Alumni Spotlight: Susan Tubutis

Susan Tubutis

The year is 1982, the first of my four years marching in the Blue Knights. It’s June, I am driving my dad’s 1965 Corvette down sixth avenue in Denver toward Golden. Asia’s “Heat of the Moment” is playing on the radio. Blue Knights rehearsal will be underway shortly.  My baritone barely fits behind the driver’s seat, I am driving a friend to rehearsal as well. Her flugel horn doesn’t fit behind the seat, she is holding it between her feet on the passenger side.

As we arrive at rehearsal, other members are getting out of their cars and talking about the day. We’re preparing our show to take on the road to the western slope of Colorado; Montrose, Grand Junction, it was to be a four-day pre-tour trip.  

A drum and bugle corps at this time has a maximum of 128 members. Our membership is a few people short of that number, most of us living in the Denver area. The Blue Knights are getting our transportation from Trailways.  My first taste of tour is this four-day trip, which helps me prepare for our upcoming time in California. I learn that I need to keep some sort of water container with me on the bus. Learning to sleep on the bus is an ongoing challenge.

Our time in California begins in the small town of Gustine. We are all tired from our travel from Denver. As we get lined up for rehearsal, one of our baritone players, nicknamed “Bucky,” leads us in some stretches. Most of us are new to the drum corps experience and are trying to push through fatigue and get ourselves functional.

Scoring of drum corps performances in the early eighties is based on a starting point value of 100, with “tics” assessed as errors are made by performers. Errors can be anything from a dropped piece of equipment to a bad note coming out of brass, or synchronization problems by percussion. I think it was ten tics per point deducted from 100. Others can correct me if I’m wrong.  The Blue Knights program is relatively simple, and our uniforms are homemade. We score somewhere around 40 points for our show. We are having fun performing, but the caliber of our program isn’t very high.

At the beginning of the 1983 season, the Blue Knights purchase buses from an Arizona-based (I think) Sun Valley Lines. They are decorated in orange and yellow. We add bus numbers in place of the numbering system used by the previous owners. Travel with these new buses means acquiring drivers. It also means numerous breakdowns during our first year of bus ownership. One of them even runs out of fuel, as we are still learning how to plan in this regard. Other mechanical problems include air-conditioning malfunctions. This had a larger impact on “bus one,” as there were no sliding windows on that vehicle as there were on buses two and three. It was like a rolling inferno, as windows could only be opened when we were stopped.

Though the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps were not high in the national standings, we don’t even go to DCI championships for the first time until 1983, my experience marching in the summer helps me with my high school marching skills. I am a participant in the Smoky Hill High School marching band program. As a sousaphone player for two of my four high school marching years, I continue to improve my playing and marching skills. These skills contribute to my performance abilities in the drum corps. I would say that the bigger ability I acquire from drum corps is the management of difficulties within a performing group. Stress management skills are developed on the summer tour. We all use these skills in our day to day lives. Dealing with broken-down buses, bad weather, a less than optimal performance, even problems getting along with each other. 

Moving on to my Colorado State University years, I am a participant in the Blue Knights through the summer following my freshman year. The 1985 season presented numerous challenges outside of the ordinary, and I am pretty tired at this point. I don’t even march with the CSU band, a decision I regret later.  I do, however, perform on sousaphone with the CSU band during basketball and volleyball games. I play the contra bass clarinet in the concert band. I also learn to ring handbells within the CSU music department. At this time, Colorado State University is known for having a great music program for non-music majors. As I am studying science as a pre-veterinary student, I am enjoying these musical opportunities. 

As a student, I realize I have learned valuable time and stress management skills from drum corps. I declare a major of Biological Science and am studying chemistry, physics and math in addition to my favorite anatomy, physiology, and other life science courses. Ultimately I do not apply to veterinary school, but take a year in addition to my biology degree to become licensed in the clinical lab.

My career for thirty years now is as a clinical laboratory scientist. Loosely translated, that means I operate and maintain the large analyzers that perform blood tests for hospitalized patients. This can be a very stressful job. We perform some manual testing as well and provide blood for transfusion to surgical and trauma patients. The stress-management skills learned early in life as a Blue Knight do translate to this kind of work.  

