Head-high in July – DCI Midwest

Rolling thunder under clear sunny skies. Troopers timpani taking the field in Whitewater.

July 7, 2020 – DeKalb, Illinois

Friday 7:00 am

Well, here I am in DeKalb, Illinois. I am on my early-season Mid-west tour of Drum Corps International shows. The corn may be knee high in Vermont, but it is head-high out here in the fields the stretch almost as far as one can see. This land is flat. Tonight, I will join friends for the Mid-west Classic to be held in Huskie Stadium at the University of Northern Illinois. These are the friends that I would not otherwise have met if it were not for the drum corps activity. Garry and Sandy have attended drum corps shows for years, including at this classic gridiron close to Chicago. Garry, a bass man, was born into a legacy drum corps family in Rochester, NY, and Sandy is a long-time color guard instructor and judge. In addition to their intimate knowledge of the activity, they are fun to travel with. I am blessed to know them. Sandy’s driving skills rival the most proficient taxi drivers in the country.

Early morning in DeKalb at the Phantom Regiment’s new food trailer.
A Phantastic drum corps in residence.

I arrived in Chicago yesterday on a 2-hour flight out of Burlington, Vermont, and we drove the one-hour highway distance to this quiet college town amid the cornfields. As the three of us scoped out the stadium, we were happy to see the Phantom Regiment in residence rehearsing. You may know that I am a rehearsal junkie. When attending my first-afternoon rehearsal in 2012, I convinced myself that this was the hardest team endeavor to take to an athletic field. That first year of going to shows again, I was scoping out the J. Birney Crum field in Allentown. It was around 3:00 pm while I was walking on the road above the stadium. In the distance, I heard horns performing For the Common Man by Aaron Copland. I exclaimed out loud, “Crown!” So, I echo-located the direction and walked briskly toward the sound a few blocks away. Little did I know how the sound of horns and drums in the distance would continue to excite me throughout these past eleven years of following drum corps. Hark, “I hear drum corps!” That afternoon, I sat on the embankment with other rehearsal junkies and was stunned and amazed at the combined effort of the members and the staff as they toiled in the hot sun. 

The words on the back wall say it all.

Last night’s ensemble rehearsal of the Phantom Regiment was no exception to the rule of hard work and endurance. By 9:00 pm, these kids were getting tired, but they pushed on through take after take going through the book. There was a new feature on the field; a large, wave-like tarp in solid white was placed along the left side extending around the backfield with appendages extending into the midfield. The corps was learning to tread on it carefully using soft flutter steps and not dragging their feet. Dots were changing as the drill design, and the prop arrangements continued to take shape. The saving grace for the kids was the chill in the breeze as the darkness engulfed the lighted field. Even after a long day of rehearsal, the Phantom horns were achieving that resounding power and clarity, augmented by the intricate interplay of rhythms and beats between the percussion pit and battery of marchers. All express their emotions and portray the Phantom Regiment’s character with highly dynamic marching drills and movements. The color guard never stops tossing and practicing their moves, even between takes. They are the guardians and keepers of the artistically unique, modular props that elevate the performers and create different view-scapes as the program unfolds throughout the performance. This will be a great show to watch in full uniform under the lights tonight. 

I will leave it there for now. 

Trooper encamped for fieldwork in DeKalb.

1:00 pm

After a search and reaching out to the FB page, we found that the Troopers are encamped at DeKalb High School, just a few minutes away, so we went to see the afternoon rehearsal. The kids were in sectionals when we arrived. The corps has converged onto the soccer field, going through the book’s difficult parts. The large revolving sun prop remains idle off the field. Once again, I am witnessing the 100% attention of the members to the directors, designers, and instructors on the scaffolding above. Some instructions are demanding and require the members to reply that they get it. The instructor will address a certain section of the corps, and they will acknowledge by raising their hand and saying yes. Pushing the members with compliments and admonishment, calling them out when necessary, is what it takes to compete at this high level. “Cut, cut, cut! says the man on the mic. Let’s reset.” Members hustle back to their beginning dots. These are the afternoons that matter. There will be no rehearsal tonight as these kids prepare and perform their hearts out to adoring fans in Huskie Stadium. “Let’s run to water, please,” says the director. The members sprint to and from the canteens back to their dots.

