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Drumming up dedicated youth

Laura Sturza

Like the drum and bugle corps used by the military to summon troops,

the city’s Black Knights Drum Corps rallies audiences at parades,

community events and competitions.


“The crowds just love it, which is one of the most rewarding

things,” said Burbank resident Richard Keith, 19, a former member.

But since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the 60-member group --

who range in age from 11 to 22 -- has not been able to reach as wide


an audience as it once did. It had been rehearsing at no cost at

Burbank’s National Guard facilities for four years. Because the base

went into heightened security, barring civilian entry, the group

moved to city recreation centers, where it is charged a fee, said the

group co-founder Pete Ellison.

Last year, the group covered rental costs using $6,000 awarded by

the city’s PerformArts Grant. The corps was given the same amount

from the city earlier this month. Other fund-raising activities


include car washes and selling concessions at UCLA and Rose Bowl

events. Members also pay tuition to help cover transportation and

costume costs; scholarships are available, Ellison said.

The move from the National Guard facilities also meant the drum

program that performs at parades had to be put on hold because a

large outdoor area is needed for rehearsals. Ellison is optimistic

about the prospects for securing space to resume that program this



Ellison, 41, is also the group’s executive director and a

Burroughs High School graduate. He and Russell Kingman started the

company in 1989 because “there were a lot more of these groups when I

was growing up,” and school music programs were not as strong in

1989, Ellison said.

In percussion and color-guard performances, members learn

dedication, teamwork and sacrifice, Ellison said.

“For a six-minute competitive show, the students put in 250 hours

of [group] rehearsal time, plus home assignments that are about an

hour or more a day,” Ellison said.

Color-guard member and Burbank resident Deanna Perez, 21, has

learned more than the complex physical moves she uses while tossing

flags into the air.

“The responsibility is to your team,” Perez said. “It’s helped me

with responsibility to my job, my family.”

The percussionists have won competitions against some of the best

teams in the country, Ellison said. Many former members find their

experience gives them an edge in pursuing college degrees, and about

a dozen have gone on to become teachers, Ellison said.

When George Battey was mayor in the early 1990s, he named the

group Burbank’s official musical ambassadors, Ellison said.

“It’s an honor to go out and do community events and know that the

city is getting credit for it,” Ellison said.

People interested in attending a rehearsal are invited to group’s

open rehearsals, which are from 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays at Olive

Recreation Center, 1111 W. Olive Ave.

The corps will perform with 35 other teams as part of the

Southern California Percussion Alliance Drumline Competition starting

at 4 p.m. March 1 in the South Gym at Los Angeles Pierce College,

6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. Admission is $7. For more

information, call (866) 225-7216.