Hard work and dedication to personal goals has helped me to build a life for myself. Becoming a homeowner, starting various hobbies, working to get better at said hobbies, all come from lessons learned in drum corps. The activity of drum corps was described to us members by George Lindstrom back in 1984 as “the art of overcoming adversity.”  Life provides constant challenges. We develop the strength to overcome these challenges during our drum corps years for our lives beyond. “I Go On” became a mantra with the Blue Knights long after my marching years, but it has been a real thing always.

As I look back on my younger years, I believe my decision to march with the Blue Knights was inspired by watching the DCI championships on television. It was around 1980, and the Blue Devils were performing. They were amazingly good, and I was impressed by what must have been a great dedication by the members.  I wanted to be a part of a performing group where the members actually cared about how good their program was. Quite frankly, my musical performance experiences up to that point were lacking this dedication and care. I became aware of the Blue Knight in the fall of 1981 and attended my first rehearsal at the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds two weeks short of my sixteenth birthday.

When the Blue Knights announced the Alumni Project for performance in 2018, I was one of the first to sign up. What an amazing opportunity to perform again!  I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. Following essentially thirty years with very little musical participation on my part, I jumped in with both feet. The drum corps activity had undergone many changes since my youth, from an increase in maximum membership to three-valve bugles pitched in b flat for lower brass. I suddenly had no idea how to read the music, as the valve combinations from my tuba experience did not translate to the baritone music. Despite this challenge, I was having so much fun! My fellow baritone players at our local Denver rehearsals were helping me mark my music with valve fingerings. At one point I experienced the magic of translation to trumpet-style music with familiar fingerings. I believe CJ Garcia did this for me. Suddenly I could read music again! That was awesome.

Having not played for so long, I didn’t start out as much of a musician.  Thankfully, we had something like a year and a half to prepare for our 2018 Drums Along the Rockies performance. Over this time I began to remember how to play, use proper breath support, and perform again.  I cherish all my memories of these alumni rehearsals. It felt like I was a kid again. I was one of the oldest performers in the alumni project. I was grateful to have other members of my generation participating with me. My favorite memory was the feeling I got at the end of our program at DATR, the audience cheering for us. What a rush, remembering why we all got involved in musical performance in the first place. Few things can replicate that feeling.  I deeply appreciated performing with and interacting with the 2018 Blue Knights. We had so much fun performing “Eyes” with them. I am hoping we also perform “Away” with the members in the next Alumni Project.  

I eased into more involvement in the Blue Knights somewhere around 2014-15. I participated in a commercial shoot for Furniture Row.  We were in Blue Knights uniforms, pretending to march in a parade. That was the beginning of my re-entry into my love of the activity. I have done limited volunteer work for the corps. I have some physical problems that keep me from doing more, though I’d like to increase these activities. My work schedule also limits these opportunities for me, but I very much have enjoyed what little I have done. I would encourage any and all alumni to fit in what you can. I know it can make us all a little jealous that we aren’t that young anymore. ?

If you are a prospective Blue Knight, I would say work hard, enjoy every minute. It all goes by so quickly, and if you are anything like I am, you will look back on these times as some of the best of your life.

Susan Tubutis

BK Baritone, 1982 through 1985


∴ Want to be featured in a future Alumni Spotlight? Fill out the  Alumni Update form here or email: Alumni@AscendPerformingArts.org

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Ken Adams

KEN ADAMS

Mark Arnold is one of the longest-serving Directors in Drum Corps International, serving as Executive Director of the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps since 1985 and as CEO of Ascend Performing Arts since 2010.

Under his leadership the Blue Knights organization has developed into one of the premier Drum and Bugle Corps in the history of the activity, recognized Internationally for excellence and innovation in the performing arts. Through the years the Blue Knights has expanded its programing and now serves thousands of young musicians and performers annually in multiple performing ensembles, events and educational programs under the umbrella of the Ascend Performing Arts.

