THE NEW PHANTOM REGIMENT
The first year, 1968 was to be a parade year, no contests. We recruited as many new members as we could, finally ending up with about 20 horn players, 10 drummers, and 10 girls in the guard. We purchased red blast jackets, had the kids bring their own black pants, but no headgear. But, what were we going to play? I volunteered to arrange some easy pieces for the parades, Jeff Whitman would do the drum parts, we would teach marching as a team. Our first parade was at the Boy Scout jamboree parade in Galena, IL, which was an annual event held in April. We were off and running, not very good, but thought we knew how to get better.
1969 was the first year back in competition. We upgraded the uniforms to red jackets with a white stripe, shakos and plumes, girls still wore bermuda shorts. Our first show was at Boylan Stadium, but I do not remember if we put on the show to make money, or there was some other sponsor. What I do remember is the first horn score that we were awarded. It was .3, a total of 3 tenths of a point for the whole score! If anyone had told me then that I would eventually be in the DCI Hall of Fame, I would have laughed myself silly along with everyone else. I even thought about quitting, but eventually rationalized that it could not get worse, only better. So I persevered, started reading all the books the Rockford Public Library had on music, and was encouraged when the arrangements actually started to sound better.
Each of the following few years showed improvement in all captions. While I continued have the duties involved with the brass line, Jim Nevermann was brought in to handle the drum line, and Dave St. Angel took over the drill writing and teaching program. Nevermann was in the US Navy Recruit band stationed at Great Lakes Naval Base, would drive back and forth for practices. St. Angel was originally a french horn player with the Purple Knights and joined the Phantom Regiment in 1964. To make the whole program work, Dan Richardson volunteered to work as the Program Coordinator. The corps practiced all year on Monday and Wednesday evenings and our regular “staff” meetings were held following practice at a variety of watering holes with copious quantities of beer. At that time we were all volunteers, there was no paid staff until later.
Early corps directors were Don Ary, Bob Stolberg, and Grant Davidson each of who contributed to the eventual success of the corps.
Dave Kampschorer, at that time the director of the Blue Stars – and who was also in the Phantom Regiment for a few years in the early 1960’s – suggested that we bring in Dr. John Gates to help with the brass line. Gates had worked with the Blue Stars, was a highly educated musician and had a gentle and affable personality. Bill Schultz, Mike Ramelli, and Lou Klozik also were involved with the brass line. Each of these contributed to short term improvement, and in the case Dr. Gates a solid foundation which continues to this day.
Early in my arranging career, one of the areas where I constantly encountered difficulty was in tuning the horns and playing in tune. I had no faith in my ability to hear pitches. I knew there were devices that could measure pitch, but they only worked on one note. I came across a 12-window Strobocon which was a 2 piece, very heavy piece of equipment that could register the pitch of all notes at once. We went to work tuning horns, playing cords, and in general training ears along with the tuning process. Since the strobe had to be plugged into a 110 circuit, I purchased a small gas powered generator so that we could tune anywhere. So, prior to a contest, we would lug the generator and the heavy two pieces of the strobe to wherever the horn line was warming up. If it was during the day, we had to get a blanket to cover the strobe since the lights would not show up in the sun. I took a lot of good-natured kidding but the results were apparent. There is even one well-known brass arranger/instructor who later admitted that he snuck around to find out what we were doing to make such a difference.
As I mentioned early in this missive, Marian Armato started the corps playing classical music, but here is the story of how the Phantom Regiment became associated with this type of music. Since I had no training in harmony, voicing, instrumentation, or any of the other skills an educated arranger needs, I had to cheat. On occasion I could find a score to some piece of popular or contemporary music, but they were rare. I discovered that all classical music is published in full score, all the instruments, everything that I would need to produce a drum corps arrangement. After just a couple of attempts, I knew that this was going to be the a method that I could use to get the job done. After a while, I was able to incorporate some of the bugle voicing techniques that were used by Sal Ferrara, mainly in the structure of the low brass voicing.
We were at a contest in one of the small Wisconsin towns along with the Blue Stars, the two staffs together eating brats and drinking beer no doubt. There was always a friendly relationship between the two corps, we were then treated as their “kid brothers”. They would give us free advice, sometimes more often than we wanted. I was told that we should find ourselves some other type of music for our identification because Santa Clara was firmly known as the classical music corps. At the show that evening we beat the Blue Stars in GE Music. Suffice it to say, there was more than a subtle change in the relationship. Playing classical music was not a problem from that day on.
I became a regular customer at Stanley’s Music Shop located on N. Church St. in downtown Rockford. They had a large stock of music of all types, and Mr. Stanley would always help me get the orchestra scores that I needed. I couldn t help notice a beautiful young lady who worked as a clerk there. In fact, I would go there and browse around if she was working, otherwise go on my way. I finally asked her out to lunch, and now 33 years later Laura Martell and I are still married, two boys Jim and Matt.
NEXT WEEK: Part 10 – Phantom Regiment enters the DCI era.
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]