Tim Farrell, long-time President of the Phantom Regiment Board of Directors, will step down as board president later this month. After serving in the position for 27 years, he intends to continue to hold a seat on the board and will focus his attention on supporting the organization’s various business ventures. We had a chance to sit down with Tim to discuss his 50-year career with Phantom Regiment, from the first time he picked up a baritone, to steering the corporation to financial stability, and his proudest moments along the way.
Welcome to the Phamily
Tim’s career in Phantom Regiment began in 1971. Then a member of the West High School Marching Band, Tim and his younger brother Dan marched in a local parade, and got some tough love about it from their father afterwards.
Tim remembers him saying, “Maybe you weren’t horrible, but you weren’t exactly great. If you want to see what great looks like, you should check out Phantom Regiment.” They called up the corps hall, and learned that there happened to be a rehearsal that very evening.
“We probably, from a visual standpoint, weren’t exactly what Phantom Regiment had in mind,” Tim recalls of his first meeting with corps personnel manager Red Christensen at that rehearsal. “We had long hair and everything. Red, to some degree, was trying to talk us out of joining: ‘It’s gonna be a lot of work, you’re gonna have to get your hair cut really short, and did I mention it’s a lot of work and we rehearse a lot?’”
Tim and Dan were undeterred. “They pulled out a couple of baritones and sent us into the rehearsal room, and that was our first rehearsal.”
Tim recalls that it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. “Initially I was kind of embarrassed about the whole thing. I remember telling my friend at school, after being to a couple of rehearsals, ‘it’s really nerdy, I don’t really know about this. I’m not having any fun, I don’t like it.’”
“But as rehearsals go on and you start to build up friendships, that becomes the magnet. And then when the springtime rolls out and you start rehearsals, and you get to the point where you can actually do something…you start to get proud of that part, it changes your perspective.”
“By the time summertime hits and you’re in the grind, then you’re totally hooked. We had an enjoyable first summer. The drum corps placed 23rd at the very first DCI Championships in Whitewater in ‘72. We thought that was a pretty good showing.”
Drum corps became a full-on family affair for the Farrells, with both parents volunteering and eventually, their younger sister and brother marching too. “It was 100% local at that point,” Tim remembers. “We would rehearse on Monday and Wednesday evenings and then go out and do fundraisers on weekends. We would go out in the winter months, door to door selling [frozen] pizzas for a dollar each.”
Tim would wind up meeting his future wife, Lisa, a French horn player, through the corps. Eventually, their two daughters, Stacey and Jessica, would also march with Phantom Regiment. Meanwhile, Tim and Dan would graduate from marching members to staff. Tim worked with the Phantom Regiment Cadets, as a program coordinator and a brass tech.
Board Meetings and Buses
His first meeting as part of Phantom Regiment’s Board of Directors happened in the fall of 1986, and it was a memorable occasion, one that Tim remembers involving fists pounding on tables and intense discussion. The topic? Whether to approve spending for the newly submitted, white, Michael Cesario corps uniforms.
Tim says it was “the longest board meeting to this day I’ve ever attended. The drum corps had just had, what for them, was a disastrous competitive year.” A shake-up to the corps’ look was just one thing that was hotly debated. But despite the intensity of feeling, Tim is quick to add that there was “no finger-pointing, no accusations, no fighting or anything – just a lot of heated discussion.”
Some of Phantom Regiment’s most iconic years were ahead, but off the field, the running of the corps was never easy. Tim remembers 1989 as a particularly difficult season for the corps: “They were swinging above their weight, so to speak, both in terms of where they were competitively and what they could get away with financially. There was a lot of hopeful thinking going on.”
Tim’s involvement with the board of directors became more hands-on after a conversation with director David St. Angel after that 1989 season. “[He] basically cornered me at a drum corps party at my brother’s house and started browbeating me for not being as involved as I should be,” Tim remembers.
“I think he was looking for some more friendly voices at a board level and he recognized that the organization needed help at the board level for it to move forward.” The tough love worked again. “The first thing I did, the first committee I got on after that browbeating was the transportation committee.”
“I had no business being chair of the transportation committee because it meant that I was in charge of buses, which I didn’t know a thing about,” Tim says. But within a few weeks, he had helped arrange to purchase buses from the Madison Scouts, and set about stripping the old logos and applying new ones.
The Key to Good Leadership
Tim credits many of the people he met and worked with through Phantom Regiment for modeling leadership for him – in particular Emeritus Board of Directors Member Kathy Vigna.
