of "Send in the Clowns." If family day crowd enthusiasm was a gauge, this coming weekend's shows, Moonlight Classic and Precision West/Pacific Procession, will be jammed and the corps hot. Let the games begin!