It was Friday the 13th when this past weekend’s camp began, and it was a full moon. Those folks who fly into camp are brave souls.

But enough of the meta-physical stuff, I’m here to share a little insight regarding the first camp of our 50th year as an organization. If you check in to this website regularly, you know that 38 years before, almost to the day, Phantom Regiment held it’s first rehearsal after being dormant for 3 years. About 40 kids from the Rockford area attended rehearsal on January 10, 1968, and 28 stuck it out all that summer. What a difference 4 decades makes, as I’ll detail as we go along here.

This weekend is typically a music-emphasis camp. Oh, we still do a visual session, make no doubt about it. But in general, its about getting the music out and diving in deep. We’ll do the same in February, and then in March and April we rent an indoor field house and really get deep into visual skills – even start learning drill. We’ve been holding these music camps at Keith School in Rockford for the past few years. Keith (a K-12 private school) is a cozy situation for us, the administration is welcoming and it’s a nice fit in most ways. A little tight, but a good fit none-the-less. The front ensemble has a big carpeted stage area, the brass has a full gym and the battery gets their own gym…and building…to do their thing in. We don’t see the guard until April, so no issues with a place for them.

We had most of the brass team in, including JD Shaw, Kevin Rabon and Freddy Martin. Paul Rennick had the majority of his percussion team in also. Visual caption heads Dwight Emmert and Jay Emmert (yes, brothers!) were here also. Aside from delving into music, we also get to give the design process a boost by hearing the charts live. We’ve got the brass book done save for the ending, and the percussion has the 1st and 3rd chart in hand now. On Sunday we worked through all four pieces of the show as a full music ensemble.

Sunday ensemble sessions at these camps are really cool. It fun to see the new members faces when it all comes together…they really get the full effect of what they have now become a part of. It’s also fun to see the entire corps start taking ownership of the musical product. While the staff team is deep into “the zone” at these rehearsals; I get to sit back and watch the faces. That’s a job perk that can’t be put into a paycheck.

It’s also fun because so many fans, boosters and alumni show up on these Sunday’s. This weekend I saw a few faces I hadn’t seen in quite a while, including Jeff Godtland. Jeff was the man behind those great Phantom Regiment Cadet programs of the early 1980’s, and ran the big corps’ brass line in 1987 – the first year we went white. The Winter Palace. Wow, what a show. It was also fun to see alums like Dana Pelan, Chuck McCurdy, John Baumgartner and Greg Newell in the bleachers, and boosters like Barb Pelan, Tom Moore, and Steve Moore too. Dave St. Angel missed Sunday, but made a rare – but welcome – visit on Saturday. Dave was the director from 1989 through 1996 (with a lot of good work on staff prior to that) and is one of my mentors. Many of the great former Regiment directors stay actively involved here, and all have been invaluable advisors and friends to me in this career. Ron Shulz, Dan Richardson, John Baumgartner, Dave St Angel, Bob Lendman, Bill Riebock, Dave Kampshroer…all guys who still care and contribute to this corps. That’s cool.

So…what about the corps itself? Well, we’ve hit our stride these past few years. The age, talent, dedication – and even size – of the corps has risen dramatically and now we’ve seen it settle into a situation we’ve come to expect, but never take for granted. We had 498 individuals audition for the corps this fall (as far as our records go back, that’s the largest audition pool we’ve ever had). At this time we are carrying 183 members. Why so many? Well, we expect some level of attrition, and equally important, we like to allow for those that may have been on the cusp in November or December a chance to grow into a spot as the winter progresses. As well, the guard won’t be back until April, and that section currently carries the largest surplus, as final decisions – by both parties, member and staff – won’t be made until April. Each of the 183 members know where they stand and all are participating here under their own power and are in no way being strung along. I can say that with certainty.

So…I sometimes fear that these reports could in some ways degenerate into propaganda or hype, so I try to keep the hyperbole in check. But yeah, the corps is good. Real good. Let me illustrate by sharing some stats on whose in the corps at this time:

Of the 183 members, we have 48 aging out this summer and 75 are Phantom Regiment veterans (we aged out 41 last summer). Aside from those 75 Regiment vets, we have 60 members who have marched from among 27 other corps, including at least one member from 12 of last year’s top 14 corps. The average age right now is just over 19 years old and it will surpass 20 by DCI Finals week. Once we leave for tour there will be fewer than 12 members under 18 years old.

All but the guard and nine of those 183 members were in camp this weekend (1 sick, 5 in the All-Japan finals and 3 in weekend-long school concerts). That kind of commitment here is no longer amazing, it’s expected, and from the members themselves at that.

