The man who has guided Phantom Regiment’s program team for most of the past 25 years is retiring.
Dan Farrell, who joined Phantom Regiment as a 12-year-old baritone player in the fall of 1971, is stepping away from drum corps after more than 45 years – all of it with his hometown corps. His illustrious career includes individual accolades, two world championships and induction into both the Phantom Regiment and Drum Corps International halls of fame.
“The Regiment has been good for me and good to me, and I’ll always be grateful for that,” the 58-year-old Rockford native said. “But I’m getting along in years, and I’d like to try something else while I still can.”
He will leave to work for Digital Performance Gear, a company based in North Carolina. His new position will allow him to utilize his experience in both the marching arts and graphic arts — he was part of the family business in that field for more than 25 years before becoming full-time with Phantom Regiment.
“I hear there’s more to summer than touring with a drum corps.” Dan said. “Together with my lovely wife, Robin (a special education teacher in the Rockford schools), I look forward to finding out what that’s all about.”
Dan has made his mark at the highest levels as a performer, instructor, caption head and program coordinator. He added full-time administration to his list of roles when he became corps director in January 2009. He is in the Phantom Regiment Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame in 2016.
“I first met Dan while I was director at Santa Clara Vanguard and noticed the influence he had within the organization back then, said Rick Valenzuela, who has been Phantom Regiment executive director since September 2007. “Later, I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time with him on and off the field and became great friends with him. I’ll surely miss his advice and wisdom on all things Regiment.”
Under his leadership as program coordinator, Phantom Regiment has won two world championships, finished runner-up once and third four times. As brass caption head, there was another runner-up and third-place showing.
“There are few people in the history of this drum corps, or this activity, for that matter, that have committed so much time, energy, money, and heart to providing the greatest possible opportunities for the members of a drum corps,” said Will Pitts, who was a member, tour manager and now brass arranger. “Much of the success that the Phantom Regiment has had over the course of its 60-plus years can be somehow traced back to Dan Farrell’s leadership and guidance.”
Dan was a member in the 1970s as the corps rose from a struggling local corps to a national powerhouse. It secured a spot in the Drum Corps International World Championship Finals for the first time in 1974 and three years later would earn its first of three consecutive runner-up finishes. Dan was a key member and soloist during those years. He won the DCI individuals competition as well.
“Dan was, of course, a terrific musician; probably the best in the corps my last year (’77),” said Peter Bond, a Rockford West High School graduate, longtime trumpet player in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and a member of Phantom Regiment in the 1970s and later a brass instructor in the 1990s and 2000s.
Dan joined the brass staff in 1981 after “aging out” of the corps. He was away for a couple years in the mid-’80s while working in California for the family business before returning in 1987. He was promoted to brass caption head in 1988. The next year, the corps tied the previous all-time high score and finished runner-up to the record-setting Santa Clara (Calif.) Vanguard. The horn line won the Jim Ott Award for best brass performance.
Before the 1993 season, there were major changes to the staff and Dan took over as program coordinator, a role that would define his career. Phantom Regiment reinvented itself with an electrifying and beautiful show called “The Modern Imagination.” It placed third. Success continued and three years later, the corps would win its first world championship (a tie with the Blue Devils of Concord, Calif.), performing an intense and emotional show titled, “A Defiant Heart.”
“Whether as a brass instructor or as program coordinator, working on a moment for hours, days, maybe weeks, and then finally getting it to where you imagined it could be: I was lucky enough to have many of those moments through the years,” Dan said when asked about a favorite moment during his career.
The shows Dan produced always included beautiful music and had the fans in mind.
“I can honestly say that he took my arrangements and turned them into music,” said Jim Wren, who’s been with the organization since its founding in 1956 and was the brass arranger from 1968-1999.
J.D. Shaw, who marched in Phantom Regiment in 1990 and 1991 and was brass arranger from 2002-2011, said in a letter supporting Dan for induction into the DCI Hall of Fame, “His philosophy has always been one of putting the focus on entertainment and letting competitive success merely be a by-product of excellence.”
Dan stepped aside for a couple seasons at the end of the 1990s before returning as program coordinator in 2001. He picked up where he left off, with the corps performing audience-pleasing and competitively successful shows. It was notable that they were as diverse as they were entertaining: Shostakovich in 2002, contemporary music in 2003, tango music in 2004, Gershwin in 2005, the visual and musical feast of “Faust” in 2006, and a show about flight in 2007.
And then came 2008. With the organization on its heels financially at the end of 2007 (unbeknownst to the staff and members), Dan and his team came up with one of the great shows in DCI history, “Spartacus.” It set a new standard for storytelling and crowd involvement in DCI (20,000 people with a thunderous shout of “I Am Spartacus”) and created one of the loudest audience reactions anyone had heard.
“I believe that through the years Dan has been a pillar for PR, working to protect the corps’ identity (for fans and alumni), maintain competitive excellence against tall odds (financial and otherwise), and preserve the corps’ raison d’être, giving the members incomparable experiences in performing and achievement, while teaching life lessons,” Bond said.
Dan is respected throughout the activity, not just within the Phantom Regiment organization.
“Dan Farrell has been the creative heart and soul of the Phantom Regiment as far back as I can remember. He’s one of the best in the activity,” said Wayne Downey, DCI Hall of Famer and longtime brass arranger for the Blue Devils, a corps that has won 18 world championships since 1976.
“To me, Phantom Regiment and Dan Farrell are part of the same phrase,” said Steve Rondinaro, DCI Hall of Famer and host of the championships broadcast for the past four decades. “He’s been a great spokesman for the corps in our many broadcasts over the years. Up year or down, Dan represents the corps with class and warmth. We enjoy seeing him come into the booth. He gets it. All of it.”
When asked why he stayed with the same organization for more than 35 years, he simply said, “I found it impossible to get away. It gets inside of you and grabs hold like nothing else I’ve experienced. I’ll always love the Phantom Regiment.”