Classically Trained: Conductor recalls having a 'Blast'

March 21, 2012|By Bradley Zint
  • Derek Venlet teaches music at Irvine High School. The Huntington Beach native performed on French horn in "Blast" - a Broadway-style show that combines choreographed brass, percussion and pageantry - when it was at Disney's California Adventure in 2001. The show is returning to Southern California later this month.
Derek Venlet teaches music at Irvine High School. The… (DON LEACH, Daily…)

To most people, the sound of music students practicing independently is noise, a cacophonous nonsymphony of assorted tones.

But to a band nerd like me, Irvine High School's band room had a dozen distinct timbres — a saxophone practicing her scales, a trombone working on his slurs, a bassoon repeating tricky passages.

Among all those playing instruments was Derek Venlet, the 6-foot-4, redheaded conductor of music.

Venlet, 32, grew up in Huntington Beach, went to Westminster High School and lives in Rancho Santa Margarita with his wife, Rebecca.

Now he's in his eighth year as one of the music teachers at Irvine High. The comprehensive, Grammy Award-winning program has three concert bands, three string orchestras, a marching band, various small ensembles, and classes for guitar and piano — even one for ukulele.

I first met Venlet while at Cal State Long Beach. A French horn player like myself, he was a graduate student when I started as a freshman. Sometimes he conducted the band I played in. Sometimes we played in ensembles together.


I've always known him as a very funny guy, with tremendous musical talent, a great sense of wit and dedication to his teaching craft.

And for his very, very red hair.

I also knew that he played with "Blast," a Broadway-style show that combines choreographed brass, percussion and pageantry. It's part marching band/drum corps, part musical, part dancing, with a little acting mixed in. There's really nothing else quite like it, which is why I wanted to talk to him about his experiences and mention that, after years of inactivity, "Blast" is again on the road.

It will be coming to Southern California for four performances, from March 30 to April 1. It's up in the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts — a little jaunt from us in Orange County but worth the trip.

"Blast" was quite the international sensation after its 1999 London premiere. It soon won a Tony Award for being a "Special Theatrical Event" and an Emmy for best choreography.

Disney caught hold of the show and brought it in 2001 to the new but struggling Hyperion Theater inside Disney's California Adventure. Called "The Power of Blast," it was a five-movement, condensed version of the original, but still as entertaining and powerful. It ran four times a day, six days a week inside the 2,000-seat venue.

Venlet played in this show from March to September 2002.

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