Beyond the stats, these are some great young people. Two have started here in 2001, all have been here since I’ve come on board (year number 6 for me…and I finally almost have clue what’s going on!). We had a great summer last year, and I mean off the field. We saw great leadership, real maturity, an amazing lack of selfishness and a unique sense of teamwork and “buy in” from the members. I see that trait again this year, already this early in the game. I told the members at the end of camp that hey, I’m ready to hit tour now! I think they all agreed too. It just seems like an extension of last summer. The new folks blend right in and are already big contributors, and the familiar faces just move it all along that much easier.

I think also having a staff team together almost intact from 2005 has been key. Dan Farrell (program coordinator) and I have been doing this together now for five years. We could almost use hand signals to communicate these days! The design team – and caption head team – that made last year so successful is back in whole and clicking along. Consistency is nice, at least in this regard. The design team meets in Florida this weekend, the same six folks for the 2nd season. They are all at the top of their game, and it’s cool to see them work.

What’s new for the 2006 show? Are you kidding? You think I can share that here? Well, I can say we do have a new uniform from Stanbury on the way for 2006. KING brass is designing us a new tuba (loud and sweet) and of course, Pearl has new drums on tap for us. The music charts are awesome. You’ll be moved several times in the 11 ½ minutes, I guarantee. Paul’s percussion charts are such a great fit with JD’s work. These two are consummate musicians. It’s a treat. Expect a few other surprises that will definitely merit “did you see that?” comments as the season progresses. OK, enough teasing.

Saturday evening we took some time to talk through the summer tour schedule, as it stands today. I then did a presentation I have never done at a January camp, but it ties in well with the 50th anniversary. We are producing an anthology DVD with footage and interviews from the past 50 years. It’s been a blast to sit and interview all these drum corps greats (Bob Lendman, Jim Wren, Marty Hurley to name a few). This weekend I shared with them a clip of an interview done with none other than Michael Cesario. Michael was with us through most of the 80’s and 90’s, including that great run from 1987 through 1997. He holds a special place here, make no mistake about it. The clip I showed was Michael talking about the “essence” of Phantom Regiment – what, in his mind, has made the corps not only a legend, but defines it’s character. He then talked through that great 1996 production as only he can. We then showed a tape of the 1996 finals performance. Not only did that corps win DCI that year, but moreso they exemplified the character of this corps, both on the field and in their spirit off the field. It was cool, and many members commented on how they enjoyed it. Now…for all of us over 25 years old, here’s a shocking statistic for you: Those 48 members aging out this summer? They were but 11 years old in 1996. Yeah. Ouch.

January camp is also about getting the summer tour team together. The Regiment Support Staff Team is simply amazing. So many folks, so many years behind so many of them, and the new folks step right in and seem like they’ve been here forever. Barb Glasscoe and her sewing team were fitting for the new threads…and sewing on member jacket patches while making sure I had chocolate to nibble on too. Barb Janowski tells me we’re developing a waiting list for folks wanting to tour on the food crew. Becky Nelson, Bob Mitzell, the Bowers and Steve Moore put out some great snacks and breakfasts this weekend. Cathy Dezarn and friends had souvies available for members and fans. Tom Moore helped in multiple ways, Bill Reibock, Steve Moore and Kurt Brooks moved the trucks and buses. Zach Malsom and Matt Leide pitched in as always and made sure folks with flight complications had a home and didn’t have to sleep at the airport. Even tour manager Brandon Stansbury and souvenir manager Robin Hartowicz were around Friday as they passed though on the way back to college. I know I am missing someone here, and for that I beg forgiveness.

I must tell you all how much the addition of Rick Valenzuela to this team has made a positive impact here. He’s jumped right in and made a difference in ways both subtle and great; the members take to him immediately and he’s already gotten to know many of them on a first-name basis. I’m so glad he’s here, and I know everyone he’s come in contact with thinks so also. He’s personally a great friend and I like to think we make a great team. We’ve got a full plate of exciting projects to tackle and a great corps to make sure meets it’s potential, and having Rick here makes the task much more enjoyable.

Camp ended at 1 pm on Sunday, the sunshine made loading the truck reasonably painless. I had 6 members stay the night (cheaper flights on Monday!), so after the school was locked up we all (Rick, myself and the 6 members) went out for a Chinese buffet, then crashed at my place (I have a wonderful and patient wife!) where the Regiment’s extensive DVD collection kept them all in a trance. Meanwhile, Rick, myself and Dan Farrell met up at a local pub to catch the Bears-Panthers game (I’m a Packer fan) and come Monday, we were all back at our desks planning for February.

What else can I say? I’ll end this with a heartfelt thanks to all the support team, staff team and members.

SUTA – Pat Seidling

Click on the link below if you want to see some more stats as to what the demographic make-up of the corps is at this date.