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Denver-based ensemble performs in Middle East

Blue Knights, with members from across metro area, will play at Grand Prix in Bahrain


Alex Muñoz danced, tossed a wooden rifle in the air and maneuvered a giant white flag under the lights of Englewood High School's football field. Along with about 100 other musicians, she was performing one last time before venturing 7,620 miles across the globe.

“It's a great opportunity to show a different culture — what color guard and drum core are,” said Muñoz, 28, a dance teacher from Cherry Creek. “Marching is an amazing, artistic and colorful sport.”

A group of the Blue Knights, a 200-member elite drum and bugle corps and percussion ensemble based in Denver, left for Bahrain, an island in the Persian Gulf, on April 12 to perform at the Grand Prix, a Formula One Championship car race attended by royalty, world leaders and celebrities.

The Blue Knights-Bahrain ensemble is formed of 48 brass musicians, 24 percussionists and 28 color guard members ranging from 18 to 50 years old from across the Denver metro area. Many are alumni of a band, including the Denver Broncos Stampede drum line, or have experience in music education. Almost all have full-time jobs — from bankers to teachers to engineers.

“It's a new place and a new challenge,” said Brian Cocos, 31, a trumpet player who works in finance. “They are paying for us to go out there and entertain them.”

Cocos, of Glendale, was in the marching band at the University of Colorado-Boulder and played with the Blue Knights for three years after college. He and his wife, a mellophone — or brass instrument — player, joined the Blue Knights-Bahrain ensemble to travel and perform in another country.

The Grand Prix's entertainment division sought the Blue Knights after watching a video of the group performing the song “Can't Take My Eyes Off of You” by Frankie Valli. In January, the Blue Knights accepted the invitation to perform at the April 15 event.

It is the first time an American drum and bugle corps will perform in Bahrain or the Middle East, according to a media release from Ascend Performing Arts, the parent organization of the Blue Knights.

“We have to be hyper-sensitive to the cultural differences — more conservative,” said Mark Arnold, executive director of Ascend Performing Arts.

The Blue Knights, which normally sport colorful and extravagant costumes, will wear simple red-and-white long-sleeve shirts and black pants. The color guards will wear striped red, blue and purple long-sleeve tops and solid blue pants.

The April 11 send-off and dress rehearsal concert at Englewood High School was one of only a handful of times that the ensemble has performed together. But judging from the hoots and hollers coming from the stands, the crowd couldn't tell.

The ensemble played popular songs, such as Michael Jackson's “Thriller” and Pharrell Williams' “Happy.” The color guard danced and twirled giant flags that resembled butterfly wings. The drum line sported tall hats and sparkling-black drum sets.

John Strang, a 20-year-old from Douglas County on the drums, said he is looking forward to experiencing a new culture.

“Traveling has always been on my list of things to do,” said Strang, a student at Colorado School of Mines. “Now I get to do it through performing.”

Some spectators wandered into the stadium because they heard music coming from the high school, which is tucked in a residential neighborhood of Englewood.

Others traveled from across the metro area to watch a loved one perform.

Becka Guerin, of Wheat Ridge, was there to for her fiancé, who plays the trumpet. And although she will not be going to Bahrain, she will be there in spirit.

“We are," she said, "so excited for them.”


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