Class of ‘18 alumni march for world champion Blue Devils

September 9, 2019 — by Esther Luan and Maddie Jin

“Drum majors Everett Kim, Alex Tran and Chasen Young, is your corps ready?” 

The booming announcement was greeted with thunderous applause at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. It was Saturday, Aug. 10, and 20,000 audience members eagerly awaited the performance of the world-renowned Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps and their performance of their program “Ghostlight.” 

Class of 2018 alum Alex Tran, who currently attends UC Santa Barbara, stood proudly on an elevated platform, ready to lead 150 of the most esteemed young performers in the country. Fellow Class of 2018 SHS graduate and current Duke University student Austin Shi posed behind a tall gray backdrop, holding a white rifle in his gloved hands as part of the group’s guard. 

While a handful of alumni have marched in world-class drum corps before, Tran and Shi are the first to win a national drum corps title in school history. 

Their success as part of the music program during high school was a sign they could compete at the next level. As a member of SHS Marching Band, Tran played the clarinet for three years, while Shi performed with the school Color Guard for two seasons and Winter Guard for four. Both were drum majors during their senior year. 

Tran, whose first year with Blue Devils just ended, recalls the significant difference between the dynamics of school and professional marching band.

“In the school environment, you have to keep a lot more distance from the staff,” Tran said. “[The Blue Devils staff] treat you like adults instead of just like students, so they joke with you and vice versa. You get a lot closer with [them].” 

Shi emphasized another difference between the two programs: the standard of excellence members of the Blue Devils were held to. “If they teach us a piece of choreo one day, it’s expected that we have it by the next day, and if we don’t, it’s on us,” said Shi.

These lofty expectations proved a struggle for Tran, as he missed nearly a full month of rehearsal due to schedule conflicts between school and band. “It was really tough catching up after [missing so much],” he said. 

Shi also faced setbacks during the season, including a concussion that knocked him out for a week and an upper respiratory system virus that affected most performers over the course of the summer.

“The biggest struggle with that was more mental, knowing that everyone is rehearsing and performing in the hot sun and I’m stuck inside.” He noted, however, that ultimately performing at finals “made it all OK.”

The Blue Devils were able to tour the U.S. from June to August, capping their season off  with a title-winning performance at Lucas Oil Stadium. This year’s show theme, “Ghostlight,” referred to a lightbulb mounted on a pole, historically used in theaters to ward off mischievous spirits after workers left for the night. Throughout the season, designers and caption heads worked with band members to develop the show to its fullest potential.

“We’ve have always been ahead of the game, always pushing limits,” Shi said. “Our show this year was incredibly difficult but also incredibly fun to perform.” 

At the national competition, the final performance of the season, the group worked to make the last time count. “It’s pretty somber because it’s the last time we get to do the show together,” Tran said. “We’re never sure what happens, so we prepare ourselves to do the best show we’ve ever done.”

The Blue Devils, headquarter in Concord, Calif., ultimately scored only 0.087 points higher than the Bluecoats from Canton, Ohio, the audience favorite, to win first place.

“The announcer made it really suspenseful,” Tran said, smiling. “He said ‘Blue’ and just held it a good 10 seconds before he said “coats.” And that’s when we knew.”

While victory is hardly unfamiliar to the Blue Devils organization as a whole, having won 19 titles in 47 years, the win was still an unforgettable experience for each member of the corps.

“It was pretty exciting because the whole season we’ve been fighting to stay motivated,” Tran said. “We weren’t winning every show, so it was really relieving knowing all our hard work paid off.”

Though the season has ended, Shi and Tran both plan on continuing with the Blue Devils next marching season. “We’re going to have a lot of returning members next year,” Tran said. “We’re all really excited about that.”

“At the end of the season, we’re such a tight-knit family,” Shi added. “It’s really hard to say goodbye.”

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