DCI Midwest Premiere

June 25, 2024 – Western Michigan

The stalwart maple tree is my friend, keeping me cool under the shade of its spreading limbs. I am at the high school in Jenison, Michigan, in a bedroom community in Grand Rapids. The Phantom Regiment is in residence rehearsing for the Midwest Drum Corps International (DCI) Premiere show to be held tomorrow in nearby Rockford, MI. Not to be confused with Rockford, Illinois, home of the Phantom Regiment. The Midwest part of the country loves drum and bugle corps. Phantom Regiment is a world-class drum corps with a long history and a dedicated Phan-base. Founded in 1956 by the Rockford Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the corps has excelled to a DCI top 12 finalist since 1974, with two World Championships in 1996 and 2008. These successes did not come easy, as there were many setbacks in the early years. Now firmly planted in the 21st Century, the corps is on the move again with a highly qualified board of directors and committed staff and attracts high-caliber members. Not unlike their peers, these kids are working their butts off to get their show on the field. This afternoon, the brass is working on cleaning their drill. This is tedious work. No sound, though, alas. Bodies move from dot to dot to the constant din of the met. Reset!

Phantom Regiment brass with a unique balloon exercise.

I am on part one of my 2024 DCI tour, with four shows in four states in eight days. Rising in the wee hours to catch the 6:00 am flight out of Burlington, Vermont, by the wings of man and the rental car, I am officially on tour to kick off the season here in Michigan. Tomorrow, Phantom Regiment will be joined by four other world-class corps, the Boston Crusaders, Blue Stars, The Cavaliers, and Colts, as well as a Muskegon-based open-class corps, Northern Lights. Before the show, I plan to attend the Boston rehearsal at nearby Comstock Park High School. If I am lucky, I will enjoy a horn line warm-up led by the DCI Hall of Famer, Brass Caption Head, Gino Cipriani. Being from New England, Boston is my hometown corps, and I have gotten to know many of the board members and staff members. But for now, I am enchanted by the Phantom Regiment.

The Phantom horns are now in the arc going through the warm-up. Several exercises are employed to limber up, including vocals and breathing drills. One unique idea is inflating balloons. Cool. Now, they are pushing air and SOUND through the horns. This is what I came for—80 horns in harmonic exercises right in front of me for my listening pleasure. Ryan, the brass caption head, and the other staff have the full attention of 160 eyes and ears as they work the arc through the regimen. These two ears rejoice.

One thing I have noticed about this horn line is the absence of baritones; instead, all euphoniums are used. I believe this gives a deeper and fuller low-brass sound that defines the Regiment. Quality of sound is the focus now, whereas before, cleaning the drill was the focus. When it all comes together on the field, it is an awesome experience. It is time to head to stay with friends Dawn and Mark in nearby West Olive. Tomorrow will be Mark’s first DCI show. He is a lover of music and good things. It will be fun to share the evening at the 50-yard line. I’ll try to keep you posted.

June 27, 2024 – Kalamazoo, Michigan

I love Michigan for its people and their land. This stalwart state anchors the northern Midwest to the Union. I learned last night that Michiganders are great drum corps fans, filling the stands at Rockford High School in Rockford, MI, for the DCI Midwest Premiere. My friends and I had a great time at the 50-yard line, row 17, the epicenter of excitement. It was a beautiful evening, perfect for drum corps. The long daylight of early summer provided an unusually naturally lit field well into the evening, with the last corps to perform, the Boston Crusaders, performing at twilight. Preceding the show, we walked the lot (school grounds) amid the corps members and other DCI goers to observe the uniforms and props and listen to some warm-up regimens. Unlike a college campus, where the corps can spread out, all corps were mixed together close enough to cause a cacophony of sound. We did catch the Phantom Regiment horn line in the arc. Their final chord riffs were seriously harmonic and powerful. It was not the usual Canon in D that I heard on Tuesday at rehearsal.

As we settled into our seats after standing for the opening patriotic anthem, we observed the Muskegon all-age corps assembling. This corps provided a fine repertoire of Stravinsky performed by the young and older marchers that included a diverse horn section and percussionist in the battery and front ensemble. The persistent guard forged ahead through the program with the wind in their flags. Following that experience were five world-class DCI corps in rapid order: Blue Stars, Phantom Regiment, Colts, The Cavaliers, and Boston Crusaders, without an Intermission. This over-stimulation left us slightly dizzy as we walked in a slow, trance-like state out of the stadium with the masses.

The first shows of the season are exciting times of discovery as the look, sound, and feel of the season are revealed for the first time. Props and members in new uniforms take the field for the first time. Don’t be confused if some of the corps change their uniform during the show. The music and movement, not yet known, begin to sink in. Of course, by now, I have been to enough rehearsals to anticipate and appreciate how much both elements have improved. Our seats were just above the open seats the corps staff take during their shows. What a treat to also observe their reactions. Gino Cipriani, BAC’s brass caption head and the wise man up on the scaffolding at rehearsals, came up to row 16 to watch the Boston show – Glitch. He was out of his seat more than once to applaud key moments of the program that the 165 members, he, and other dedicated staff have worked so hard to achieve together in the hot sun for several weeks now.

You will have to form your own opinions on which corps, or show, is best or what the ranking should be. A review of the scores indicates a different order of finish than is indicated from the order of starting, with Boston Crusaders taking the top spot, followed by Phantom Regiment, The Cavaliers, Blue Stars, and Colts. All corps had an excellent first competition performance. In my eyes, they are all winners. I am really looking forward to watching them all flourish throughout the season.

So begins the 2024 DCI season in earnest. After leaving the show in Rockford, I drove north about 40 minutes to join my friends at Brower County Park for a family campout. After a nice hike on the Dragon Trail and a hearty breakfast, I headed here to Kalamazoo and to Bells Brewery Excentric Cafe for some dinner, WIFI, and merriment. An evening hike on the North Country Trail will cap off a fine three days in Western Michigan. Tomorrow, I am heading to Muncie, IN, for the next in a series of four shows planned on my Midwest tour. Later in the week, I will meet up with my Drum Corps brothers in Chicago for the show in Lisle and then in Cincinnati. Of course, I’ll keep you posted.

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