Chapter a Week – Part 3
“My Corps” by Jim Wren
During the fall of 1956 a meeting was held at Memorial Hall to form the new corps. Memorial Hall faces North Main Street to the west and Wyman Street to the east and lies just across from the Rockford Public Library. It had been the practice site for several other corps prior to that time. The room at the southwest corner on the first floor was the storage location for all the VFW owned equipment and continued to be the equipment room for us. Bernard Kisting, grandfather of Gary and Dave, the equipment manager for the old VFW Corps, served as our equipment manager for a short time.
I remember the first practice. I was assigned to help the 5 other buglers who made up the starting horn line. They were all sons of members of the VFW. The practice was pretty much limited to teaching them how to snap horns up and down. Yes, I did say snap. In those days, if the horns did not all come up and go down exactly together it was judged as a “tick”. In fact, all field judging was done on the tick system. The judge would put a mark on the sheet for every error detected. For brass this included horns up and down as well as attacks and releases, phrasing. Amazingly enough even intonation was on the tick system. Just how a judge could tick a horn line that was out of tune most of the time seems impossible, but they managed.
I first met Alex Haddad when he was director of the St. Thomas Crusaders. He was born in Canada and immigrated to the USA when he was quite young. He owned a violin, but I never heard him actually play it. He always said the violin had a broken G string. He played bugle in a Boy Scout corps, but just how he became interested in drum corps management I don’t know. He and his wife Helen lived in west Rockford on Foster Ave. with two daughters, Bonnie and Jackie. His drum corps opinions were fixed and unchangeable. He even wrote a regular article for Drum Corps World entitled “Eyes Right”. We would often argue with him about something or other, he would always say that we could do it our way when we ran a drum corps of our own. (A statement that I took to heart). Until then, it would be done his way. He had a white bandmaster’s uniform, which he wore whenever the corps performed. We called him the Commander.
I have very mixed feelings about Alex. I really liked and admired him, he was one of the most intelligent persons that I have ever met. Without him there probably would have been no Phantom Regiment. He was always consistent in his opinions, fair with discipline, and on more than one occasion personally financed corps activities. At one point, the corps was in Chicago for the American Legion State contest and about to head out to Detroit for the VFW National Convention. When the VFW, for some reason I can’t remember, decided to pull the financing for the trip, Alex personally financed the trip to Detroit. He and Helen took the money that they had been saving for new carpet. It was his preference for the color guard at what I saw as the expense of the drum corps proper that bothered me then, and still does when I think about it today. But, more about that later.
The corps that was organized in 1956 was known as the Rockford Rangers. I guess this was deemed appropriate since Rockford was then known as the “Forest City” due to the amount of trees throughout the city. Most of the old elm trees were then dying as a result of the Dutch elm disease. The all girl color guard idea, with its beginnings at St. Thomas, was also incorporated into the Rangers. The color guard was to be known as the Rangerettes. Many of us questioned the fact that the corps had one name and the color guard had another name, but Alex was inflexible as always, they would be the Rangerettes.
Mike Gallagher and I thought that we could do better in naming the corps. We were at Mike’s house listening to drum corps records. At that time, a guy named Stetson D. Richmond from somewhere back east both recorded and produced 33-rpm drum corps records. They could only be had by individual order in most cases. He would cut records with the corps requested, one corps per side of the 10 inch disk. He would have a few special offers, featuring often-requested corps on several records at a discount group price.
Mike had a recording of the Syracuse Brigadiers. We wondered what were the song titles that they were playing and checked with a copy of Drum Corps World where their repertoire was listed. One of the listings was Phantom Regiment March. Well, we looked at each other, and together said, “How about Phantom Regiment for the name of our corps?” Keep in mind we weren’t exactly sure which tune was in fact the Phantom Regiment March, but the title certainly caught our imagination. We took the idea to Alex who was immediately enthused. He said we would call the corps the Phantom Regiment and the color guard the Phantomettes.
The Leroy Anderson song, “The Phantom Regiment”, may have been inspired by some British unit in a campaign in India, or some lost regiment, or who knows what. But, Phantom Regiment Drum & Bugle Corps got its name from the title of the song, and that’s all there is to it. Later Regiment enthusiasts with an inventive bent of mind may have liked to think otherwise, but I know how it happened.
Editors note: In a bit of serindipity, we received a phone call from Mrs. Leroy Anderson this past September. She mentioned that over the years she had heard of a band that named themselves after her late husband’s tune “Phantom Regiment March” and was just now getting around to seeing what we were all about. No doubt we were excited and honored to speak with her, and we enthusiasticly shared Jim’s story of how the corps was named. We also sent her a gift package of Phantom Regiment items. She replied with a thank you letter, in which she states “I do find it interesting, and remarkable, that the people who choose ‘Phantom Regiment’ for your name simply liked the title.”
In yet another twist to conventional drum corps lore, Mrs. Anderson is adamant that her husband’s inspiration to pen the “Phantom Regiment March” in fact had nothing to do with the Rudyard Kipling poem the “Lost Legion”, but rather that he simply intended to create a “minature tone poem”.
Click on the link below for Leroy Anderson’s website.
Next Week: Chapter a Week Part 4: Beginnings – from the first parade to the first banquet.
Click on the links below for Part 1 and 2 of “My Story” – Chapter a Week.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jim Wren is a charter member of Phantom Regiment (1956) and has been active with the corps every year since. He became the corps brass arranger in 1968 and arranged every Phantom Regiment show from then through 1999. Inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame in 1994, Jim currently serves as a member of the Phantom Regiment Board of Directors and acts as an advisor to the corps’ design team. Jim lives in Rockford with his wife Laura and works in the insurance industry.
Jim can be reached at [email protected].