Our Town, Our Drum Corps, for 50 years
“From Rockford, Illinois: Phantom Regiment…”
By David Hill
“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
“Our Town’s” Stage Manager evokes much of the everyman, working class aura that is Phantom Regiment. There is always a workman-like approach to Phantom, tireless effort towards the job at hand. In 2006, the organization joins the elite units that have graced the drum and bugle corps activity for a half-century.
Herewith, the eternal pleasures I enjoy from Phantom Regiment.
As I developed this list of my ten favorite Phantom Regiment shows, I realized that in addition to being an envious line-up for any corps, this also represents ten one-of-a-kind shows, performances, and impacts on the drum corps activity. That is a feat achieved only through tireless determination, dedication, and study of the craft.
10. In 1977, the Regiment presented a program that has resonated over the decades, with most of the musical performances recurring in future offerings. But in the first airing of themes and motifs from the “New World Symphony,” “Pagliacci,” Flight of the Bumblebee,” and Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony,” Phantom put its classical stamp on the activity.
9. Ten years later, in what would become known as a comeback show the Regiment was a white-hot sensation in its’ “stage the size of a football field” balletic interpretation of “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker.” The production was also a precursor for the corps’ show design well into the 90s.
8. A fourth place finish in 1984 might not seem like the finest achievement, until you look at the year, at the corps, at the shows, and at the performances of what might be one of the single finest years in the history of the modern day activity. And leave it to Phantom to absolutely bring down the house with exploding musical and visual fireworks in its cacophonous finale to the “1812 Overture.”
7. “Songs for a Summer Night,” in 1994, was a back-to-black year for Rockford, providing the corps dissonance, divergence, and angularity that left audiences gasping for air. The never-before-never-again ending to “Death Hunt,” was literally heart-stopping!
6. An immensely personal favorite Regiment outing came in 1985, when the corps’ chops and feet were up to the immense challenge of Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique,” complete with one of the most visually-defying drills in drum corps’ history.
5. And then there were the “Spartacus” years: pageantry story-telling complete with characterization, drama, tension & all building to that delirious escape/release in the final act! Forgive me my strongest drum corps bias, but Phantom’s 1982 preliminary run in Montreal is my single favorite performance of all drum corps time. It coursed through my veins.
4. Over at Field&Floor, my pageantry blog, I have already hailed this season’s “Rhapsody” as the “essential” show of 2005, and in many ways it is exactly what Phantom has done best over its years. Virtually no one thought that the deep, rich signature sound of the corps matched the bright Gershwin tunes. Leave it to bright design minds to mould this third generation of Regiment performers into a cinematic musical masterpiece, as well as the reinvention of the decade.
3. If 1984 was one of the best years in modern drum corps history, then 1989 was the year that few would have argued against co-champions. The Regiment’s stylish and stunning “New World Symphony” possessed everything any winning show could hope for; save for a few tenths of a point. It was epochal, it was electrifying, and it was vintage Rockford.
2. Birmingham, Alabama’s first of two championships provided my second favorite Regiment moment from the 33 years I have followed the organization. It was in the corps’ third-in-a-row runner-up 1979 performance that was capped by Wagner’s majestic “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral.” If you want to recall the sheer beauty, the power, and the glory, of deliberate music and movement, this is among the best!
1. I have cried this hard in my life, but for all of the joyous drum corps tears I have shed, none equal those that welled up during the pulsing-heart opening and then freely flowed throughout the thunderous, stadium shaking finale of Phantom’s lone championship show, 1996’s “Defiant Heart.” Hell, just writing about it makes me tear up. Folks, for all the times I’ve joked about the following pageantry line on television, this is where it was defined: “Pageantry, say whoa!”
Golden anniversary wishes to the thousands of young people, volunteers, and staff who have walked through the Regiment doors, from the millions of people who have reveled in your performances for five decades.
“. . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings:” hardworking, drum corps human beings, for 50 years, from Rockford, Illinois.
To read more of David Hill’s writings click on the link below.