Perched on a ladder in the grass, 21-year-old Nessa Guerra led a group of 160 brass and percussion players through a powerful performance in Myrick Park, capping off a morning of fundraising and fitness.
The concert of music from “Romeo and Juliet,” “Moulin Rouge” and “The Great Gastby” was a welcome reward for the 115 people who had just concluded the fourth annual Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps 5K Fun Run along the marsh, possibly the only race with musical accompaniment all along the course. Along with the Blue Stars, members of the color guard encouraged the runners of all ages, all participating in support of the musical arts.
Founded in La Crosse in 1964, the Blue Stars is composed of young people from around the world ages 15 to 21. They travel 12,000 miles each summer to perform in 35 locations. While the Fun Run helps support the band and color guard, for the first time this year $10 of each registration fee was donated to the band program of each participants’ choosing, a way for the organization to give back to its hometown. Among the most popular recipients were the band departments of Lincoln Middle School and Onalaska High School.
“This was a way for us to help schools put on a fundraiser without burdening them (with the work),” said Brad Furlano, executive director of the Blue Stars. “Part of our mission is connecting young adults with music. It’s really important for development, goal setting, and has a tremendous impact on your life.”
Color guard captain Grayson Flores, 21, a fifth-year member from Dayton, Ohio, said he “absolutely loved” that participants had a hand in directing the donations, saying, “It makes them feel included, and the arts are so, so strong in the lives of young people.”
While the Blue Stars is large in size, Guerra, a six-year member of the corps and current drum manager, says the group is close-knit, and the intensive schedule — monthly rehearsals, with intense training starting in May — is worth the rewards.
“There is an extreme level of intensity and commitment, and you really need to love what you do. I do,” said Guerra, who lives in Naperville, Ill. “You connect with every individual performer and come together to make music. I knew right away I would be in this corps for a long time.”
“We’re a competitive, elite group, but we work every moment to create a strong sense of family and community,” agreed brass caption head Ward Miller.
Race participant Sheila VanDyck, accompanied by her daughter, Kenzie, marched with the group in 1983 and teaches color guard at West Salem Middle School. VanDyck says she still feels like part of the team over 30 years later, a feeling shared by Lori Ruegg, a dedicated Blue Stars volunteer whose son participated for five seasons.
“Once you get a taste of drum corps, it gets instilled in you,” Ruegg said. “It’s a lot of hard work — blood, sweat and tears — but they make friends from across the country and internationally for the rest of their lives.”
The Blue Stars will next perform in La Crosse during River City Rhapsody on Sunday, July 2.
“Part of our mission is connecting young adults with music. It’s really important for development, goal setting, and has a tremendous impact on your life.” Brad Furlano, Blue Stars executive director