By Sarah Zuniga
For the third year in a row, drum and bugle corps fans had a special opportunity to watch a top-level group practice for a national competition—for free.
The Santa Clara Vanguard from Santa Clara, Calif., used an Oregon High School field to practice on July 14 in preparation for a performance that same night in the Tour of Champions competition at Northern Illinois University.
Seven different drum and bugle corps from around the United States took part in the competition, which was the second in a series of seven Tour of Champions performances.
Eight buses and equipment trucks arrived early Sunday morning at the Black Hawk Center parking lot.
After breakfast, the Vanguard, which consists of 153 members, spent the rest of the day practicing smallportions of their show, with a full run-through of their performance around 3 p.m.
Frequent water breaks and summer attire helped corps members combat the midday heat and humidity during the rehearsal.
Director Jeff Fiedler, who has been with the Vanguard for six years, said their main competitors this year are the Carolina Crown, Blue Devils of California, and the Cadets of Pennsylvania.
Santa Clara Vanguard finished fourth in the show at NIU, with a score of 83.25. Carolina Crown and the Cadets tied for first with scores of 85.4, and the Blue Devils taking third with a score of 84.85.
Rockford’s own Phantom Regiment received a fifth place ranking with a score of 81.55. The Bluecoats received sixth with 79.75, and the Cavaliers of Rosemont finished seventh with 79 points.
Santa Clara Vanguard is currently in fourth place in the Drum Corps. International rankings.
The Vanguard's 2013 show highlights songs from the musical “Les Miserables.”
“There are aspects of the story that are hinted at,” said Fiedler.
Solider costumes and French flags were used by the color guard to help bring out the storyline, whichchronicles a love story during the French Revolution.
20-year-old mellophone player Isabel Tarrav of Cypress, and 19-year-old drumline member Freddie
Sankus of Gilroy, both expressed their enjoyment of playing with the Vanguard.
“The show is set up for an infinite amount of potential,” said Tarrav, who has played with the Vanguard in 2011 and 2013. “I have never been so excited for a show.”
Challenging music also makes this year's performance exciting for the brass player.
“A lot of crazy mello licks," said Tarrav.
The brass section is certainly up to the challenge.
“The brassline is really strong,” said Fiedler, claiming it’s the strongest since the mid-2000s.
Sankus, who has been with the Vanguard for four years, said the Vanguard has a really strong sense of passion this year.
“We have an exception we have to live up to,” said Sakus.
Both Tarrav and Sankus were influenced by the group to pursue career choices because of their love of music.
“After being here, I changed back to music education,” said Tarrav. “It has expanded my interest.”
“It’s taught me a lot of self-discipline,” said Sakus, who now wishes to purse dance instead of law enforcement.
Oregon High School band director Andy Eckardt helped coordinate the Vanguard's stay at the high school.
"We just love being in Oregon," says Fiedler.
The Santa Clara Vanguard will travel to Eastern Illinois University and perform next in Denton, Texas.
The Drum Corps. International finals take place from Aug. 8-10 at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind.