Today’s post is a bit of a departure from what I normally write about: food, wine, restaurants, and men’s fashion. It’s about Drum Corps International, drum and bugle corps, and the incredible activity that I was a part of (with The Velvet Knights) back in the early 90’s. Yes, I’m old! More than that, this will be a 4-part interview with a young man who is a member of the 2014 World Champion Concord Blue Devils from Concord, CA. Last year, through the power of Facebook, I discovered that this young man who went to my high school, was a member of the 15-time World Champion Blue Devils from Concord, CA. The Blue Devils are widely considered to be the most successful drum corps in history, and usually attract the best players and musicians from all over the world. Finding out about Sal Hernandez, and the fact that he went to my high school, was both thrilling and exciting. We immediately connected and talked about our experiences with music at our shared high school, university (UCLA) and drum corps.
I finally got the opportunity to meet this young man, Sal Hernandez, at a drum corps show this past summer in DeKalb, IL. It was great seeing someone who went to my high school doing the activity that I loved so much. I was the first from our high school to do drum corps, and Sal was essentially following in my footsteps! The Blue Devils went on to win their 16th DCI World Championship on Saturday, August 9th, with a record-breaking score of 99.65. Sal was a World Champion, and I found myself extremely proud of this young man. He truly is a representative of a fantastic musician and young adult.
I had the idea to interview Sal on the blog here, and use this as a vehicle for people (in and out of the activity) to get to know Sal and his experiences. Not only that, I wanted to interview him and get his perspective on the things that thousands of us fans and former members love so much – drum and bugle corps. Finally, I wanted to expose my readers to something deeply personal about me and my love for this activity. No, it’s not marching band. It’s marching music at its finest! I challenge you all to visit YouTube and type in “DCI” to see what I’m talking about.
I sat down with Sal this past week, shortly after he arrived back in Los Angeles from finals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Sal is getting ready to go back to school at UCLA, so I am gracious for him taking the time to sit down with me and do this interview. This is a long interview, so I will be breaking it up into 4-parts over the next four days. Hopefully you all enjoy this as much as I enjoyed talking with Sal! On with Part I!
Mark: Thanks Sal so much for agreeing to do this interview! How long has it been since you’ve been back home?
Sal Hernandez: Yeah! No problem. I am definitely exciting to be doing an interview with you! This is my third full day being back home. I landed in Los Angeles on Sunday night just after 11:00pm.
Mark: Wow. So you are still getting used to being back in the real world huh? How is it adjusting to being away from the road?
Sal Hernandez: DEFINITELY still adjusting to the real world! I keep waking up expecting to see all of my friends right next to me. I think I’ve been doing fairly well with getting back into the swing of things. I don’t start school until October so I have some time to adjust to reality.
Mark: Yeah. That was always the hard part for me when coming back from tour! It’s good you have some time to adjust before going back to UCLA! Go Bruins! How did you get into drum corps, and how old were you when you started?
Sal Hernandez: My freshmen year of high school, one of the graduating seniors had what I thought was the coolest jacket ever. It was his Impulse Drum and Bugle Corps member jacket. I remember thinking to myself how awesome it looked, and how much I wanted to march in the summer. At the time I was a saxophone player and never played anything but sax. I knew that it was something that I wanted to do, so the summer going into my sophomore year I learned baritone so that I could march baritone for fall season as well as what would eventually be my first season of drum corps. I was only fifteen and had no idea what to expect, but I loved it!
Mark: Nice! That’s awesome! How many years were you with Impulse?
Sal Hernandez: I marched a total of three years at Impulse. My rookie year I was 3rd baritone, and then I came back the following year as a lead trumpet. I finished my last year as drum major for the 2012 season.
Mark: Wow. That’s great! So you marched from the 2010 – 2012 season? How old are you now?
Sal Hernandez: Yeah, I marched with Impulse for the ’10-’12 seasons and just recently turned 20 years old
Mark: So how many more seasons do you have left before you age out?
Sal Hernandez: I have two more seasons before I age out, if my body lets me!
Mark: Ha! The way you guys were moving this past season, that is a legitimate concern! So why The Blue Devils? What led you up north to Concord and not audition for any other corps?