July 8, 2023

Saturday 9:00 am

Some assembly required.

Rain showers came and went, and with only a 30-minute delay, the Mid-west Classic went off without a hitch in Huskie Stadium, DeKalb—an impressive line-up of nine world-class corps performed under the cloudy skies. The order of finish was Boston Crusaders, Phantom Regiment, Blue Stars, The Cavaliers, Troopers, Madison Scouts, Colts, and Genesis. Each one of the corps performed a great show. Being still early in the season, it is hard to predict how things will shake out in the standings. With the top score in DCI so far this season, it is likely that Boston will be in the medals again. Friends and long-time DCI fans predict that Phantom Regiment and Troopers will likely move up a couple of slots from the previous year. These two corps were the crowd favorites last night. Yet, it is still early. I will not give you a lot of show critique. I will let the judges and those with more knowledge of the activity do that. I always try to provide you with my observations based on my feelings and my visceral response that occur during the wow moments. I had a few goosebump moments during the show. I was still trying to absorb the programs. Things will get more interesting as the corps continue to add and change for more visual effects.

2:00 pm

Troopers Oil Corps goes solar.

After an idyllic drive through the pastoral landscape of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin, I am sitting under the meager shade of a newly planted tree listening to the Boston Crusaders’ high brass in the arc after lunch. I am at the Verona Area High School. It is a brand-new campus with a massive stadium. Yup, I am at another rehearsal to pass the time before the show tonight in Whitewater, Wisconsin, less than an hour’s drive from here. Whitewater is the site of the first two DCI World Championships. I look forward to enjoying the heritage of drum corps, joining publisher Steve and friends in the stands tonight. Meanwhile, while the brass is spread out in sectionals, I will search for a piano inside the school to play. Yesterday morning, I had a chance to play a wonderful Yamaha located in the student center. I will make sure to keep you posted.

BAC low brass section at the Verona Area High School.

11:00 pm

My seat neighbors Blue Stars alumni Radar and Kirk.

A venue can make a big difference. The stadium in Whitewater is perfect for drum corps, and the weather could not have been better. All performances began and ended without interruption. I am happy to report that the evening of drum corps I just experienced renewed my spirit. I and my tourmates agree that the stadium made all the difference. The clarity of sound emanating from the field was much better than the night before. The lighting was balanced and bright, allowing the full spectrum of colors to pop. My seat was directly on the fifty-yard line, 43 rows high for maximum viewing and listening. The sound from the field, pit, and speakers were equally heard and appreciated. Drum Corps International 2023 is solidly on its way to being as exciting as ever, as each corps that we experienced tonight was firing on all cylinders. The scores are in, with Boston Crusaders on top, followed by Phantom Regiment, The Cavaliers, Blue Stars, Troopers, Colts, and Madison Scouts. Once again, I will leave it to the experts to give you a complete review. However, I had many goosebumps moments—the Troopers ballad especially. 

University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, birthplace of modern drum corps.

July 10, 2023 – Along the Mill Brook

The Mill Brook nearing bank full.

Happily, home in the Mad River Valley along Mill Brook, I want to catch up and conclude my Midwest story. Once again, I met some awesome folks I would not otherwise meet, such as Kirk and Radar, whom I sat with in Whitewater. Kirk showed me where the plaque was, and I learned a lot about the history of drum corps in the Midwest. Go Blue Stars! Parnelli Sandy hosted us in Kenosha, where we enjoyed a wonderful face-paced auto tour of this idyllic tree city transformed from its industrial past to a thriving 21st-century community. The restored waterfront, bike paths, universities, and cultural distinctions are evidence of careful planning and investments that support a healthy community. After a drop and run at O’Hare Airport, an on-time, smooth flight, I arrived home to a rainy Vermont. We are currently in a flash flood warning as the ground is saturated, and the multiple storms are training directly over the Green Mountains. Our narrow valleys and steep slopes make for some harrowing and catastrophic floods when this occurs. So far, Mill Brook is well within its banks. The well-named Mad River will utilize its protected floodplains today. This morning, I purchased my plane ticket to Colorado. I will keep you posted on my out and back to Drums Along the Rockies. 

Head High.

Peace out for now.

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