For spring training, Phantom Regiment mixed things up this year.
But after three unorthodox weeks away from its Rockford, Illinois, hometown, spent rehearsing at Western Illinois University, Regiment returned to its own backyard to kick off its extensive series of 2018 summer performances.
Phantom Regiment’s annual “Music in the Park” — held at Sinnissippi Park in Rockford — is, year in and year out, an early opportunity for the perennial DCI World Championship finalist to play in front of an audience.
With this year’s concert held a week later than normal due to the change in spring training location, it was the perfect springboard into the upcoming start of the 2018 DCI Tour, which is just over a week away.
“I think the mental push of having a performance in front of an audience that’s going to reward you for what you’ve been working on, I just think it’s a great push for us in terms of getting closer to going on tour,” Regiment program coordinator Will Pitts said. “I think it’s a great start to the week of getting ready to perform.”
Saturday’s event featured several well-known staples of Phantom Regiment’s history, including a segment from 2008’s “Spartacus” — in honor of the gold medal-winning show’s 10th anniversary — as well as “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral” by Richard Wagner.
As has been the case in recent years, Regiment was able to put its new uniforms on display as well.
“It feels great,” first-year conductor Claire Wilcox said about wearing the black and white hooded uniforms designed by Fred J. Miller, Inc. “They’re really breathable and not super heavy which we love, and I think they look really awesome on us. The corps wears them really well, so we’re really excited to get to play in them for the first time.”
As the concert got underway, the Rockford corps wasn’t alone on stage.
Christopher Bill, a well-known trombonist and avid drum corps fan whose YouTube videos have garnered him a wide-ranging audience, joined Regiment as a special guest artist. He performed a handful of solo pieces, as well as a few selections with members of the corps.
Upon Bill’s joining the corps just a day prior to the concert, Pitts described the preparation for the guest performance as a “whirlwind.” Even so, Bill was able to take some time to work directly with Phantom Regiment’s trombone players, which, according to Wilcox, seemed to pay off.
“He’s a phenomenal trombone player, and he had a clinic with our trombonists the other night, which was really cool to get to watch,” she said. “He got them sounding really good. He’s super intelligent and awesome to listen to. He’s a killer player at the trombone.”
In Tuesday night’s main event, Phantom Regiment had the first performance run-through of its brand-new 2018 production. The show, “This New World,” uses the motif of Antonin Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9 for the New World” to artistically portray the concept of how one reacts when placed in an unfamiliar environment.
Dvorak’s iconic piece — more commonly referred to as “New World Symphony” — has, historically, been synonymous with success for Phantom Regiment. It was a featured part of the corps’ 1977 and 1989 silver medal-winning productions, the latter of which remains Regiment’s highest-scoring season ever, with a final tally of 98.400.
“With the title implying, we use ‘New World Symphony’ as kind of a through-line,” Pitts said. “We feel like that kind of gave us a connective tissue that people could latch on to.”
The Rockford corps will also feature music from the 2007 film, “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” by Alexandre Desplat and Andrew Zigman, as well as works by Sergei Prokofiev, David Maslanka and Adam Schoenberg.
“We’re combining that with some really engaging, dynamic music from film scores, new concert works, some more classic orchestral works, that kind of thing,” he added.
According to Pitts, this year’s program will also bring a new array of design styles for drum corps fans, in terms of what they’ve grown accustomed to seeing from the Phantom Regiment.
“I feel like it’s a newer flavor for us than what we typically do,” Pitts said. “Even folks within our teaching staff are kind of like, ‘Wait a second, this doesn’t sound like Phantom Regiment,’ but it is Phantom Regiment, so we’re really excited about that.’”
With Phantom Regiment’s annual concert in the books and the DCI Tour Premiere just eight days away, the reality of its impending 2018 season — and, with it, the new world that lies ahead — is beginning to set in.
“We’re not moving around, just listening to the music,” Pitts said of the concert performance. “But hearing and seeing it in the uniform, it’s kind of like, ‘Okay, this is real, things are happening.’”