Last week, the Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix was commenced with a performance by Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corp. Among the hundred or so elite American performers was Tuba player Kelci Hartz, and the pressure could not have been greater.
“I just hope I didn’t mess up anything while they were looking at me,” Hartz said.
Hartz marched alongside the supercar track with international TV cameras in the grandstand.
“You can’t even imagine,” Hartz said. “They were like ‘oh yeah, 60 million people are watching this.’”
Hartz first picked up the tuba in Middle School band. After joining, she recalls being asked which instrument she wanted to play.
“The big one,” she replied.
Seven years later, Hartz is a freshman music major at Colorado State University and representative of the best that American marching band has to offer.
This year, the organization was asked to headline the opening ceremony of the Bahrain Grand Prix in Manama, Bahrain, and they needed some performers. CSU Tuba players Kelci Hartz and Tony Villalobos-May ended up on the cast list.
“I was not originally in the group,” Hartz said. “Someone dropped out and I was called in as a replacement.”
Director of operations GM Kuzma was one of the people responsible for getting the Blue Knights performance ready.
“We only had less than 30 total hours of rehearsal together to learn seven songs with drill and choreography before we departed for Bahrain,” Kuzma said.
After two months of rehearsal, Hartz was on a red eye flight for Bahrain, a tiny yet rich Island kingdom in the Persian Gulf. This was her first time traveling overseas.
“You get to experience that whole culture in a different way than it gets presented to you in America,” Hartz said.
From the Blue Knights’ hotel in downtown Manama, Hartz could get an impression of the capital city.
“They have murals of the king on a bunch of the big buildings in the capital,” Hartz said.
Along with admiration for the king, they are also patriotic about their country, she said.
“There’s a lot of flags,” Hartz said. “There are more Bahraini flags in Bahrain than you will ever see American flags here, which is saying something.”
The country is ever-expanding, Hartz said.
“In Manama, when they run out of coastline they just build more coastline out into the gulf,” Hartz said. “So, we were facing this really weird peninsula that they were building they were going to build a resort on in the future.”
The whole week from the dress rehearsal to game day, temperatures were pushing 100 degrees.
“I can’t even imagine living there in summer,” Hartz said. “The AC business must be booming.”
The Blue Knights were to be the final act of the ceremony, just before the Formula 1 cars roared to life for the first heat of the Grand Prix. They were marching in the racetrack.
“We rehearsed on a field with lines so you could tell where to go, and then you get to the track and there’s nothing,” Hartz said. “There’s the boxes for the cars to start. ‘We’ll go close to the number seven box I guess’ because that’s all you have to reference.”
The 15-minute set covered a selection of six pop and marching tunes. Afterword, the Blue Knights got to watch the race itself along with a diverse pool of performers from around the world
“They had an Olympic diving team that was performing, they have circus performers, they had people dressed up as Disney princesses, all the things you can possibly imagine,” Hartz said. “It’s like a big fair with fast cars”
However, the Blue Knights’ routine stuck out as a particularly unique performance, according to Hartz.
“It’s the first time that a drum corp has performed in that country,” Hartz said. “They don’t really have that over there. They have their police band and that’s about it. One of the police band members took a selfie with me. It was the best moment of my life. He was like ‘whoa a tuba!’ And I was like ‘yeah!’”
Another 20 hours of travel and a layover in Frankfurt later, Hartz was back stateside and Kumza was proud.
“We are proud of the effort they put into making their show amazing.”
Collegian reporter Matt Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @latvatalo.