There’s a drum corps and winter guard legend working with Phantom Regiment this season. You may know who she is. But what you might not know is that she’s working in an unexpected role. It’s one that suits her just fine.
Marie Czapinski is best known from her storied career as a judge, an instructor, and as one of the 7 founders of Winter Guard International (WGI). She spent 3 years between 2016 and 2019 with Phantom Regiment as a visual consultant, a connection she credits to Phantom Regiment Hall of Fame member Dan Farrell.
Today, Marie is back on the staff of Phantom Regiment in the role of Assistant to the Corps Director. It’s a job she took because she answered the call to step up and help.
“I could really use some assistance,” is how Marie remembers Dwight Emmert reaching out to her in October 2022. That was all she needed to hear. “I said, ‘okay, you’ve got a deal.”
“I work as a virtual assistant,” Marie explains, referring to the profession she’s pursued in tandem with her career in the marching arts. “I told Dwight I could help him in that way. And that’s how I landed with Regiment on the administration side.”
It’s an alignment of her profession outside of the marching world and her passion for drum corps. But it’s not the first time things have worked out this way.
“When WGI first started, I was the record keeper because of my business background,” Marie says. “I scribed the first WGI judges’ handbook, working with Shirlee Whitcomb, Don Angelica, and the first generation of WGI instructors. I did the same thing at BOA; I helped write the first scoresheets. Those universes have often collided.”
Marie Czapinski has worn many hats in her time spent across 3 major marching organizations, and understands the importance of having people you trust backing you up and doing the important jobs behind the scenes. “It empowers you to do what you believe is right, and do it the right way.”
Changing Roles and Making a Mark
Marie may be the most profiled woman in the marching arts, and it’s hard to overstate the impact she’s had on the activity. In addition to being a founder of WGI, she had a long tenure as a Drum Corps International judge, including 7 years as visual caption head. And she helped write the judging sheets for Bands of America. But what achievement is Marie most proud of?
“That I’m the only person who’s in the hall of fame of all three organizations – WGI, DCI, and BOA,” she says after a moment’s consideration. “Because I’ve devoted my life to the pageantry arts. I made a lot of sacrifices, and I was just fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time.”
There’s a saying that goes: you make your own luck. Marie is living proof of that. A color guard instructor at just 18, a judge at 20, and a founder of WGI before she was 30, her meteoric rise in the marching arts was, in her words, always something she was driven to pursue.
“I had a passion for it since I marched in drum corps. It was the highlight of my life; I was good at it. And I wasn’t good at some other things. I couldn’t play sports, I couldn’t play music, but I excelled in color guard. And it created a path for me that was very positive and enriching.”
Marie is perhaps best known as a judge, but today, her tape recorder is spending more time sitting on a shelf. She still does some judging in the fall, but largely Marie says she’s content with what she’s achieved as an adjudicator and as a mentor to her fellow judges.
“I miss certain aspects of it, and I always will, because I did it for so many years,” she says. “And the respect of my peers is what always kept me going. They always knew that I’d make the call no matter what, and I gained a lot of respect by that. But I don’t miss the intensity of it.”
Innovation Takes You Over the Top
With the WGI Championships starting in Dayton, Ohio this weekend, Marie was asked about her memories of the Phantom Regiment color guard that won consecutive titles in 1979 and 1980. It didn’t take her long to come up with a word to describe that unit:
“Fierce,” she says with a smile. “They were aggressive. They had so much showmanship and so much appeal, you just couldn’t take your eyes off of them. Once they started, you were totally engrossed until the end of the presentation. And they elevated things to become back to back champions.
“They were so loved because of their engagement with the audience. Which in my mind is something that Phantom Regiment stands out for – their ability to engage the audience and keep them.”
Marie draws a clear line in her mind between the Phantom Regiment winter guard of the 70s and 80s and the Phantom Regiment drum corps of today.
“They don’t try and be someone else. They’ve introduced elements of more modern drum corps, and the way presentations have grown, along with their traditional elements. It’s maintaining that beauty of voices that can’t be mirrored by anyone else. And bringing the visual program forward enough that they stay in balance.”
“When the Phantom Regiment takes the field,” she says simply, “you know it’s the Phantom Regiment. When the conductor pulls out the baton, when they play the first note. There’s no question in your mind. They’re authentic.”
A Phamily Reunion
While she still has a judge’s eye for innovation, there’s a closer-to-the-heart reason Marie is back with Phantom Regiment.
“The main reason I came back to Phantom Regiment was I missed the family. It’s like no other I’ve experienced. Great people, great volunteers, everyone’s so awesome there. And nothing matches the feeling of being around the performers and feeling that energy.”
Dr. Dan Richardson, a Phantom Regiment legend, was instrumental in forming one connection that would lead to this moment in Marie’s drum corps journey. “Even when I was a judge, Dr. Dan would invite the judges to stop and have food at the truck. That wholesomeness, that friendliness, really draws me in. I come from a large Italian family, and I feel at home when I’m at the Regiment.”
While her current role at Phantom Regiment may be a little lower profile than everything that’s come before, Marie has no regrets about that. “I’ve done so much, I’ve judged so many championships and so many great units. At my stage in life, I just want to give back. I did that in ‘16, ‘17, and ‘19, working with the staff on how to listen to tapes and handle themselves in critique. I’ll always miss it, but I know it’s time for me to move on to something else.”
She finishes, “I think you have to know when it’s your time to step into that role and give up the other one.”