Sal Hernandez: I never really thought that I would end up with The Blue Devils. I remember in high school I was so set on one day marching with The Cavaliers or Santa Clara Vanguard. I made the decision to audition at Vanguard for the 2013 season, however, a few days before Blue Devils auditions I met a member of the Blue Devils (who would eventually become my roommate). I had seen him at band rehearsals at UCLA but I never approached him. I told him I was going to audition for Vanguard in December to which he replied “Why not The Blue Devils?” I don’t know what it was about it, but at that moment I made the decision to audition for The Blue Devils. I ran back to my dorm after the meeting, paid the audition fee and downloaded the audition materials. The rest is history!
Mark: That’s great! So was there any Blue Devils show that inspired you to want to join The Blue Devils?
Sal Hernandez: Definitely The Blue Devils 2011 show! There was something about that show. I remember watching it in theaters for the Big, Loud, and Live event and just feeling the energy from the performers. When the camera zoomed in on the member’s faces I could see how much they wanted it. How hard they were fighting to prove something. The music was so lively, so driven. To this day it stands as my favorite Blue Devil show.
Mark: Great! So the 2013 show, The re:Rite of Spring, was your first season with The Blue Devils. What did you personally think of the show?
Sal Hernandez: Oh man. What a year to march! It was tough. The music was challenging. Not just from a technical standpoint, but from a harmonic standpoint as well. To top it off, the drill was ridiculous! Immediately after the first low brass hit, I had to run to the other side of the field at 210 beats per minute. When I got there, I got one count to breathe, and had to make another statement with one of the loudest, most dense chords I’ve ever had to play. I remember coming to a camp and someone telling me that I was the end of one of the gate turns. I nearly cried. All in all I loved that year. How could I not? It was my rookie year! Everything was new, the people were great, and the staff was amazing! I wouldn’t trade my rookie year for anything in the world.
Mark: I personally loved the show, but obviously a lot of people didn’t like it. Was it pretty evident while on the road that the fans didn’t like the show? What was crowd reaction like for the show?
Sal Hernandez: The fans made it very clear how they felt about the show, but we never really let it phase us. We knew that once we got off the busses, we had a job to do. Be the best. It was that simple. Of all my experiences, the one that I remember getting to me the most was on finals night. We had just performed our show for the last time, and to be honest we kind of already knew it would be the last time. What hurt most wasn’t the booing from the fans. It was their reaction as soon as they saw Carolina Crown entering the field. We weren’t even close to getting off the field but as soon as the fans saw Crown they exploded in applause. I don’t know what it was about that moment, but I’ll never forget that feeling.
Mark: Unreal. Do you think they reacted that way because Carolina Crown had one show left to do to win the title? Or because they didn’t want Blue Devils to win?
Sal Hernandez: I think it was a combination of both. I feel like the true fans, the ones who have loved the Crown organization since it’s roots and the proud alumni, are the ones who were overwhelmed with excitement knowing that they were inches away from finally achieving such a tremendous accomplishment. On the other side I do feel like there were fans that didn’t want The Blue Devils to win AGAIN. Especially with how the corps has been performing since 2007. If you want to win DCI you have to beat The Blue Devils. That is speaking from looking at winners and the runner-up since 2007. For how much longer? Who knows? Only time will tell.
Mark: Speaking of Crown’s show last year, what did you personally think of the show? The horn line?
Sal Hernandez: The show was great! It did what it needed to do. It captured the audience. It made you feel something. Once you started you couldn’t look away! The Crown horn line is absolutely amazing. Those kids are crazy talented. Last year we were fortunate enough to have them join us on the West Coast. Meeting members from another corps is my favorite thing about this activity. At the end of the day, when the super-suit is off, we’re all just kids. We’re all brought together by the power of music, and we are all here because we love doing it. That to me, is something really special.
Mark: That’s so awesome to hear! Now do you think the Crown show from last year deserved to beat you guys and win the Championship?
Sal Hernandez: When I take off my Blue Devil glasses and watch both shows as an unbiased fan it’s so tough to compare the two shows. There are just completely different shows. That being said I remember watching the Crown show for the first time after tour and thinking to myself, “Yup.” Those kids have had a title coming to them for the longest time and I’m really glad that they won. With the Blue Devil show, you just have to watch it. The more you watch it, the more you fall in love with it.
Part One complete! Thanks so much Sal again for letting me interview you for the blog! Part Two comes tomorrow, where Sal will be talking about the 2014 “Felliniesque” show, what it was like on the field when the record-breaking score was announced, and about when he knew there were going to win it all this past year.
Click here to read Part II, III, and IV of the interview!