In addition to shaping the course of Ascend Performing Arts, Mark also has played an integral role in the ongoing development and successes of Drum Corps International as a collective. He served as chairman of the DCI Board of Directors in 1994 and again from 2008 to 2013. Mark was honored as Corps Director of the Year in 2004, and was the inaugural recipient of the George Bonfiglio Chairman’s Award at the 2012 DCI World Championships, which is given to an individual each year who demonstrates extraordinary leadership and service on behalf of DCI and its performing drum corps.  Mark was inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame in 2014 and the Blue Knights Hall of Fame in 2019.

Prior to his position with the Blue Knights, Mark was the Assistant Director of the Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps from 1978 through 1983, serving alongside Director Jim Jones, one of the founders of Drum Corps International and an inaugural member of the DCI Hall of Fame.  Mr. Arnold has a degree in Music Education from the University of Wyoming and taught High School Music in Wyoming and Nebraska from 1979 through 1985.
Mark Arnold

MARK ARNOLD

Scott Factor has served on the Ascend Performing Arts Board from 2012 to 2018 as a voting member in various positions including Vice-Chairman. Since 2019 my role has been in an Advisory position.

Outside of Ascend Performing Arts i am Senior Account Executive for Baxter HealthCare.
Scott Factor

SCOTT FACTOR

I am currently an Ascend Board Member-at-Large.  I have been a volunteer with the Blue Knights since 2013.  I have been serving on the BoD since 2019.  I retired from the United States Postal Service in 2010.  Although I have never marched drum corps I am an avid fan of the activity and thoroughly support our members in any way that I can.  “We Go On”!!! 

Neil Corvino

NEIL CORVINO

Board member Kathy Black is an attorney in New Mexico practicing as a full-time litigator focused on employment and civil rights defense. She came to the law as a second career after twenty-five years in high tech with NCR Corporation, doing everything from operating systems programming to Vice President positions in engineering, customer services, and sales. She earned her JD from Lewis & Clark Law School and her BA from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Ms. Black is active as a percussionist in the Albuquerque area. Way back in 1978 she marched with the Guardsmen, including at DCI Finals in Denver.  After many years of being just a drum corps fan, she was elected to the Drum Corps International Board of Directors in January 2016 and served on that board until January 2022, including three years as chair. 

Kathy Black

KATHY BLACK

Bryant’s path to the Ascend Board of Directors, which began in 2021 as a member-at-large, traces back to his childhood. Watching the Reading Buccaneers senior drum corps practice near his grandparents’ home ignited a lifelong passion, and a student of all thing’s percussion.

Years later a family move to Colorado provided Bryant with a platform to display his passion, both on the stage with the nationally acclaimed Green Earth Percussion Ensemble and on the field as a snare drummer with the Blue Knights Drum & Bugle Corps until his age-out year in 1984.

In his professional career as the Senior Director of Strategic Accounts at Yokohama Tire Co., Bryant credits the principles instilled by the marching arts and years on tour for his success. On a personal level, the arts played an even larger role, where Bryant met his wife, Stephanie. The Rankin’s currently make their home in South Carolina, enjoying time with their grown children, two incredible grandchildren, and their beloved brown lab, Zoey.
Bryant Rankin

BRYANT RANKIN

Retired, Director, Office of Research and Analysis, Colorado Department of Revenue Ms. Archibeque served 26 years in the area of statistical analysis for the Colorado Department of Revenue and Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Her skills in this area assist the board in developing a strategy for statistical analysis in the area of program evaluation. She has also been a significant volunteer managing and working with volunteers for the organization and will assist the board in understanding the complex nature of the organization. Her personal experiences as a minority and female can inform and promote a more inclusive environment and agenda for the projects that the board supports.

Janet Archibeque

JANET ARCHIBEQUE

Rob Batchelder was appointed to the Ascend Performing Arts Board of Directors in May 2023, and currently serves as Vice Chair. As a member of the Senior Foreign Service, Rob has represented the United States overseas in India, Poland, Germany, Argentina, Nicaragua, Jamaica, and Namibia during a diplomatic career spanning nearly 30 years. He currently serves as Managing Director for Visa Services in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs in Washington, DC. Rob marched in the Blue Knights hornline in 1987 and 1988, and he was Drum Major in 1989. He and his family live in Alexandria, Virginia, but his heart still yearns for Colorado.

Rob Batchelder

Rob BATCHELDER