“I had a lot of respect for Kathy and I liked the way she ran the meetings, and how she was able to stay above the drama and seemed to get everyone pulling in the same direction. She was the person I patterned myself after when I became president for the first time in ‘92.”
When asked if getting people to pull together is an important quality for running a board of directors, Tim doesn’t hesitate.
“I would say that it’s the only quality. It helps to not be a complete dummy,” he adds, with a slight smile, “but if you can get people to pull in the same direction, you can be a big dummy, because you’ve got people to get you pointed in the right direction. It means that you’re empathetic, that you’re able to see both sides of an argument.”
Navigating Crisis and Building for the Future
Tim’s involvement continued to grow, but the corps’ financial situation remained shaky. The board of directors was keeping the corps on the road, but there was some amount of struggle to do so. Finally, in 1999, things came to a head. “The drum corps in ‘99 was very underwater financially, to where at a board level we did not see how to get out of it…a year 2000 didn’t seem possible.”
Tim recalls a parking lot conversation with other board members at the finals that year in Madison, Wisconsin. The only way out, Tim told them, was “if we can clear the rest of the garbage out of the way,” he recalls. “[We] need to run things like a for-profit corporation, and not like a dysfunctional town.”
This meant changes behind the scenes that would have a big impact on the running of the corps in the years to come: budgeting differently, employing more staff, and settling the corps’ debts.
It worked. Phantom Regiment’s competitive and financial fortunes began to turn around. The Show of Shows grew into what Tim calls “a homecoming event.” Phantom Regiment began running its first camps for high school students. And in 2007, after some savvy negotiation, the corps raised $102,000 to retire their debt. The very next season, they would win their second Drum Corps International championship title.
Words of Praise and Moments of Pride
On the eve of his transition, Tim shared glowing words for the rest of the Board of Directors today. “Our board is stacked with people who have great abilities and work experience, which is driving me toward a position where I don’t need to be board president anymore – because I have so much confidence in the board’s ability to get through whatever, to move in a lot of directions at the same time, and to all be on the same page.”
Tim likened the growth he’s seen in the corps’ leadership to the swelling crescendos in Phantom Regiment’s anthem, Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral. “We’ve continued to grow and grow, and crescendo, right up to the present day. I feel our board is more capable than any of our boards have been at any time. Right now, our financial status is the best it’s ever been. So it’s that crescendo that I’m proud of, because it keeps growing in intensity and in quality.”
When asked about his proudest achievement in a 50-year career with Phantom Regiment, one year is quick to come to mind for Tim: 2008. “Not because we won that year,” he adds, “but because it was one of those seasons where we owned the audience. And to me, those are the proudest moments. 2011, with [Juliet], we were fifth place, but we owned the crowd that day, and for a fifth place drum corps to do that is a remarkable achievement.”
“It’s those times, because every year at finals during the performance, I always get teary-eyed thinking that you can have twelve minutes be the payment for a year’s worth of torment. And in August, it all becomes worth it, during that last twelve minutes.”
Accolades for Tim from His Friends and Peers
“Tim Farrell has been a constant with the Phantom Regiment since the 1970’s. His calm, cool demeanor has been a beacon of light, propelling the corps to success and guiding the organization through challenging times. His leadership will be missed but it will continue to serve as a model for achievement and guidance as the corps progresses to the future.” – JD Shaw, Music Director
“I proudly observed for many, many years, how Tim carefully and quietly ‘steered the ship’ through good times and bad, and never panicked. His service to the Phantom Regiment organization has been selfless and unwavering for decades, and he is owed a great debt of gratitude by all of us who benefitted from that service.” – Dan Farrell, Brother & Phantom Regiment Hall of Fame member
“Tim has been a mainstay of this organization. I am so thankful for his dedication and commitment to the organization over these many years. His leadership has ushered Phantom Regiment through some of the most challenging and rewarding times in the corps’s history – a true testament to his leadership.” – Todd Snead, Phantom Regiment CEO
“Tim has been a fixture at the very top of Phantom Regiment for decades. He’s been the type of leader who has always taken more than his share of blame, and less than his share of the credit. The fact is, most will never know the scope of challenge that he has faced over 30 years. The stability he has guided Phantom Regiment through, against a backdrop of staggering obstacles, is truly remarkable.” – Jeff Hassan, VP Board of Directors